As the bout draws nearer, more and more people are saying that Brendan Schaub’s meeting with Travis Browne this Saturday night in Las Vegas is the most important fight of his career. Surprisingly though, no one’s saying it louder than the man himself.
“I think a lot of times guys don’t want to put that pressure on themselves and they downplay it, but a hundred percent it is,” Schaub said. “This is one of those fights that slingshot me into the top of the heavyweight division and it’s the exact fight we wanted. It’s everything that I’ve been working towards, so here’s my shot now. I’m excited for this one and it’s great to be the underdog, that’s for sure.”
Strong words, especially coming from someone whose resume includes names like Roy Nelson, Gabriel Gonzaga, Mirko Cro Cop, Minotauro Nogueira, and Andrei Arlovski.
“Those guys are bigger names, but Travis Browne is in the prime of his career, he’s number three in the world, and he just fought in a title eliminator, so just as far as what Travis brings to the table, it’s definitely the biggest fight of my career.”
What could be the greatest night of his career, should he win, will follow one of the worst, as he lost a highly controversial split decision to Arlovski at UFC 174 in June. And while most agreed with Schaub’s insistence that he beat the former heavyweight champion, the fight registered so low on the excitement scale that it didn’t receive attention on the level of another controversial verdict a week earlier in the Diego Sanchez-Ross Pearson bout.
“It might have been the worst fight of the night,” Schaub said of his meeting with Arlovski. “I get that, but 99.9% of the world thinks I won the fight, except for two of the judges in Vancouver.”
Well, obviously the UFC hasn’t held the loss against the 31-year-old, as he will face Browne on the UFC 181 main card, with only the two headlining title fights above the heavyweight showdown. And yes, he will be the underdog according to the oddsmakers, and though that doesn’t concern Schaub, it does seem that his past knockout defeats are held against him more than against his peers, a curious development considering that he was in control of each loss to Nelson, Nogueira and Ben Rothwell before the end came.
“Name your favorite fighter, especially in the heavyweight division, and he’s been knocked out or TKOed,” Schaub said. “It’s what we sign up for. It’s part of the game, and anyone who doesn’t understand that just doesn’t understand the fight business, especially at heavyweight. In this division, and this is why people love watching heavyweights more than any other division in the world, is because a jab or the placement of a punch is going to end the night quicker than any other division. So that stuff doesn’t bother me at all. To me, they just don’t understand the sport, and anyone who hasn’t been knocked out isn’t fighting tough enough guys. (Alistair) Overeem has been knocked out more than anyone in the world, but he’s still headlining cards. Frank Mir, Cain Velasquez, the list goes on and on. Everyone’s been stopped. Roy Nelson. That guy is from a different planet when it comes to taking punches and he just got knocked out. It’s just part of the game.”
It’s as calm and measured a response as you will hear in the fight game when it comes to criticism. Tell that to Schaub and he just laughs.
“What else are they gonna pick on? Schaub has s**tty cardio. No, I don’t. As a matter of fact, I can go toe-to-toe with Cain. Schaub has bad striking. No I don’t, I’ve knocked out some of the best strikers in the world. Schaub has bad grappling. Nope? I did basically the Olympics of jiu-jitsu (against Roberto Abreu in Metamoris) and went 20 minutes and didn’t get submitted and I’ve submitted guys in the UFC. He has bad wrestling. Well, Andrei Arlovski has the best ever takedown defense in the heavyweight division, and I took him down. Mirko Cro Cop was number one in that when I fought him and took him down six times. So if you have to pick something to be Schaub’s Achilles heel – well, when a 265-pound guy punches him in the face, sometimes he falls down. (Laughs) All right, I’ll take that.”
And if he’s gun-shy about getting in there with big punchers, you wouldn’t know it by him facing Lavar Johnson, Matt Mitrione and Arlovski in consecutive bouts following his 2012 loss to Rothwell. So either Schaub is demanding such heavy hitters from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, or maybe Silva doesn’t like him too much.
“Maybe he thinks I’m fearless or stupid enough to say yes to all these monsters,” Schaub counters with a laugh. It’s this ease under the lights and the ability to be self-effacing in his assessment of himself that has garnered him several gigs outside the Octagon, but some have wondered whether he’s being distracted from the task at hand in terms of fight preparation.
“That stuff is just kind of something I do on the side and for whatever reason, they happen to pay me to talk to my friend for an hour and a half on a podcast, and they happen to pay me to break down fights that I’d watch anyway,” he said. “So for me, it’s no backup plan. Fighting is everything to me and I think people sometimes misconceive it as you’re unfocused or you’re not spending enough time in the training room and stuff like that, but anyone who knows me well, they’ll say thank God Schaub has this other stuff. Otherwise all I’d do is overtrain.
“So all those things – the UFC Now show, the Fighter and the Kid podcast, UFC Tonight – they’re all just supplements to fighting. I live and breathe fighting, that’s who I am, and that other stuff is kind of just the getaway for me. If you took fighting from me, I don’t know how I’d function very well. So yeah, I have other options and I can make money in other ways, but I truly believe I can beat anyone in the world, and I can hold that UFC heavyweight belt, and until that’s accomplished, all that other stuff is just secondary.”
Beating the number three-ranked Browne moves him a step closer to that shot at championship gold, and he knows it. How close? Real close if he has his way.
“Where do we go from here?” Schaub asks. “He’s the number three guy, so I’m not fighting four or five. I’m only fighting two or one. I only look forward. So I’m not overlooking Travis Browne; I think he’s the most dangerous heavyweight in the world and I truly believe that. But we beat him and we won’t even entertain the idea of four or five. It’s only up from there, so we beat Travis Browne, it’s gonna make one helluva statement.”