‘This is only job where I’ve been pleased to get punched in the face’

Once the biggest spotlight of his career had been switched off, Paul Craig sat and stewed in the darkness.

He had fulfilled his dream of becoming the first Scottish fighter to main event a UFC card. His face was on the poster. His name was top of the bill.

And he lost.

While Brendan Allen celebrated submitting the Jui-Jitsu black belt, Craig wondered if it was time to leave this sport of blustering brutality and find something new.

It was a fleeting moment of fallibility. Now 36, his purpose has never been clearer.

"I just had this thing, is fighting at 35 for me?," the Airdrie native tells BBC Scotland.

“The answer after that fight was 100% yes. We had a bit of a bump in the road.

“It comes down to loving this job. I’ve done many jobs, this is the only one I’ve never been sacked from.

"This is the only job I’ve woke up on a Monday morning and been pleased to get punched in the face.”

'A full arena wishing death upon you - I relish it'

A career light-heavyweight, Craig made the drop down to 185lbs in search of a fresh slate.

His new peers were put on notice with the Scot’s demolition of Brazilian Andre Muniz in London.

That impressive showing earned the ultimately unsuccessful main event slot against Allen in the far more tame surroundings of the UFC Apex – a glorified training centre in Las Vegas.

But Craig isn’t a fighter to be confined to the echoey corridors. He’s a showman wired to thrive in the most hostile of atmospheres.

In search of redemption for his high-profile loss, he’ll spend this Saturday locked in the cage with Caio Borralho, an undefeated rising star with thousands of Brazilians backing their home country hero at UFC 301.

Daunting? Not for Craig.

Brendan Allen celebrates beating Paul Craig
Craig was submitted by American Brendan Allen in November last year [Getty Images]

With saltire swaddled over his shoulders, he’ll enter the lion’s den in Rio de Janeiro with the insouciance of man who has been around this block before.

“I think it’s just the Scottishness in me, we’ve always been the underdog. I’ve bought a career on upsetting that," he says.

“To go to places like Brazil and have everyone booing you, chanting that you’re going to die, it’s exciting. It gets you pumped.

“Every man should know what it’s like to experience that much hatred. A full arena wishing death upon you.

“It’s something the average punter won’t experience. I relish it.”

'The best is yet to come'

But Craig has been around for long enough to know how this game works.

His redemption arc isn’t the reason the 36-year-old has been sent to South America. He’s there to be another name on the list of Borralho’s fallen foes.

“The UFC haven’t decided to take me to Rio for the purposes of rebuilding me,” he says. “They’ve got a young, potential star.

"But I’ve made my career of upsetting the status of what the UFC want. You put me in front of someone with something to lose, and I’ll make sure they lose it.

“If this fight pans out the way I think it’s going to pan out, I think it’s going to be a very good night for Paul Craig.”

Last time he stepped into the Octagon, it was a very bad night for Paul Craig.

Social media chimed with calls for him to retire and this proud fighter pondered whether his time was up.

Having collected his thoughts, remembering all he knows about the highs and lows of the sport he loves unconditionally, Craig still believes the summit is in sight.

“If I keep believing, it’s going to come true. You’re only ever two or three fights away from being in contention to be the UFC middleweight world champion.

“The tagline for me is 'the best is yet to come'. I’m just getting into the stride of being the best version of Paul Craig. At UFC 301, the best is yet to come.”