Former title challenger meets the best guard in the 205lb division when Volkan Oezdemir makes the walk to the octagon to face Paul Craig.
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One of Switzerland’s best MMA fighters, former professional kickboxer Oezdemir made his UFC debut back in 2017. It took him only three UFC wins to earn himself a title shot, coming up short against Daniel Cormier at UFC 220 back in 2018. Just a year after joining the promotion, fans were both wowed at the potential of the contender but also critical of his speedy rise, but given time and experience in the biggest league in the world, only good could come of Oezdemir. The following years saw mixed success, including another two losses, then a 2-fight win streak followed by another couple losses. The swiss fighter however has developed his skills since and looks to get back on track with another win.
Scotland’s Paul Craig will not allow that easily. On an impressive four-fight win streak, Craig has recently taken out the likes of the legendary Shogun Rua, along with Gadzhimurad Antigulov, Jamahal Hill, and Nikita Krylov all by finish. Early on, the Scotsman was criticized for his readiness to go to his back before showing fans what is truly possible when you dedicate yourself to your craft, his being a vicious submission game from his guard. After breaking Hill’s arm and locking in one of the fastest triangle chokes fans have ever seen to finish Krylov, it’s a heavy order for Oezdemir to halt the momentum of Craig.
One of the more surprising odds on the card based on their most recent fights is Oezdemir coming out as a favorite over the surging Craig. However, due to his championship experience and well-roundedness, it will require a wager of $128 on the Swiss striker to return $100.
Paul Craig vs. Volkan Oezdemir is a great fighter. A former professional Kickboxer vs. one of the best jiu jitsu artists in the division. However, don’t let that fool you; both men are complete mixed martial artists with dangerous abilities everywhere and a superb ability to blend their skills.
Paul Craig is a long, rangy fighter on the feet, and he has a variety of strikes to choose from. One of the most interesting sets of tools he has is his kicks, which is able to throw freely without fearing being taken too much due to his confidence off of his back. This has allowed him to throw spinning hooks kicks and a variety of other high kicks against major takedown threats like Shogun Rua. However, his kicks are not especially fast or explosive, they are accurate and technically sound, but he throws them with a level of aggression that almost invites his opponents to catch them. His body kicks in particular have a relatively high level of wind up which telegraphs them.
His hands, likewise, have a bit of fat on them, and when he is throwing hooks in particular, there is a moment of wind up before they are thrown, and they aren’t the fastest in the cage. That being said, this isn’t because he can’t. When fighting in the center of the octagon, he often puts a lot of weight on the rear leg, allowing him to maintain balance when defending single legs, and allowing him to slide out of range when he lands. He will often lean away from punches and make good use of reach, although does keep his chin just a little bit higher than those rooting for him are comfortable with. When he is the one pressing forward, specifically when he has trapped his opponents on the fence, is when he will commit his weight to his lead leg and throw much faster and harder punches as he tees off. He will do this when he threatens the standing guillotine from the clinch, in order to break and unload, also mixing in sharp elbows. His best punches by far are his jabs and crosses, as his straights tend to be a bit cleaner than anything looping.
Volkan Oezdemir is a better technical striker and possesses more power. What characterizes his striking is a tightness and shortness to his movement. Back in his kickboxing days, Oezdemir was much more kick-happy but has since become very boxing dominant in MMA, he wants to box his way inside and land short hard punches in the pocket. Largely this allows him to avoid swinging and missing big, further avoiding being out of position very often. However, the problem is because he needs to get on the inside to land his best shots, he does tend to wait around for the counter more than often. This also means that he has to always constantly be trying to move forward as he doesn’t want to be caught playing the long sniping game on the outside.
One of the big questions surrounding this is how Paul Craig can get the fight to the mat. Oezdemir has tremendous balance and is very difficult to elevate and dump, but has fallen to well-transitioned trips and sweeps in sequence. However, Paul Craig is not known for his wrestling, rather many have fallen victim to a possum-like approach, where Craig after being knocked down or giving up an easy takedown then sweeps or submits from his back. After four fights where this has been a theme, will Oezdemir entertain an opportunity to jump on Craig? Whether he does or not, Craig must be working in camp on various ways to get there on his own initiative. Oezdemir has to get on the inside to attack in his preferred range, which will offer more opportunities for Craig to clinch up. When defending the clinch, Oezdemir is very good at framing and landing short elbows in tight, but likewise Craig is very good at threatening enough in the clinch to break and land. From the clinch, look for Paul Craig to potentially pull guard.
Off of his back, Craig’s game is very high risk and high reward. Fighting from guard he takes shots in essentially every fight before securing anything significant which causes him to basically lose out in scores and risk being knocked out before he can get anything off. Historically he does find that submission eventually, but Oezdemir more than many of his past opponents can shut the lights off with fewer punches. It would be wise for Craig to consider sacrifice throws or immediate sweep attempts off of pulling guard rather than immediately settling on his back, but regardless, allowing himself to end up underneath initially may be the clearest route to a takedown Craig gas.
Oezdemir has solid grappling, but his best work is done offensively. He has good solid basics on top, where more criticism arises is being overly patient, which may actually be an asset against someone like Craig, and a lack of submission awareness which is a massive detriment against someone like Craig. The largest example of the latter is his tendency to fight off the position before the submission, when finding himself being controlled from the back, a choice to attack the hooks rather than defend the choke caused Anthony Smith to finish him, and while submissions are not a constant on his record via losses, being very close to them has been somewhat there often enough.
The big question in this fight is whether or not Volkan Oezdemir can deny the takedowns. Paul Craig can probably compete with Oezdemir on the feet if he can stay on the outside, but he hasn’t shown an ability to cause enough damage there to match what Oezdemir can do with fewer chances inside the pocket. It’s when Oezdemir pushes his way in that Craig must take his opportunities to clinch up and either create openings for himself to get in his strikes. From there, once he gains some respect the takedowns become slightly easier, and mixing it up is key but I do see Craig finding a way to create scrambles and drag Oezdemir down with him. On both sides, discipline in sticking to the game plan is required, but I think Craig can pull it off.
Prediction: Paul Craig to win (+152 odds at MyBookie)
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.