PAUL CRAIG will once again walk into the belly of the Brazilian beast early on Sunday morning – although the notoriously hostile crowd won’t intimidate him one bit.
The Scot will walk out to chants of “Uh Vai Morrer” – “you’re going to die” in English – when he makes his way to the octagon for his UFC 283 clash with Johnny Walker in Rio de Janeiro.
The iconic chant has been aimed at foreigners fighting Brazilians in their own backyard for the best part of two decades and has become synonymous with the sport.
But the vitriol behind the chant won’t be anything new for Airdrie Assassin Craig, who first came to hear it three years ago when taking on MMA legend Shogun Rua in Sao Paulo.
He told SunSport: “For me, the sport is all about memories and experiences and what happens in there.
“I’ll never forget walking out in Sao Paulo and they were going crazy. Whatever the chant they were signing – ‘You’re gonna die.’ It was brilliant.
“I’ve got a video where you can just hear them chanting this and all you hear is, ‘You’re gonna die Craig!’
“It was absolutely tremendous as I’m walking around trying to look tough. But see by the end of that fight – Brazil, I think is very much like the UK.
“If you put on a performance, the fans will get behind you.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re going up against the British or [Brazilian guy] and you’re not the hometown hero.
“If you put on a performance, the fans will give you it back.
“See as soon you’re walking out of that octagon, the fans will be right behind you. And that’s what it was like in Brazil.”
He added: “When I put the first round on Shogun and I felt like I won that fight. It went to a decision, a draw, not the worst [thing] that can happen in Brazil.
“But the fans were loving it, the fans were right behind me. The place was just electric and I believe it’s going to be the same for this fight.”
Not having to mentally prepare for the most hostile fan base in the sport has allowed Craig to focus solely on strategising for the dangerous Walker, although devising a gameplan for the erratic Brazilian has proven to be somewhat difficult.
Craig said of his opponent: “He came to the scene and he was just knocking people out and he was just swinging.
“And just creating crazy memes where he busts his shoulder doing the worm and this kind of thing.
“A great character for the sport. He’s very tall, very athletic and very powerful, but what he doesn’t have is that ability to be composed.
“We saw that against Hill when he catches him that shot and he just falls back.
“He makes mistakes and I believe that’s where we’ll capitalise as long as we stay tight and don’t get caught with anything silly.
“When he rushes forward, we’ve got two options: we either strike him or take him down. And that’s what we’re looking to do.
“That’s what we’ve spent the last few months looking at beating him at his craziness.
“He goes crazy, we capitalise on that. That’s what we’re looking for. We want him to be that erratic.”
Craig’s first outing of the year could very well have had title implications had he got past Volkan Oezdemir at UFC London in July, who snapped his impressive four-fight win streak.
He said: “I do believe if that last fight went a different route, a victory over Volkan in London in the summer, we may have been sat here talking about a title contender’s shot.
“Jamahal Hill’s got that fight right now and [Magomed] Ankalaev fought [Jan] Blachowicz last month. And they’re two guys that I’ve beat.
“Who knows what would’ve happened? But it’s that saying, ‘Shoulda, woulda, coulda.”
With the benefit of hindsight, Craig can’t help but think his lack of a head coach contributed to losing arguably the biggest fight of his mixed martial arts career.
He admitted: “I probably shouldn’t have taken the fight because I hadn’t sorted my affairs.
“As I said, I was a nomad – floating from gym to gym and going down south and training with Tom Aspinall, Phil De Fries and Mickey Parkin, but I just had no direction.”
The dream of becoming the first Scot to compete and win UFC gold, however, is still well and truly alive for Craig.
But he knows he needs to make a major statement against Walker if he’s to breathe serious new life into his title aspirations.
He said: “The path right now is to get through Johnny Walker. And it can’t just beat Johnny Walker in three rounds and look comfortable.
“It needs to be a performance. I think I’ve said this to you before. The UFC only care are you able to entertain the fans.
“What do the fans want? It’s an entertainment business, first and foremost. Fighting is something we do to entertain fans.
“You’ll not get a title shot if you’re not entertaining fans. So that’s what I need to do going into Brazil.
“I need to put on a performance, put a hurt on Johnny Walker and stop him within three rounds.”
Flashy striker Walker will no doubt draw strength from the Rio crowd as he bids to register consecutive wins for the first time in nearly four years.
But Craig believes the pressure of fighting in front of his loved ones and rabid countrymen could have the opposite effect on the charismatic clubber.
He said: ‘”Johnny Walker is quite an emotional guy, all that explosiveness [and energy], I think it might consume him.
“I think the bright lights might get to him.”