Sherdog Prospect Watch: Andrew Craig

By Brian Knapp Feb 25, 2012
Andrew Craig File Photo

Andrew Craig was cooking dinner at his Texas residence when he took the call about which every mixed martial artist dreams but only a select few actually receive. Lou Di Bono, a representative with the First Round Management agency, was on the line to inform the 26-year-old that the Ultimate Fighting Championship was interested in his services.

After just six professional fights, Craig was headed to center stage.

“It was as simple as that,” he told Sherdog.com. “I gave an immediate yes, and that was it. I was elated, but, in the back of my mind, I had been waiting for this call for quite some time.”

At first glance, Craig does not seem an ideal candidate for potential MMA stardom. The youngest of two boys born to a real estate developer and a homemaker, he dabbled in traditional martial arts as a kid -- tae kwon do lasted until fourth grade -- but gravitated to the pole vault and football as a high school athlete.
Craig discovered Brazilian jiu-jitsu during his first semester in college.

“I got my ass kicked every day for two months,” he said, “and I just wanted to get to a point where I wasn’t getting my ass kicked.”

Some motivations are more basic than others. Later, Craig turned his attention towards and developed an inner passion for striking, in general, and muay Thai, in particular.

“I think muay Thai is so cool because of how multi-faceted it is,” he said. “I like having the option of doing so many different techniques. I wouldn’t say it’s just muay Thai that I love, though. I just like blending all types of striking. It’s got the freedom of grappling -- top, bottom, half guard, X guard, etc. -- except it’s upright using strikes.”

Craig trained through college, graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Corporate Communications and planned to turn down a more traditional career path. However, the sport of MMA was booming, and Craig had a passion for competition and a natural aptitude for mixing the martial arts. His father, Rick, encouraged him to follow his heart -- with one stipulation.

“He was really, really supportive,” Craig said. “He told me, ‘Do what you love, but, if you do it, don’t half-ass it.’”

Kyle Noke File Photo

Training under the Team Tooke banner in Houston, Craig has lived up to his end of the bargain. He made his professional debut in May 2010, scoring a unanimous decision over Antuan Williams, and found himself competing inside Bellator Fighting Championships four months later. At Bellator 27, Craig stopped former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and Saulo Ribeiro protégé Rodrigo Pinheiro by third-round technical knockout.

“I wanted to get at least one fight,” he said. “One fight turned into four, four fights turned into six.”

Since his encounter with Pinheiro, Craig has only improved his stock. He won the Legacy Fighting Championship middleweight title in April and defended it with a five-round unanimous decision victory over World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Eric Schambari in September. Suddenly, Craig (6-0) was on the radar, and opportunity was not far behind. When Jared Hamman withdrew from his scheduled matchup with Kyle Noke at UFC on FX “Alves vs. Kampmann” on March 3 at the Allphones
Arena in Sydney, Australia, the UFC brain trust knew who to call.

“This opportunity is another step in the right direction for furthering my career,” said Craig, who has spent time polishing his skills at American Top Team and the Grudge Training Center. “It feels very validating to get this fight after so much hard work.”

Noke (19-5-1) will be no cakewalk for an Octagon rookie. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 alum has posted five wins in his past six outings and carries with him a well-honed skill set. Noke has shown a propensity for the finish, as well, with 14 of the 31-year-old Australian’s 19 professional victories coming by knockout, technical knockout or submission. Craig respects the man being placed in front of him.

“Noke is a great challenge for a few reasons,” he said. “He’s got a well-rounded game, a wealth of experience and is as tough as they come. I’m very excited about this matchup.”

The 6-foot-1 Craig appears to possess all the physical skills needed to excel at a high level in MMA, but he touts his drive and mental approach as defining advantages in many of his bouts.

“I’ve got quite a work ethic,” he said. “I knew it was going to be tough. There are a lot of guys who hate training, but, for some reason, I love every part of it. I love mixing the arts. It’s such a neat concept. I love everything I do.”

Nothing seems to rattle him.

“I’d say I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Craig said. “I’m definitely that way inside and outside of the cage. I think it’d be really odd if I were super calm in the cage but a total mess outside of it. Of course, I get revved up, stressed out and all that good stuff on occasion, but I’m usually pretty even keel. I think it’s just in my DNA.”

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