As he prepares to enter the Octagon for the second time in his brief career, Houston native Andrew Craig is full of optimism and ready to make his mark in crowded, yet vulnerable UFC middleweight division. At just 26-years old Craig is undefeated in seven career fights including an impressive win over the always tough Kyle Noke at UFC on FX: Alves vs. Kampmann that took place in Australia this past March. He may not have gotten the finish, but he beat a surly veteran in his home country and that says a lot about Craig’s makeup.
The 7-0 Craig has also competed for Legacy Fighting Championships as well as a one fight stint in Bellator. He left LFC as their Middleweight Champion having defeated Eric Schambari in September of last year. He received the call from the UFC not long afterwards and like all other mixed martial artists who get a taste of the big time, he is not ready to give that feeling up. Craig is currently training in his hometown and gives a lot of credit to his trainers and teammates for helping him attain his goals thus far.
“I train and work at Team Tooke Mixed Martial Arts,” Craig told Fightline in an exclusive interview. “The main coaches are Travis Tooke, my stand-up coach is Michael Corley and I train with a guy out in Austin named Bobby Rabadi. I’ve been with those guys for awhile and I love where I’m at.”
Being that this is his second fight with the organization Craig feels more comfortable, but even as he prepared for his first bout he didn’t get all that nervous. He trains for every fight in the same manner and the same routine.
“To be honest with you I am as equally calm for this fight as I was for the first one,” admitted Craig. “I was telling someone before that I was way more nervous getting ready for my first amateur fight than I was for my first UFC fight. I’ll be fighting on the Facebook portion of the card, but either way I feel good and I am ready to compete.”
Craig will once again be taking on a much more experienced fighter in Rafael Natal. In four career UFC bouts Natal is 2-1-1, but has an overall professional record of 14-3-1 while competing for such organizations as Moosin and Ring of Combat. Natal is riding a two fight win streak with victories over Paul Bradley and Michael Kuper. With that being said, Craig is very confident that he will come out on top.
“Natal is out of NY, I know he’s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Blackbelt under Renzo Gracie I believe,” Craig stated. “He’s more than just a jiu-jitsu guy as he also has heavy hands. I know he has some good UFC experience and an impressive overall record, but I feel like it’s a great match-up for me and I feel as though I have the advantage in the fight. I’m pretty good at a lot of things and what I typically try to do is exploit my opponents’ weaknesses. I am pretty well rounded and have a good cardio. With him being a ground guy I’ll try and keep it on the feet.”
Craig isn’t like many of today’s mixed martial artists. Growing up in Texas most of the schools didn’t have wrestling teams because of the fascination with high school football. He didn’t get into MMA until later on in life.
“In Texas there is very little wrestling because football is so popular and everyone is pushed towards becoming a football player,” said the Jiu-Jitsu brownbelt. “I got started because of my cousin Travis who had wrestled in high school and afterwards got into a little BJJ. While I was in college he was living in Brazil and when he came back he had his blackbelt. I started training during the summer with him and it took off from there. Towards of college it got more serious and I became more committed.”
As he readies to enter his prime Craig sees nothing but a bright future in MMA. He isn’t taking anyone lightly, least of all Natal, but he is excited about what lies ahead for him and sees a win coming his way on July 11th.
“This will be the third fight of a four-fight deal. I have a great company behind me in First Round Management. Being on Legacy got me a lot of exposure and being on HDNET it gave me some name value and I was contacted by FRM. Having them working for me and having my back allows me to concentrate on training. They help take care of all my medical needs and finding sponsors. They take care of everything and have been really awesome.”
“I want to fight as much as possible and I see myself winning them all. I see bigger fights, bigger paydays and myself climbing up the ladder. I feel myself getting better between fights and using those skills to get better in the cage. I see a good win against Natal, I see a finish maybe sometime in the second round. It would be nice to finish the fight early.”
When it came time to naming and thanking the people who have helped get him to where he is today it took Craig quite awhile to get through the roll call!
“My folks and my brother are crazy and support me so much,” said Craig proudly. “My parents really dig this sport; they came to my fight in Australia and turned it into a two week vacation. My friends are coming to California for this fight. I have support from everywhere, my training partners, and my coaches. I have four friends fighting on the Legacy card and my buddy James Head is fighting at UFC 149. My support system is the best and it’s great to have everyone behind me.”
Fans can catch Craig’s fight on the preliminary portion of the UFC on Fuel 4 card tomorrow. The broadcast is set to stream through Facebook tomorrow starting at 5:30 PM EST.