PAUL CRAIG is talking about making food which feels almost like a form of self-torture given he is voluntarily starving himself.

While most fighters gradually drift up through the divisions with age, no longer able or willing to put themselves through the punishing pre-bout weight cuts, Craig has gone the other way in the hope of extending his mixed martial arts (MMA) career.

The man known as Bearjew dropped 20lbs last summer as he made the switch from light-heavyweight to middleweight, enjoying a winning debut at the lower division before losing his second contest in November on an otherwise special night when he became the first Scot to headline a UFC card.

Undeterred by that setback, Craig has been slimming down again for a third bout at 185lbs, this time against rising Brazilian star Caio Borralho on the bill of UFC 301 in Rio de Janeiro.

He jokingly referred to himself recently as one of Scottish MMA’s OGs [original gangster, one of the old school] and hinted his time in the Octagon could be drawing to an end. The 36-year-old, though, is in far more bullish form here, making clear he believes there is plenty of life in this old dog yet.

“I believe I’m just coming into my prime,” he says. “If you look at the age of some of the champions or even top 10 fighters in the upper weights like middleweight and light-heavyweight, they start to peak around 35 or 36 years old. So I feel that I’m just now approaching my peak as a mixed martial artist.

“A lot of things have happened in the last few years of my life. I changed gyms, signed this massive contract with the UFC and moved down to middleweight. It took a while for all that to bed in but I believe now I’m in a much better position than I was two years ago.

“I won my middleweight debut in London and then you get an opportunity straight off the back of that. And you have to strike when the iron is hot as the last thing you want to do is take six months to a year off to rebuild yourself nutrition-wise. The sport moves so fast and one fight can change a whole division.

“So I had to go back-to-back with those fight camps. My nutritionist wasn’t happy as we deplete our resources to make middleweight, cutting from 105kg to 84.6kg. That takes a lot out of your body; white and red blood cells, testosterone levels and iron deficiencies are all affected.

“But I had to take the chance to headline against Brendan Allen. It was one of those dreams to be the first Scottish fighter to headline a card in the URC but it wasn’t my night. That hurts still to this day. I have a poster of the fight in my gym and it gives me extra motivation to keep working even harder.

“I wouldn’t say the weight cut is getting any easier now – it still takes a lot out of you. The best way to describe it is that it’s like making soup. You never make the same pot twice. You mess about with the recipe until you get the perfect version. And it’s the same for me. We've tried different things and when I look at my numbers now, they all point to me being much improved from last time out. I definitely feel the best is yet to come.”

Craig has spent time in recent weeks supporting his friends at the Cage Warriors event and then the opening of Meta-Tech, a specialist jiu-jitsu gym, in Glasgow.

“Scottish MMA is on the rise,” he adds. “It shows with Cage Warriors putting on a show like that and then deciding to come back again to Glasgow in September. That’s huge. I train with some of the best up-and-coming talent at Higher Level gym. I’d say Sean Clancy is a guy who has the potential to become the next champion from Scotland at just 22. But I’m still hanging in there with him. He’s still taking some second prizes off the old bull here.”

Tonight’s fight takes place in Rio de Janeiro, with Craig giving up hometown advantage to Borralho who will have the near unanimous backing of a partisan crowd. The Scot, though, is relishing the chance to play the villain and spoil the party.

“This fight at UFC 301 is going to be a showcase of a 36-year-old man going up against a young buck who is going to try to dethrone the OG here,” he adds. “It’s a great fight for me, stylistically and match-up wise. I’m taller than my opponent, I’ve been working on a lot of striking and, together with my team, we’ve come up with a gameplan we believe will lead us to victory.

“It’s much easier being the bad good than the good guy on a night like this. I found that out in Glasgow when everyone was showing me so much love and the noise in the place was almost overwhelming. I know the UFC don’t want me to get the victory tonight. I’ve build my career on upsets and that’s what I’m going to do again. I’m going to make that arena in Rio go very quiet.”

Paul Craig takes on Caio Borralho at UFC® 301: PANTOJA vs ERCEG tonight on TNT Sports. TNT Sports is available through its streaming destination discovery+ and across all major TV platforms. See here for more information.