As Brendan Schaub looks to capitalize on a UFC heavyweight division filling with fresh faces as the wider world of mixed martial arts witnesses the decline of the weight class’ icons from years gone by, “The Hybrid” takes the biggest step of his career this weekend at UFC 128.
On Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., Schaub faces an MMA heavyweight legend in the form of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović. It’s an encounter that has the potential to characterize the new guard’s replacing of former champions, including Andrei Arlovski and Fedor Emelianenko, who continue their steady downturn in 2011.
Speaking on Rear Naked Choke Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network, Schaub discussed his opportunity to face Filipović in the Octagon as well as a number of other topics related to his budding career in the UFC. The Ultimate Fighter Season 10 runner-up spoke of his eagerness to trade strikes with the Croatian, an individual for whom he holds the utmost respect and still rates as a prominent figure in the UFC.
“(The fight) can’t come fast enough,” Schaub told hosts Joe Rizzo and Jeremy Fullerton. “It’s been a long, successful camp for me and I wish the fight was (now). I’m just eager to get in there and mix things up with a legend like ‘Cro Cop.’ ”
Schaub’s pay-per-view-opening fight at UFC 128 will be the most high profile encounter of his short career and a chance to turn his three-fight winning streak into a genuine claim to burst into the mix for title contention. Despite a first-round knockout defeat at the hands Roy “Big Country” Nelson at the TUF 10 Finale in December 2009, the 27-year-old has compiled a promising professional MMA record that stands at 7-1, with his most recent success a unanimous decision victory over Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 121 last October.
Schaub’s development as a mixed martial artist since his time on the UFC’s reality series is evident. His loss to Nelson has been followed by an impressive run of form that suggests he took the ordeal in stride, correcting any flaws in his game.
“When I got to the house I definitely relied on my stand-up; out-boxing guys,” Schaub admitted. “I always considered myself more of a striker and I was really inexperienced. You could tell that early … I was going out there basically balls-to-the-wall and most guys can’t put up with that. But when you’re facing the higher competition, that stuff doesn’t work. Going past my last couple of fights I’m definitely more composed and a more well-rounded fighter. I study film on my opponents, come up with game plans. I’m starting to get that under my belt and I think that’s the difference.
“(Coming off a loss), for me, that’s when you find out what fighters are made of. I could have gone down one road where I lost to Chase Gormley and I’d have been cut by the UFC, but I decided to go the other way and I’ve been on a tear. This is what I was born to do and I feel I can compete with anyone in the UFC in the heavyweight division. I’m just going out there to prove it now.”
One of the sport’s most recognizable names, Filipović brings a wealth of experience to his fight with Schaub. Across tenures with Pride Fighting Championships, Dream and the UFC, the 36-year-old has amassed a record of 27-8-2 (1 NC), holding victories over Kazushi Sakuraba, Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman and Wanderlai Silva while fighting for Pride FC.
In recent years however, the Pride 2006 Open-Weight Grand Prix winner has enjoyed mixed success, most recently losing by knockout to Frank Mir at UFC 119 last September. He remains, however, a dangerous force for anybody in the UFC to contend with, using his signature leg strikes to great effect.
“Uh wait, he kicks?” Schaub joked. “I think it’s funny when people go, ‘Man, you’re fighting Cro Cop? Bro, watch out for the left high kick.’ No (kidding), really? ‘Cro Cop’ is an absolute monster when it comes to kickboxing with his left kick and his left hand, so that’s why I train so hard and I’ll definitely be ready for anything he brings.”
Preparing for his fight at Colorado’s Grudge Training Center, Schaub trains alongside fellow UFC heavyweight Shane Carwin. The two have been teammates for a number of years. As the world of MMA continues debating the ethics behind teammates fighting each other following light-heavyweights Jon Jones and Rashad Evans opposing the notion, a prospective clash between Schaub and Carwin somewhere down the line poses a similar dilemma.
“As Jon and Rashad go, and my relationship with Shane, it’s nowhere near the same,” Schaub said adamantly. “Jon lives in New York and drives down to Albuquerque for his camps, whereas Shane and I have been together since the start of our careers. We’re both where we’re at because of each other, he’s been a mentor and almost a father figure to me, so it’s a little different.
“If it’s for a title, that’s a different story. That would be a good one to have and I’ll deal with it when that time comes.”
Adopting the nickname “The Hybrid” from his ability to successfully combine the assets of strength and agility, the former Arena league football player’s slender (for a heavyweight) frame and weigh-in weight of around 240 pounds arguably has its downsides within a weight class where a number of fighters push the upper limit of 265 pounds.
“I see it everyday in Shane Carwin,” Schaub countered. “It’s all I know, so the good thing is I’m used to that weight. There are only really two guys who deal you that problem and that’s Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin.
“Other than that, you look at the way the heavyweight division is going, you got guys like Cain Velasquez, who’s smaller than me, Junior dos Santos, who’s either the same size or smaller than me, and those guys are the front runners of the division right now. So the monsters like Carwin and Lesnar, those are two guys. … I go up against Carwin everyday, so if I was matched up with Lesnar then it would be a good thing for me.”
You can rule out Schaub dropping to 205 to compete in the UFC’s light heavyweight division any time soon as well; if the James Irvins of the world hadn’t already put him off the idea.
“No, it would be a rough cut. Right now, I’m probably 10 percent body fat and 253 (pounds) so to get to 205 would just be miserable for me,” Schaub said. “At the same time, there’s no need to, I’m pretty successful in the heavyweight division right now and I’m just keeping on this straight.”
With six first-round knockout victories already to his name, Schaub’s pairing with the Croatian striking specialist at UFC 128 looks to offer a great deal of movement, mostly head-on, and significant bonus potential, whether it be knockout of the night or fight of the night.
He’s ready to capitalize.