Joe Schilling hasn’t competed in mixed martial arts since 2008, but that doesn’t mean the kickboxing star is intimidated by facing a top-level opponent in his Bellator MMA debut.
In fact, Schilling believes that he has every right to share the cage with fellow striker Melvin Manhoef on Nov. 15 at Bellator 131 in San Diego.
“I couldn’t disagree more on the idea that I’ve been thrown in the deep end of the pool,” Schilling recently told Sherdog.com. “There’s a reason why I’m fighting in Bellator and I’m on the main card of Bellator 131. Bellator offered me Melvin Manhoef, and I accepted. I wasn’t talked into anything.
“Manhoef’s ground game is not his strong suit, and I’ve never seen him go for a takedown. When it comes to me fighting Manhoef, I’m a better kickboxer and I’m better on the ground. I’m younger than him by eight years and I’m six inches taller. It’s going to be an exciting fight, and people come to see a fight. It’s going to be a spectacular fight.”
Nicknamed “Stitch ‘Em Up,” Schilling is best known for his kickboxing exploits. The 30-year-old is a former Glory world champion who won a four-man one-night tournament at 187 pounds last September. He also was the runner-up at Glory’s Last Man Standing tournament in June, losing a unanimous decision in his rematch with Artem Levin, whom Schilling had previously defeated.
Last month, it was announced that Schilling -- who sports a 1-3 MMA record, with all four fights in 2008 -- had signed with Bellator. So, what brought Schilling back to MMA after enjoying so much success in the Glory ring?
“I’d been thinking about it for a long time,” said the 6-foot-3 Ohio native. “In 2008, when I was fighting, I didn’t do any training for MMA. I was doing boxing and kickboxing, and I needed some extra money, so I took some MMA fights. I took fights on short notice and my MMA record was terrible. I wasn’t focused on it. In the last four or five years, I was brought in as a sparring partner for some MMA guys, and I started doing jiu-jitsu the last couple of years. I had a break from my Glory contract and I got offered this fight. I thought it was a good time to come back and give it a go.”
Schilling has been training at a variety of Southern California gyms in preparation for the fight with Manhoef, but has had to overcome personal tragedies in recent weeks.
“It’s been kind of a rough camp,” said Schilling. “I’ve had two deaths in the family in the last three weeks, but I’m getting through it and I’m ready for this fight. I’ve been training at The Yard in Los Angeles, and I’ve also been spending some time at Millennia MMA, Nick Diaz Academy and at Reign with Mark Munoz.”
A veteran of 42 professional MMA fights, Manhoef made his Bellator debut with a rousing knockout of Doug Marshall at Bellator 125, marking the Dutchman’s 27th stoppage in 29 victories. But, given who Schilling has faced in the kickboxing ring, he is not in awe of his opponent.
“I feel like I match up well with him everywhere it goes,” Schilling remarked. “I’m expecting it to be a standing fight, but I’ve also been working with people like Kron Gracie and Nick Diaz, and sparring with Lorenz Larkin. If it goes to the ground, it could be fun, too, but I expect it to be standing.”
If Schilling does knock off Manhoef, does that mean he’ll leave kickboxing behind for a full-time career in MMA?
“I’d like to do both if it’s possible,” said Schilling. “I’m at a point in kickboxing where I’m sharp and there’s not a lot left to learn to be at the top of my game. So, I think I could step right back into that and do well. As for MMA, I’ve had a lot of fun training for this fight, and I think it’s going to stick for a while. I signed a four-fight deal with Bellator, so I’m going to be doing quite a bit of MMA this year.”
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