Light Heavyweights#14 LHW | Mauricio Rua (26-11) vs. NR | Paul Craig (12-4)
ODDS: Rua (-260), Craig (+220)
His career has been directionless for a while now, but it is still nice to see Rua back in the cage every so often. His 2005 run through Pride Fighting Championships remains one of the best years for a fighter in the history of the sport, but he never did get a real moment in the sun once he came over to the UFC. Forrest Griffin memorably spoiled Rua’s Octagon debut, and the Brazilian’s light heavyweight title reign was quickly ended by Jon Jones. The ensuing years have seen Rua get sapped of most of his athleticism, but after a rough run in which he spiraled out of contender status, he has managed to find a soft landing in a division full of flawed fighters. Heading into 2018, Rua was actually riding the longest winning streak of his UFC career, as he gutted out victories over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Corey Anderson and Gian Villante. In the end, however, that just made things a bit more depressing when Anthony Smith quickly put that run on ice. Rua rebounded quite nicely with a win over Tyson Pedro in December, reminding everyone that he is not quite done yet and teeing up this weird but winnable bout against Craig.
Craig’s got the type of style that can only work at light heavyweight, but the affable Scot continues to beat the odds and score upset victories. Craig is the rare submission specialist in a higher weight class, which makes him dangerous for every moment of the fight. That literally means every moment: Craig scored one of the biggest upsets of 2018 by tapping Magomed Ankalaev in the last second of their fight, and the “Bearjew” also submitted Kennedy Nzechukwu with just 40 seconds to spare in March. Of course, for every fight where Craig pulls out a Hail Mary submission, there is another where a more athletic and powerful prospect absolutely runs through him. Nevertheless, it is a credit to Craig that he can continue to make things interesting for as long as he remains conscious.
Normally, the worry for Rua involves his getting knocked out, but that does not seem like much of a concern here, as Craig is not particularly dangerous as a striker despite his occasional moments of aggression. Craig is much more aggressive when it comes to taking things to the clinch, and it is hard to say that he will get much done there. Rua has the stronger frame and enough grappling chops to neutralize everything the Scot has to offer. Craig can always pull off a miracle, but this looks like it will go one of two ways: Either Rua starches him early or wins an ugly, neutralizing grind. The pick is Rua via decision.
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