"I think it’s a good time to be a heavyweight. There are some
great matchups for me and I’m gonna be a tough fight for anyone." - Brendan Schaub
Losing stinks. No matter whether it’s in checkers, video games, or a spelling bee, no one likes to be the one on that “other side.” Yet while most losing is done in private, the hearty souls who strap on four ounce gloves and put themselves on the line in front of thousands in arenas and hundreds of thousands more on television have even more to contend with should they leave with their hand unraised. And how they deal with it will determine their future success.
Most put it out of their heads, choosing the ignorance is bliss defense. If I don’t remember it, it didn’t happen. Others search for excuses, some plausible, many not, in order to explain away something they believe shouldn’t have happened.
Then there’s Brendan Schaub. After getting knocked out by heavyweight legend Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira at UFC 134 last August, he didn’t forget the second loss of his pro career, he didn’t try to explain away, and he certainly didn’t accept it. But what he did for the last eight months leading up to his return to the Octagon this Saturday against Ben Rothwell is embrace what he did wrong, figure it out from every possible angle, and do everything in his power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
And as soon as he forgets what happened on August 27, 2011, he just needs to turn around from the man in the mirror and look at the back of his bathroom door.
“I hung up my wraps from Rio in my bathroom, and not a day goes by that I don’t look at those things to make sure that that never happens again,” said Schaub, whose analysis of the defeat began minutes after it was over, as he made his way through the bowels of HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro to find Nogueira.
“I talked to Nogueira for about 30 minutes after that fight,” he said. “As soon as I lost, I went in the back and talked to him. I asked him when you were getting ready for this fight, what did you see? Strengths, weaknesses. When we were in the fight, what were you looking for? That’s something not a lot of guys can say they did, and I learned a ton talking to him.”
It was a master class in MMA that you couldn’t find in any university, but when the talk was over, the 29-year old Schaub had a degree that only comes with a few punches, knees, and kicks along for the ride.
“I’m not saying I’m a big star like LeBron James, but it’s like LeBron James going up to Michael Jordan like ‘hey man, give me some pointers on how to beat defenders or how to dunk the ball,’” he said. “Talk about one of the best to ever do it, and getting tips from him and then asking him what he did to prepare to beat me. For me, that stuff is priceless.”
In just 11 pro fights, Schaub has gotten an education few heavyweights can claim. A finalist on season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter, the former University of Colorado fullback got a little too cocky after some early success against Roy Nelson, dropped his hands, and got stopped, but after that bout and knockout wins over Chase Gormley and Chris Tuchscherer, he was matched with former title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga, PRIDE star Mirko Cro Cop, and Nogueira in successive bouts. And after beating Gonzaga and Cro Cop, there was really no turning back for “The Hybrid.” He couldn’t go back to fighting journeymen or fellow prospects. He was in the rough part of the heavyweight neighborhood for good, and he knew it.
“Whenever I go out in public or do those UFC Expos or signings, they come up to me and say ‘man, that Gonzaga fight was crazy,’ or ‘that Cro Cop fight was awesome,’ or ‘Nogueira, that fight didn’t go your way but you were doing great until you got caught; what was it like fighting in Brazil?’ No one asks me about the other fights. Your legacy is off the legends and the big names that you fight, and the tough opponents.”
A win over Nogueira would have likely propelled Schaub into the title picture, and despite fighting a national icon in front of a Brazilian crowd cheering Nogueira on, the Denver product had success early, and just like in the Nelson fight, he was able to tag his foe and rock him before the end came.
“I expected him (Nogueira) to take me down,” said Schaub. “He got in on that single leg and I pride myself on my takedown defense, so I remember getting out of it so easily and turning him against the cage, and I thought to myself ‘oh, he’s screwed now. He can’t take me down.’ And that’s when I got a little bit relaxed.”
Schaub stops for a moment, almost as if he’s reliving the bout again.
“That fight is one hundred percent on me and the mistakes I made,” he continues. “I’m not a guy that throws lead uppercuts. I’m just not because they expose you to an overhand right and that’s what he caught me with. I was out of my element a little bit when I threw that, he did a great job faking the takedown and coming over the top with it…”
And the rest is history.
“I felt like it was me against the world in there,” he said. “They (the fans) were so amped up for that fight, and I was like ‘man, you guys are cheering for this guy, and I’m gonna go out there and destroy him – watch this.’ And I came out guns a blazing and I left myself open for the counter. I haven’t fought like that in a while, probably not since the Roy fight, and look what happened in that one too. Now it’s more about being relaxed and kinda letting my hard work pay off.”
After the bout, despite the outcome, he did keep to an old ritual he picked up, but this one had a little bit more meaning than before.
“I’m smart with my money, I have a financial adviser, and I don’t go crazy with my bonus money or anything like that,” said Schaub. “But every time after a fight I buy myself a gift, whether it’s a watch or shoes, or something like that. And after this fight, I was just so disappointed in myself and I felt that I had let so many people down that I went and bought the best boxing gloves I could find, and I was back in the gym. And since I lost to Nogueira, every single day, no matter what I do in practice, I end the day with a hundred jabs.”
Eight months makes for a lot of jabs, and though rumored bouts against Fabricio Werdum and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva never panned out, he will get a top-notch foe to throw hands with in Ben Rothwell, another veteran looking to teach the up and comer a painful lesson on fight night. And while Schaub is the likely favorite, it’s a tune he doesn’t really like hearing before fights like this.
“With those past fights, everyone was like ‘oh, they’re giving Schaub these easy fights, and he’s fighting these legends who are washed up,’” he said. “Really? Because the way I see it, they’re in a fight, and they know they have to train their asses off. So I get a tough Gonzaga, whose back is up against the cage, and I beat him. I get Cro Cop, and it was the best Cro Cop I’ve seen in the UFC and he gave me a helluva fight. That guy tore me up and I knock him out. They say ‘Ah, he just caught him.’ Then we get Nogueira. When’s the last time you saw Nogueira move like that? I thought it was Muhammad Ali out there. Then he goes out and does the same exact thing to Frank Mir, makes a huge mistake, but he did it to a guy who’s probably fighting for the title soon. I’m getting these vets with their backs against the wall because they know they have to beat me or have a good performance to keep their job, and it’s not easy. And I’m excited for the opportunity, but it’s by no means a gimme fight. You’re poking the bear when they give me these monsters.”
Brendan Schaub isn’t complaining though. Fighting is what he does, and fighting the best is what gets him out of bed in the morning to look at those handwraps, remember what the gameplan is, and to practice it all day until it’s time for those hundred jabs. And on Saturday, he gets to show what he’s learned since last August.
“I think it’s a good time to be a heavyweight,” he said. “There are some great matchups for me and I’m gonna be a tough fight for anyone. So I’m in a good spot, I’m gonna go out there and do my job, put a great performance on against Ben Rothwell, and I’m right back in there. I’m one win away from getting back on track, and I’m just excited for the upcoming matchups.”