Competing on the sport's biggest stage can be a complex issue filled with varying degrees of pressure. Some fighters take to it naturally, like a clicking gear, and immediately begin the process of battling their way up the rankings. For others, the process isn't automatic and they struggle against the best the world has to offer.
Entering an environment where fighters are moving in a handful of different trajectories can create confusion. But newcomer Andrew Craig takes it all in stride.
Just over two years into his professional mixed martial arts career, Craig has not only earned his way into the UFC, but made a statement in his arrival by defeating a game fighter in Kyle Noke. The victory marked the next leg of his journey and he appreciates the steps he's taken to get here.
"It felt awesome to beat Noke," Craig told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "Every victory in this sport means you still have a job. Australian fans are really cool so it was no sweat off my back. I got booed a little bit but it was more the fans cheering him louder than anything else. It wasn't hostile territory or anything like that. It was a lot of fun and I like having a few things stacked against me."
"There are a lot of tough guys outside of the UFC these days and I've been fortunate to fight some of them along the way. A lot of it is about timing and exposure. There are guys fighting on regional circuits and other promotions who are just as good as some of the guys in the UFC but they haven't been able to time things right or get noticed."
Craig's next challenge will come against MMA veteran Rafael Natal at UFC on Fuel TV 4 in San Jose. After experiencing a setback in his UFC debut, Natal has put together two consecutive victories heading into their matchup Wednesday night. Craig will be looking to keep his unblemished record intact and is prepared for what Natal brings to the table.
"I like the matchup with Natal," Craig said. "I've fought against Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts before and I've done well. I faced Rodrigo Pinheiro in Bellator my second pro fight and he was a great Jiu-Jitsu guy like Natal. The biggest difference is Natal has some heavy hands and throws some heat. I really don't see too much difference between this fight and the one with Kyle Noke.
"I think my wrestling is better than his. Natal has great Jiu-Jitsu but I don't believe he'll be able to use it against me. My submission defense is solid. I don't see myself going to the ground with him unless I'm on top and I feel I will beat him decisively.
"I don't like to back down. I'm coming forward and I'll drag him into deep water if I have to. I don't go out there crazy looking for a first round finish, but I am looking to put a hurting on him."
Being under the bright lights of the grand stage can change a thing or two about a fighter's life. The attention increases and their performances are heralded or scrutinized on a level previously unknown to them. Craig is excited for whatever may come down the road, but is more than happy to take things one step at a time.
"I've set pretty short term goals," Craig said. "I take it fight by fight and my goal is to win the fight in front of me. It's nice to be where I'm at, but I'm humbled everyday by the guys I spar with. I think I have the potential to make it far in this sport, but I'm not looking too far ahead of where I'm at.
"I'm just a regular dude. I teach fighting and self-defense at a school. I'm a laid back guy who likes to have a good time.
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