After a difficult start to his Ultimate Fighting Championship career, Matt Schnell will head into UFC Fight Night 132 on Saturday in Singapore looking to even his promotional record at 2-2. The 28-year-old flyweight has grown in both victory and defeat.
Schnell became familiar to the larger MMA viewing audience during a stint on “The Ultimate Fighter 24,” losing in the quarterfinals to eventual tournament winner Tim Elliott. After a solid appearance on the reality show and success on the regional scene, hopes were high for the former Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder. However, back-to-back loses to Rob Font and Hector Sandoval served as major setbacks in his official start with the UFC.
“Obviously, the best guys get filtered into the UFC,” Schnell told Sherdog.com, “but I’ve had tough fights at every level of this sport.”
He does not blame his losses on being unprepared for a step up in competition but sees them as a reflection of the sport’s inherent difficulty.
“There’s a lot of variables,” Schnell said. “You could talk about mindset, you could talk about where you are mentally, you could talk about, physically, this went wrong, this went right, this didn’t happen, but the fact of the matter is I went out there, I did my best and I came up short on those nights.”
The setbacks were part of the learning curve. Schnell won his last outing against Marco Beltran in a fight he later dubbed a loser-leaves-town match. In post-fight interviews, he mentioned that he played it safe against “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America” semifinalist. However, Schnell’s feelings have changed since then. He feels he fought smart and tactically, not with a risk-averse strategy.
“You know, I was probably just excited and speaking kind of nonsense there,” Schnell said. “I’m changing, I’m maturing and I’m becoming a better fighter.”
For much of his career, Schnell operated out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. However, once filming on “The Ultimate Fighter” wrapped, he switched up his training and continued to work with some of the coaches he met on the show.
“I needed a change of pace, a change of scenery,” Schnell said. “I’ve definitely been approaching things with a more tactical mindset in the gym.”
Schnell has never shied away from mixing it up in the cage. However, with experience comes an awareness that there are different paths to victory.
“Every fight doesn’t have to be gritty,” he said. “Every fight doesn’t have to be a battle of wills.”
Schnell’s latest assignment inside the Octagon will add another layer to his experience, as he faces Naoki Inoue 8,600 miles away in Kallang, Singapore. He will have to fly for more than 16 hours and adjust to a time zone that is 15 hours ahead of that to which he is accustomed. Schnell planned to travel a week ahead of time in order to assimilate.
“Really, what preparations can you make? It’s a fist fight,” he said. “I am going to go over there, do my best to adjust as quickly as I can and go out and fight this guy.”
With his fight just days away, the question of what could be next arises. If Schnell is successful against the unbeaten Inoue, he remains open to a rematch with Elliott -- a fighter he respects and has even trained with since their initial encounter. If not Elliot, former Tachi Palace Fights champion Alex Perez could be a possibility. Perez mentioned late last year that he was interested in facing Schnell.
“I don’t think it’s disrespectful in any sense,” Schnell said. “I am going to call people out, too.”
However, do not expect the Mississippi native to venture out of his comfort zone to pursue or promote a fight. Colby Covington and Conor McGregor he is not.
“I’m a conservative guy,” Schnell said. “I have a wife [and] we are trying to get our own thing started. I like to keep my life pretty private. I am not willing to completely sell out and not be myself -- ever.”
As he preps for his 15th professional fight, Schnell remains cognizant of what he needs to do in order to bring out the best version of himself, and confidence does not appear to be an issue. Nevertheless, anything can happen on fight night, and no plans are foolproof.
“Every fight is a story yet to be told,” Schnell said. “Fifteen minutes of concentration, 15 minutes of focus, and I can beat anybody in the world.”