"The heavyweight division is wide open. They’re looking for a
younger guy to come in there and start making some noise, so it
(beating Mitrione) puts me right back up there." - Brendan Schaub
Brendan Schaub isn’t the driver he used to be. Oh, he still goes fast, but these days he avoids the brick walls.
And by the way, we’re really talking about fighting and his UFC career thus far.
“It’s like you have this beautiful Ferrari that can beat all the cars, and then you get some idiot race car driver and as soon as it starts, runs it into the brick wall,” he laughs. “So you’ve got to get a smarter driver.”
Schaub was that Ferrari and the driver, and while he put together four wins in his first seven Octagon bouts, it’s the three losses that most remember. But what they don’t recall is that before getting knocked out by Roy Nelson, Minotauro Nogueira, and Ben Rothwell, Schaub was either scoring at will (Nelson) or hurting his opponents (Nogueira and Rothwell). It’s what happened after such good fortune that had him running into walls: impatience and getting greedy. And after going recklessly for the finish, he paid the price. Three times.
Given Schaub’s competitive personality, odds were good that in his eighth UFC bout, against Lavar Johnson in February, he was going to get into a firefight. And then if he hurt him, what happened next would likely determine his future in the UFC’s heavyweight division. But that’s not the way it went. Instead, a smarter driver showed up in Anaheim that night, and while the result wasn’t a Fight or Knockout of the Year candidate, it was a win.
“The game plan was to wear him out with takedowns and then look for a knockout later in the fight, but I’ve got to be honest, my wrestling’s really good, I think definitely top ten in the division as far as grappling, if not top five, and with Johnson, it was just too easy,” said Schaub of his shutout decision win. “In the third round, I kept taking him down and I thought ‘he has to adapt to this, he has to come up with something,’ and he just didn’t, so we just kept doing what we did. The fans have labeled me a knockout artist, and believe me, I love to knock guys out, but this is a sport and it’s no different than the NFL. It’s like if you’re playing a team with horrible rush defense, but you say ‘yeah, it’s more fun to pass, so I’m just gonna pass all day long.’ You’re probably gonna lose the game. So whatever the guy’s not good at and I’m better at, I’m gonna take advantage of, no matter what, every time.”
It’s the only way to play the MMA chess game. Take your opponent’s negatives and make them your positives. The end result is usually a win. Of course, if Johnson had a weak standup game and Schaub decided to light him up on the feet, he would be a hero today. But since the ground game was where Johnson was weakest, Schaub’s decision to take the fight there and keep it there drew plenty of heat from those wanting to see more of the Colorado native’s trademark shootouts.
“That’s just part of the business,” said Schaub of the criticism following the Johnson bout. “If I fought to please all the fans, they’d be happy if I didn’t train at all and just went in there, closed my eyes, and threw right hands. They’d be like ‘man, that Schaub is a beast.’ (Laughs) With Lavar, everyone loves a winner, so if I went in there and got knocked out, we’d be singing a different tune and I wouldn’t have to worry about the fans; I’d have to worry about getting that awful call from Dana White or Joe Silva about not fighting in the UFC anymore. So that was my main concern.”
It was a valid concern and an honest answer from a fighter who pulls no punches in or out of the Octagon. But when it comes to his upcoming bout with former Ultimate Fighter 10 castmate Matt Mitrione this Saturday in Toronto, he admits that despite Mitrione’s insistence otherwise, he didn’t ask for their UFC 165 matchup.
“I really didn’t want this fight,” said the 30-year-old Schaub. “Nothing against Matt, but I have a history of calling guys out. I’ve called out Frank Mir, Mirko Cro Cop, Nogueira, Brock Lesnar, the list goes on and on, and Matt doesn’t really meet that criteria. So Matt called me and said ‘man, I can’t believe you want to fight me and you called me out.’ I said ‘nothing against you man, but I usually shoot for the moon and land on the stars. I didn’t call you out.’ Matt’s a complicated problem for me, and we’re friends and were on The Ultimate Fighter together, so I didn’t ask for this fight, but I definitely didn’t turn it down, I’ll put it that way.”
It certainly has the potential to be a good one, with the two’s jabs against each other in the media and on social media rapidly turning into left hooks and right crosses. But going back to Schaub’s earlier statement, what makes him such ‘a complicated problem?’
“Matt has his black belt in crazy,” laughs Schaub. “I think that’s his biggest tool. He throws caution to the wind and just kind of goes for it. Matt’s a very explosive, athletic guy; I pride myself on being the most athletic heavyweight, and Matt’s right up there. I think we’re one and two, and we’ll see who’s number one after this fight.”
Brendan Schaub believes he’ll be in the driver’s seat, Saturday and beyond.
“The heavyweight division is wide open,” he said. “They’re looking for a younger guy to come in there and start making some noise, so it (beating Mitrione) puts me right back up there. I had those two setbacks, I learned from them, and when I think back to those two fights I lost, especially to Nogueira in Brazil, I was just not mentally ready for that. I’m in a different place now, I’ve got a little more experience on my side, I just feel like it’s my time, and there’s no better way to go out there and prove that you belong at the top than to go out there on a card like UFC 165 and be the talk of the card. So I’m excited for it.”