Fighters On The Rise | UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Aspinall

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The Scottish light heavyweight is a perfect example of a fighter that needed a little time to get comfortable competing on the biggest stage in the sport and figuring out his approach inside the Octagon.

Craig went 3-4 over his first seven appearances, but flashed upside with late submission wins over Magomed Ankalaev and Kennedy Nzechukwu during that “figuring it out” process. Since suffering a first-round knockout loss to Alonzo Menifield on June 29, 2019, the 34-year-old “BearJew” has gone 5-0-1, earning stoppages in each of those victories and Performance of the Night bonuses in four of the five.

WATCH: Bonus Résumé | Paul Craig

Two fights back, Craig clamped onto the arm of rising contender Jamahal Hill and dislocated his elbow, and last time out, he showed once more why no one should engage with him on the ground by deftly locking up a triangle choke when Nikita Krylov made the mistake of wading into his guard. In an age of generalists, Craig remains a specialist, and that is at the top of his field, at least in the light heavyweight division.

Saturday in London, he faces off with Volkan Oezdemir, who has become the entrance exam fighters need to pass in order to start facing the established set in the 205-pound ranks. A former title challenger, the Swiss veteran has faced several of the top names in the division, most recently going the distance with Ankalaev last October in a fight that showed the streaking Russian wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

Already positioned one spot ahead of Oezdemir in the rankings, a victory for Craig on Saturday could vault him to the fringes of contention and a date with an even more established name next time out. He’s shown a great deal of improvement since his early efforts, and might be a sneaky title threat if things continue to break in his favor going forward.

Muhammad Mokaev

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