Houston middleweight Andrew Craig has risen quickly in the world of MMA. He’s undefeated in eight fights since his professional debut in May 2010 and he hasn’t slowed since he hit the UFC ranks with a win over Kyle Noke in March 2012. So as Craig prepares to take on Ronny Markes in São Paulo tomorrow as part of UFC on FX, one could argue that his biggest worry shouldn't be his opponent but the partisan crowd that will be in his opponent's corner.
It's a situation Craig knows well. His UFC bow was on decidedly unfriendly turf, against an Australian opponent in Australia. But, as Craig said in interviews after the Noke fight, as long as the audience is loud, it doesn’t matter whom they’re cheering for — he enjoys silencing a hostile crowd just as much as feeding off the energy of a supportive one. Which is good because he’ll get another opportunity to do just that Saturday in Markes’ home country. Just Craig and 11,000 screaming Brazilians in the Ibarapuera Arena.
Learning that he can overcome and even thrive upon the disdain of a foreign crowd wasn’t the only lesson Craig learned last year in Australia. He had planned his trip to include just one extra day in the country. But after his fight with Noke he ran into a few of his fellow fighters on Bonzai Beach during his single day of R and R. They told him of their plans to visit New Zealand to trout fish. Craig immediately regretted not taking the opportunity to do more to enjoy his time on a continent on the other side of the planet. He won’t repeat that mistake, he says.
“This time we’re going to Rio for four nights afterward,” he says. “My whole family, coaches. We’re gonna check out the Jesus statue, go on a safari through the jungle, look at monkeys and sloths and all that jazz. Try to take a good deal of time on the beach to get sunburned. ... I've surfed before in Costa Rica where I did a study abroad thing. We'll see, but I don't think I'll be surfing after this fight. I think it's going to be all about chilling out."
Craig's apparent interest in sloths and beaches aside, ask him about his interests outside of the Octagon and you can almost hear him scratching his head over the phone. He says he takes some pleasure in outdoors sports – golf, hunting, target shooting – but right now, he is almost monomaniacal about learning as much as he can about fighting.
“I never had any intention to take it this far, but I kind of stayed focused on it and had some success and didn’t want to let it go too soon, so here I am now,” he says. “This is what I do, this is what I know, this is who I am.”
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