At 29 years old, Matt Schnell may have it all. And if not all, at least a lot.
“Just bought a house, baby on the way, and I’m about to go to Korea and put on a show,” said the No. 9-ranked flyweight, who takes on fellow contender Alexandre Pantoja this Saturday in Busan.
There’s still more to do, of course, but just getting to this point in his life wasn’t anything he ever expected.
“I didn’t see it,” he said. “Even when (MTV’s) ‘Caged’ was going on, it wasn’t until after ‘Caged’ that people convinced me that maybe I was good enough to make a run at it and fight. So I’m so grateful and thankful. Everything I have, I fought for, literally. When I walked into the gym, I was just an angry kid…”
Schnell’s voice trails off, perhaps replaying where he’s been over these last 29 years. But no matter what he had to fight through, he made it.
“It’s crazy to think,” he continues. “But I’m grateful. Fighting has been good to me and my family, and I honor that.”
He will also honor his Korean heritage this weekend as he engages in one of the biggest fights of his career.
“It holds a special place for me,” he said of fighting in South Korea. “Two of the best people I know, my father and my grandmother, were born in Korea, so it’s always been a place I felt close to. But I’m an American citizen and I’m happy to go over there and be an ambassador, I suppose.”
With both Korea and America in his heart, Schnell doesn’t have to worry about any divided loyalties on fight night, considering Pantoja is Brazilian, but there is always another thing to fight for every time he steps into the Octagon, and that’s the 125-pound weight class that was on the verge of extinction in the UFC not that long ago.
“Every time I step out there, I’m a representative of what this division’s capable of,” he said. “I’ve always held the idea that this is an individual sport because it’s only me out there, but I do have to step out there and perform, not only for myself, not only for my family, but at this point for my division too. I have no problem going out there and putting it on for my division and after I get this win, I’m gonna get on that microphone and let everybody know that not only is this division here to stay, but I’m the guy to maybe reign supreme and bring it from obscurity. I’ve always felt that (UFC matchmakers) Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby brought me in hoping that I could be one of the guys to help this division out and bring a little excitement to it. And that’s what I plan on doing.”
Schnell has brought excitement to the sport, whether on MTV’s Caged, on The Ultimate Fighter 24 (where he was a teammate of Pantoja), or in the Octagon, where he weathered a rocky 0-2 start to his UFC career to reel off four consecutive wins, the last two by submission.
Again, he’s come a long way over the last couple years, fighting out of a hole he didn’t know if he would get out of.
“Yeah, it felt like a long period of time when that’s how it felt,” Schnell said. “It hurt me, it hurt me deep and made me feel like I was letting things slip through my fingers. We got close to getting cut, but here we are, though. We turned it around and all that stuff is a distant memory. I fight each time hoping to continue to put that behind me.”
Is it behind him, though, or is it something he needs to keep right next to him in order to remind him where he came from and where he never wants to go back to? Schnell won’t ever forget, and that makes him a dangerous young man.
“I think it does me well to remember how it felt and try to not get back to that position again,” he said. “It keeps me sharp, and it keeps me responsible knowing that it can all be taken away. So I always keep that in the back of my mind. I’ve worked hard to get where I am and I don’t anticipate taking steps back, certainly not intentionally. Somebody’s gonna have to come and whip me to make it happen.”