Article by James Calhilellis
When you ask Craig Darling how much he likes his job, he smiles and says, “I’ve got the best job in the world.”
In a sport where fans can recite the names of referees, judges, and cutmen almost as fast as the athletes, Craig “The Gatekeeper” is among the sports cult personalities. He’s a man who everyone has seen time and time again, standing by the Octagon cage in his black dress shirt and spiked hair with the words “The Gatekeeper” etched into the back of his head.
Darling is also one of the men responsible for the set-up, tear down, and protection of UFC’s world famous Octagon. He is dubbed “The Gatekeeper” because of his most famous job, standing by the cage door allowing only those worthy enough to enter Mixed Martial Arts holy grail.
How can someone get so lucky to land a job like that you might ask? Well, it all started with the help of a friend.
“A friend of mine and his wife, they asked me if I could come out and help one night. I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going. We went to the warehouse where they do the Ultimate Fighter, tore apart the Octagon and put it back together. They said “if your looking for a job your hired”. I said “sounds good to me.””
And with that Craig Darling landed the job us fans can only dream of. In the past five years, Darling has traveled to over 55 UFC events, watching the worlds best fighters compete against one another from a distance no father away then the cornermen.
Being dubbed “The Gatekeeper” was actually somewhat of a surprise to Darling. During one of the UFC events, a fan who wanted his attention just yelled “Hey Gatekeeper!” When Darling looked, the fan then said “Yeah, come here!”, and the nickname stuck.
Darling liked the nickname so much that he started having “The Gatekeeper” etched into the back of his head before every UFC event he worked. It was a way for him to set his own path away from the rest and help the fans be able to point him out and remember him. That’s my take on it anyway. If you ask Darling himself, you’ll get a different response.
“I grave “The Gatekeeper” in the back of my head because it’s cheaper then buying a Corvette. [I’m] going through that stage where I’m 40 years old and I want a Corvette, but the wife won’t let me get one. So I’ll just engrave “The Gatekeeper” in the back of my head [instead].”
Even with one of the world’s greatest jobs and an increasing number of people recognizing him everywhere he goes, Darling is still a very humble guy who enjoys talking with all the fans. Before events you can count on seeing him in the local shops, bars, and restaurants, chatting it up with all the fans around him.
“I really enjoy talking to the fans and stuff. It was shocking the first time I’ve was asked for an autograph, but now [me and] my wife are so used to it, we’ll be walking through Mandalay Bay, and fans will recognize me [and ask for a picture or autograph].”
Recently though, tragedy has struck the Darling family as Craig’s father passed away on May 14th. Not just a loving father, but also a good friend, Craig would sit with his dad several times a week and talk about the sport they love…MMA.
A military veteran, Art Darling loved how much the UFC gave back to the men and women in the armed forces. He was always anxious to hang out with his son at the events and meet the fighters.
“The fighters were always good to my dad. He thought he knew every fighter out there. I was able to introduce him to a lot people [and] I introduced him to Dana [White]”
In memory of his father, Craig “The Gatekeeper” made a small change from the norm at UFC 130 (the first UFC event after the passing of his father). For his infamous haircut, underneath the words “The Gatekeeper” and inside the octagon shape, read the words “RIP DAD”.
As Craig “The Gatekeeper” rubs his chin on camera to say hi to his family back home, he can bet on his father looking at him from gates above, rubbing his chin to say “I’m proud of you”.
In Memory of Art Darling