"God gave me these big shoulders for a reason, to take all this pressure. I asked for this, and it’s not too soon." - Brendan Schaub
With each of his three UFC losses coming by way of knockout, Brendan Schaub has heard the whispers and questions about his chin. His response? He didn’t just accept a fight with perhaps the hardest puncher in the division, Lavar Johnson; he asked for it.
“This is a coming out party, which is weird to me because I’ve fought some of the best guys in the world, I’ve beaten them, and one thing you can say about me is that I haven’t shied away from fighting the best guys,” said Schaub, who was originally scheduled to face Johnson last December before an injury scrapped “Big” from the bout. “So for me, it’s just a way to go out and prove it to people. It’s the heavyweight division; if you make a mistake, it’s gonna be a short night, it doesn’t matter who you’re fighting. It’s not a question of chin or anything like that, so I think by going out there and kinda dismantling this monster in Lavar Johnson, it puts that to rest.”
Schaub’s not sugarcoating things; Johnson is a monster. He’s never gone the distance as a professional, winning 16 of his 17 fights with his fists, and in his first two UFC bouts, he picked up two Knockout of the Night bonuses for his finishes of Joey Beltran and Pat Barry. On the other hand, Schaub is looking to rebound from back-to-back KO losses to Minotauro Nogueira and Ben Rothwell. But when the dust settled from the loss to Rothwell at UFC 145 last April, Schaub called for the California knockout artist and he got what he asked for. That’s a gutsy move no matter how you look at it. You could even call it fearless.
“I’m surrounded by world champions and these world class athletes and titleholders, and I want what they have,” he said. “And the only way you’re gonna do that is by fighting the best in the game, and that’s what I’m here to do. I know there’s no room for error with that guy (Johnson). But as hard as he hits, I think technique beats his scary, wild punches all day, and that’s what we’re banking on.”
Training in both Southern California and his native Colorado, Schaub has been burning the midnight oil to get ready for what may be the most pivotal fight of his career, and if he’s been traumatized by his defeats, it’s not showing in his words or deeds. The way he sees it, this is what he signed up for, and as a heavyweight, all it takes is one mistake added to one four ounce gloved fist on the chin and it could be lights out for anyone.
“There’s a reason why we’re the most exciting division in the world and why we get paid the big bucks,” he said. “It’s because you make one mistake and it’s over. I’ve learned from that, I’ve benefitted from that and I’ve also lost because of it. If anyone knows that, it’s me. I think people are used to seeing all these other divisions where guys can kinda get away with making some mistakes and still put on exciting fights and go to a decision. In the heavyweight division, it’s just not the case.”
And unfortunately for Schaub, his losses have not been one-sided blowouts or beatdowns, but fights in which he was having significant success before getting greedy, leaving himself exposed defensively, and then getting caught. Look at the tapes. He was doing well standing in the Ultimate Fighter 10 final against Roy Nelson, he was lighting up Nogueira at UFC 134, and he rocked Rothwell at UFC 145. But when he got over aggressive, his veteran foes made him pay.
“I’ve kind of made a career out of putting pressure on guys, and when I smell blood in the water, I go for it,” he admits. “When you start fighting these better guys and hurt the guy, you’ve got to kind of sit back, analyze the situation, and go from there. I don’t have a lot of experience; that’s what people forget. I’m learning as I go, I’m fighting monsters, I’ve learned from it, and I think you’ll see in this fight it’s gonna be a different story.”
Just 9-3 as a pro, the former college football player is still a relative newcomer to the sport, and though his raw talent got him four UFC victories, including wins over Gabriel Gonzaga and Mirko Cro Cop, his inexperience showed in his defeats. But what he has learned better than anything else, is that once you lose, you have to squeeze the lessons out of it and then let it go.
“I grew up competing in sports all my life at a very high level, and losses happen,” said Schaub. “I don’t care who you are, if you don’t have losses you’re not fighting tough enough guys. I surround myself with successful and mentally strong people, and the most successful people I know learn from their mistakes, and you keep moving forward. I learn from it, I’ll benefit from it, and I keep it positive.”
But how do you prep for hurting an opponent and then not rushing in to finish until it’s safe to do so? You can’t ask your sparring partners to let you tap them on the chin and then step back.
“That’s the mental part of the game, and that’s the difference between your world champs and your average C-level fighters,” said Schaub. “The guys who are mentally strong and have that discipline, they know what to do, and really the only way to test out if I’ve gotten better is to do it inside the Octagon.”
This Saturday in Anaheim, he gets his final exam, at least for this term. It’s the equivalent of a championship fight for Schaub, because no one wants to wake up Sunday morning with three straight UFC losses. So has it been too much too soon for the 29-year-old “Hybrid”? He doesn’t think so.
“God gave me these big shoulders for a reason, to take all this pressure,” he said. “I asked for this, and it’s not too soon. Things happen for a reason, and sometimes you learn the most from losses, and that couldn’t be truer in my situation and in my career. I don’t have any regrets. Things happen and I’ve become a better fighter for it. I asked for this.”
He sure did. Now he’s getting it, and he’s ready to show the world just what he’s made of.
“No one believes in himself more than I do, and I know I can beat this guy,” said Schaub. “And not only beat him, but do it in a dominating way. I think it sends a statement to the rest of the division that I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be in the UFC for a very long time, I’m young, I’ve learned from my mistakes, and beating a guy like Lavar Johnson sends a message to everyone that I’m here to stay, and I’m gonna be a handful for a lot of guys.”