THAT popular social media meme of a man checking out a passing woman while his girlfriend glowers at him could have been made for the relationship between fighter Paul Craig, his coach Brian Gallacher and Craig’s opponent at UFC 255 this weekend, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

In this particular version of that scenario, Gallacher, head coach of the Coatbridge-based Scottish Hit Squad, is the one casting admiring glances at Rua, the MMA legend who Craig meets in a much-anticipated rematch in Las Vegas following their contentious split draw a year ago.

Craig jokes that his coach is something of a Shogun “fanboy” who tends to find himself tongue-tied and almost lost for words any time they run into the Brazilian over the years.

Rather than giving his coach daggers for being infatuated with the opposition, however, the 32 year-old reckons Gallacher’s level of devotion has meant there will be no stone unturned when it comes to providing his fighter with all the detail needed to land what would be a career-defining victory.

“I personally wouldn’t fancy going through hours and hours of old footage but Brian loves doing that,” says Craig.

“He’ll never tell me this directly but I know that Shogun is one of his favourite fighters, if not his favourite fighter full stop. The very first time we met Shogun I think was in Philadelphia and Brian had a fanboy moment.

“We then met Shogun last year for our fight and it was the same again. And then we spoke to him in Abu Dhabi in the summer as we were both fighting at the same event. Brian was like a wee schoolgirl that night because he had got to speak to Shogun!

“So for him to be now training a fighter who’s in the mix with someone of that calibre is his dream. He’s living his best life at the moment.

“But Brian’s dedication to the sport and willingness to study all the old footage is massively beneficial for me. He knows everything I need to know and in a sport with such fine margins that could be hugely important.

“It’s like a game of chess – you need to capture the opponent’s king before he gets yours so you need to be fully armed with all the information you need before you start out.

“So I’m glad to have Brian in my corner doing all that for me. He gives me all his time and focus and that means I’ve been developed a lot quicker as a fighter.

“That’s why I’ve stayed in Scotland, to benefit from his knowledge. We’re great friends, of course, but it’s that professional relationship and attention to detail that have brought me to this point.”

There was a feeling that Craig, known in UFC circles as Bearjew, did enough to win the original bout with Rua in his opponent’s back yard last November, having taken the fight at short notice.

This time with a longer training camp and with neither man having home advantage, the Scot reckons there will be no doubts about the outcome.

“At the time I felt calling it a draw was out of order as all the stats showed I had dominated the fight,” he adds. “But in the end I think it’s worked out for the better.

“It means I get to fight Shogun again with a longer fighter camp. The last time I had only 10 days. Getting the draw gives me the chance to again share the octagon with a legend of the sport and hopefully show what I can do.

“People are saying he’s past his best but you look at his recent record and it’s impressive. He’s only lost one of his last seven fights so he’s still massively dangerous. I need to stop him doing what he wants to do and execute my own gameplan.”

Success for Craig will extend his own unbeaten record to four fights and carry him closer to his ultimate ambition of topping the light-heavyweight division.

“I want a title fight and work my way up to the number one. I want to be the first Scottish UFC Champion and leave a lasting legacy in this sport.

“We had set a target of reaching the top 15 and I achieved that. And after that I sat down with my sports psychologist and coach and the new goal is to get into that top 10 and earn a 2021 title shot.

“That’s what I’m looking for. Covid won’t stop me and Shogun won’t stop me. It’s going to take a lot more to derail my train.

“That might sound arrogant but you need to have that conviction and confidence in your abilities if you’re going to go all the way.”