Once again, Brendan Schaub is fighting a legend with his back against the wall. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Excuse Brendan Schaub if he gets a little star struck sometimes. Before the 28-year-old was a rising talent in the UFC’s heavyweight division, he was a fan.
That is why he was wearing a Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic T-shirt the night Gabriel Gonzaga crushed the 2006 Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix winner with a vicious head kick at UFC 70. It is also why he felt a sense of euphoria when Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira -- with middleweight king Anderson Silva in tow -- arrived for the press conference announcing the UFC’s return to Brazil.
“I was a huge fan of Nogueira. Him and Anderson Silva get out of the car -- of course they’re late, Brazilian time -- and it’s just, like, damn: there’s Nogueira and Anderson Silva, man. That’s crazy,” Schaub tells Sherdog.com. “It’s just surreal for me. I’m trying to sit back and enjoy it, but I’ve just been grinding so hard because I want what these guys have. I want to be considered one of the greats, and the only way to do that is by beating a lot of good guys.”
The former University of Colorado football player has already passed significant tests in beating both Gonzaga and Filipovic in his most recent Octagon appearances. He specifically requested Nogueira after his technical knockout of Filipovic and will be granted his wish in a featured bout at UFC 134 on Saturday at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Nogueira last fought a year and a half ago, suffering a first-round knockout loss to current heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez at UFC 110. Since then, “Minotauro” has undergone surgeries on his hip and knee, followed by six months of physical therapy in hopes of returning to the form that once made him Pride’s heavyweight champion. Such a grueling rehabilitation process raises questions regarding Nogueira’s health heading into his matchup with Schaub. It is not hard to imagine the 35-year-old entering the cage at less than 100 percent so as not to miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight in his homeland.
Schaub brushes aside the notion.
“Nogueira’s coming off a loss in Cain Velasquez, and I think he needed these surgeries to continue. I expect the best Nogueira we’ve seen,” says the Grudge Training Center product. “I know it’s cliché to say that, but to fight him in Brazil ... I definitely think he’s gonna be ready to go. I think he’s gonna be pretty amped up with that crowd behind him. All those injuries and all that stuff is out the window.”
Schaub, with a multifaceted athletic background that includes All-State honors as a prep lacrosse star, represents a new breed of heavyweight that possesses a rare blend of power and explosion. That combination has allowed him to finish all but one of his nine victories by knockout or technical knockout. Schaub may be the favorite against Nogueira, but Tito Ortiz’s recent upset of Ryan Bader at UFC 132 demonstrated the idea of counting out the sport’s old guard can be a risky proposition.
“I’m fighting these legends who have their backs against the wall, and everyone’s questioning them,” Schaub says. “They’re coming out with guns blazing. As far as [me being] the new breed, you’re fighting one of the best of all time, so I expect a great fight. I won’t be surprised at anything he does.”
It was not long ago that Schaub’s inclusion within the discussion of heavyweight title contenders would have been unlikely, even to the man himself. When the Aurora, Colo., native began working out at the Grudge Training Center, he was given a dose of tough love by one of the gym’s most prominent members.
“Shane Carwin just whooped my ass for three years straight,” Schaub says. “I’m not talking about like it was back and forth, here and there. Literally, I’d come in six days a week, three times a day -- and just nothing. I don’t know if I learned anything from it as far as getting tough, but it was discouraging. He wasn’t the type of guy who would let me work on stuff. We wouldn’t start in neutral positions; he would start in half guard and be on top of me. He just tried to make me tough every day, and it’s paying off now.”
Even though the sessions appeared to be one-sided from Schaub’s point of view, his effort was appreciated by the imposing former Div. II national wrestling champion.
“Brendan is a talented athlete, and we were both helping each other out in the early days,” Carwin says. “I had a hard time finding anyone that will train with me and go as hard as I want to go. Brendan was that guy.”
Gradually, Schaub reached the point where he could hold his own with Carwin. However, even now, it remains a struggle for “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 finalist to get the best of his mentor in practice.
“I’ve learned how to deal with his size a little better now,” Schaub says. “He’ll always have that big brother syndrome over me. It’s just something mental where he puts it on me.”
The fact that Schaub persevered through some difficult mental and physical trials against a former No. 1 contender bodes well for the 28-year-old’s long-term potential.
“Brendan is a hard worker and continues to put the time in to get better. He is still learning but still very eager to learn,” Carwin says. “He has a bright future.”
The hard work extends beyond the mats and cage at Trevor Wittman’s gym to strength-and-conditioning workouts with Loren Landow. Schaub credits the coach for much of his athleticism in the cage. Schaub and Landow first worked together as the former fullback prepared himself to impress NFL scouts at the University of Colorado’s pro day. Schaub’s professional football career consisted of a stint on the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad, as well as time with the Arena Football League’s Utah Blaze. Once he decided to focus on mixed martial arts full-time, sessions with Landow became more extensive -- and much different than the workouts that were geared toward gridiron success -- as he prepared to enter “The Ultimate Fighter.”
“I don’t care who Brendan’s fighting; our job each and every day is to make Brendan stronger, more powerful and more athletic,” Landow says. “The biggest change is the metabolic requirement for fighting versus football. In football, you have a play that lasts six seconds, and then you have a recovery of about 30 seconds. It’s easy to really sit there and judge your work-to-rest [ratios] and your intensity levels, but with fighting, he’s got a five-minute round with frequent bursts of speed, power and explosiveness.”
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