Taking a fight in hostile territory has proven to shake even the most experienced fighters, but it is becoming routine for Andrew Craig. The middleweight upstart made his UFC debut defeating Australian Kyle Noke in front of the TUF alum's countrymen, and this weekend at UFC on FX 7, the Houston native will travel to Sao Paulo to face Brazilian Ronny Markes.
The bout will be the biggest of his young career. While facing the Nova Uniao-trained grappler presents an interesting challenge, fighting in front of a passionate Brazilian crowd will only serve to up the intensity of the moment. That being said, victory is the only thing that matters to Craig, and he intends to get the job done by any means necessary.
"Winning is what matters," Craig told Bleacher Report. "I don't care what it looks like. It can be a clean win, slow win, fast or ugly; winning is what matters the most. I don't care. I'm just out there to win fights. I know it's going to be a little wild going down there, but it doesn't change anything. He's still just a man and all we are doing is fighting in a cage.
"I think this fight is like a lot of other matchups I've had, but Markes is just a little bit better in all areas. I've fought against big, strong grapplers in the past, the only difference is this guy is a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger of a grappler. But I'm confident going into this fight. I've been training with Tim Kennedy since October, helping him get ready for his fight, and there aren't many guys in the 185-pound division as good as he is. I'm feeling confident man. I don't think this guy is going to bring much to the table I'm not used to."
Success on the regional MMA scene in Texas earned the 26-year-old the opportunity to fight inside the Octagon, and he's made the most of every step. Following his victory over Noke, Craig squared off with Rafael Natal at UFC on Fuel TV 4. Despite a rough start where Craig found himself on the business end of exchanges with Natal, he landed a stunning head-kick knockout to claim the come-from-behind victory in the second frame.
While back-to-back wins and an unblemished record have the Texan continuing to build momentum in the UFC ranks, Craig acknowledges there is still much work to be done. Fighting on the sport's biggest stage can be an overwhelming experience, but Craig is starting to settle in and is looking to put himself on the divisional map by getting the win this weekend in Brazil.
"I absolutely believe I can make a statement with a victory over Markes," Craig said. "I think my two wins in the UFC have kind of gone under the radar. My first was against Kyle Noke, an Australian in Australia. It was on a Fuel undercard and the one against Natal was on Facebook. There are a lot of people who aren't familiar with me and my fighting style. I think beating a guy like Ronny will make a big statement for me.
"I'm coming off a win but I still got my ass beat during the fight. Even though I won, I was still a little down about my performance. It's obviously a little bit louder in the Octagon and there is more pressure, but I'm learning to take those things in stride. This next fight should be the biggest one yet. It will be against a Brazilian in Brazil, but I'm feeling more and more comfortable in there. I'm getting to the point where I'm more excited than I am nervous. I'm getting there man."
A victory over Markes this weekend, will put Craig among the next wave of fighters looking to make an impact in the middleweight division. While the weight class is ruled by the most dominant champion in UFC history in Anderson Silva, the climb to the top of the 185-pound weight class has proven to be a slippery slope.
Potential contenders continue to rise and fall in high frequency, and with the Strikeforce middleweights set to enter the picture, Craig believes the weight class is about to heat up.
"I think this division is wide open," Craig said. "There are so many tough guys in this division and guys like Tim Kennedy, Jacare and Rockhold coming in from Strikeforce are only going to make it that much more competitive. A lot of people used to scoff at the 185-pound division, but now I think it is the best it has ever been."