Paul Craig recently scored his fourth win in a row when he submitted Nikita Krylov with a triangle choke in the first round at UFC London. The win moved Craig into the UFC’s light heavyweight top 10 and now puts him on the cusp of title contention, a remarkable turnaround for a man who began his UFC career 2-3 and at one point looked close to being dropped from the promotion.
It’s a resurgence that the 34-year old Craig says began when he started seeing a sports psychologist.
“It’s about adding little bits to your game plan, it’s about adding little bits to your camp, like working with a nutritionist, like working with my conditioning coach. It’s just about dealing with all these people. Like, a sports psychologist made a huge difference to my self-belief,” Craig said on The MMA Hour. “But then it’s adding all them together. One of them on their own didn’t make me better, it was a whole host of things.
“Once the mindset changed, then it was about bringing in other people in my camp. Because right at the start, we were very, very secretive. We didn’t want to have anyone else that wasn’t a part of the team in the camp. So I didn’t have a conditioning coach, I didn’t have a nutritionist, I didn’t have a sports psychologist. Once we had the sports psychologist on board, and he kind of opened up my mind and opened up my attitude, and then I allowed loads more people in to try and help me.
“I wanted to do it all on my own,” Craig continued, “and I wanted to be like, ‘No, I’ve done this on my own. I don’t need anybody else.’ In this sport, you can’t be like that. You need to have loads of people around you, you need to have positive people around you. That was not a thing that happened as well. Through your journey, people will come and go, people will take a pound of flesh from you, and it’s about staying with people who are good for you and dropping people that are bad for you. It was a whole host of things.”
Craig noted that one of the first things he and his psychologist worked on was his confidence in his striking, saying that previously he was like “a rabbit in headlights” when he was fighting, but that he now feels prepared on the feet against anyone. And that was not a one-time thing. Craig notes that he still sees his psychologist weekly, and the practice remains an integral part of Craig’s fight camps.
“It goes back to, it’s not just one area where I need to improve,” Craig said. “There was an area where I needed to improve and we spoke about that, and we dealt with that, and we sort of improved it. It’s an ongoing process. It’s not like once you’ve done it once, ‘Actually, you’ve spoke to a sports psychologist, you’re cured.’ It’s about dealing with it weekly. We have weekly sit downs, we discuss stuff that potentially are gonna happen in camp, we look at what happened previously in camp, and we discuss how we’re gonna move forward.
“It’s about them all working together, because they’ve all got the same goal: Everybody wants me to win in my camp.”
Craig is not the first fighter to work with a sports psychologist. Famously, after his loss to Matt Serra, Georges St-Pierre began working with one, and credits it with changing his entire mentality around fighting.
It’s a sentiment Craig agrees with, and one he is happy to see being more widely adopted.
“From a kid to now, you always put up barriers, and it’s about so many barriers are always going to block you if you’re doing what you need to do in life, be it being a world jiu-jitsu practitioner or being a world-class striker. It’s good to talk about this kind of stuff,” Craig said. “When we were growing up as kids, we never spoke about anything.
“Men just bottled everything up, and now we’re in this culture where we’re able to speak and open up freely, and it’s not the negative side of speaking about your feelings. Because for a long time it was like, men don’t speak about their feelings. That was seen as quite a wimpy thing to do, and I think it’s totally changed and I’m glad it’s changed, because it’s definitely improved my game by speaking.”