THE retirement plans are back on hold for the time being. When Paul Craig announced a while ago that his 35th birthday would be the right time to call it a day and bow out of the UFC, it was a timeline decided on a hunch rather than any specific science.

The Airdrie fighter had looked at his peers and rivals in the industry and noted that many saw their mid-30s as the right time to quit. Craig, though, hits that milestone in November and has never felt better.

He returns to the Octagon inside London’s O2 Arena this evening to take on Nikita Krylov looking to extend his undefeated streak to six contests.

Should the man known as Bearjew dispose of the Russian-based Ukrainian then he will be in a prime position to compete for the light-heavyweight title later this year. And with that carrot potentially dangling in front of him, how could he possibly walk away from it all?

“When I first started I was 24 and I looked at what age I thought people were starting to dip when time was maybe catching up with them,” he explains. “That for me, going back 10 years ago, was about 35. That was the number I felt was the right one for getting out and planning to do something different.

“But there are two things that will make a man change his mind. One is a woman. If a woman tells you you’re doing something, you’re doing it! And my partner spoke to me and asked if I could genuinely walk away at 35 happy. And she’s right, that would be tough right now.

“The other thing is gold. Everyone chases it like Indiana Jones! So if I got a chance to get UFC gold [a title] then it would be silly of me to decide I’m turning 35 so I need to leave.

“We’ve had two years where there was a lot of stuff to deal with and fights weren’t readily available so maybe we add those years on and I go at 37. Or 42. But I don’t feel ready right now to call it a day.”

Craig, trained by Brian Gallacher as part of the Scottish Hit Squad, has one other itch to scratch. His only previous UFC appearance in Glasgow in 2017 ended in a rare defeat to Khalil Rountree Jr, something that still irks him.

And with the possibility of the UFC circus returning to Scotland in the foreseeable future, Craig can’t imagine not being on the card when that day comes.

“I was speaking to a few people who are high up in the UFC and they’re talking about coming back to Glasgow,” he reveals. “They’ve got a few dates in mind.

“So there’s definitely interest there but it has to be the right time and the right situation. Everything has to fall into place. But UFC want to be in Glasgow as that was one of the best crowds they’ve ever had.

“If that happens I couldn’t not compete to try to rectify the loss I received the last time. I love the Scottish UFC fans and I owe them a victory on home soil.”

For now, though, his focus is on tonight, a first UFC card in the UK since 2019. Craig likes the jet-set lifestyle that comes with being one of the world’s leading MMA exponents but he has enjoyed having a week in more familiar surrounds.

“We’ve got London open and we’ve fans here so it’s all looking positive,” he adds. “I’m hoping this is the end of all the Covid stuff and lockdowns and we can all get back out into the real world again.

“I do love travelling as I’m a guy from Airdrie who’s getting to travel the world when someone else is paying. And I love going onto my opponent’s patch and beating them.

“But there’s been something nice this time about not travelling six hours in a plane, being in an unfamiliar hotel, or people speaking different languages all around you. It’s nice just being in the UK and going into a local shop and just getting what you need. So mentally and physically it’s been enjoyable this week.”

Given what’s happening in his country, Craig may find in Krylov a man extra motivated to put on a show. The Scot, though, vowed that, regardless of the outcome, both men would celebrate or commiserate together afterwards.

“The turmoil in the world just now is crazy,” adds Craig. “He’s a Ukrainian who lives in Russia and whose family is in Russia so that must be tough for him. He’s going to be torn.

“I’d like to think he’ll be able to put that to the side and have the best mental clarity possible for the fight. But he also knows that whatever happens on the night there are bigger things than UFC for him to contend with afterwards.

“Once our business is done we’ll have a party regardless. We’re all like-minded people in the UFC and we do the same things for the most part. It’s just different outcomes that separate us.

“So win or lose, I’ll take Nikita under my wing and we’ll celebrate and commiserate together with a few beers and see where the night takes us. That’s the Scottish way.”