This Saturday night (March 19, 2011) Brendan Schaub (7-1) will go toe-to-toe with fellow heavyweight and Pride FC veteran Mirko Filipovic (27-8-2) at the UFC 128: "Shogun vs. Jones" pay-per-view in Newark, New Jersey.
A win for Schaub could continue his rapid ascent in the heavyweight rankings, just as a win for the Croatian sensation could help him regain some of his past glory.
"It felt like it was the right step in my career. Gonzaga is an icon and I was really excited about getting such a test. Up until that point I'd won (and lost) every fight in the first round and knew that Gonzaga would probably not be the same. I knew he could fight for days, so I felt really good after that fight because then I knew I could go the distance with a contender."
The win over "Napao" showed that Schaub has come a long way since his mixed martial arts (MMA) debut back in 2008, especially his striking.
"I work hard on all aspects of training, but boxing is definitely my strongest attribute. I feel like it's gotten better over the years. It has to when you work with Trevor Wittman and Mike Winklejohn. They're great striking coaches who push you to be better."
For an MMA competitor, there's nothing like hearing thousands of fans rooting for you as you make your entrance. For Schaub, the fans are the reason why he enters go-for-broke mode.
"The fans are why I do all the hard work. I put it on the line for them. I guess it is surprising that they've flocked to me so quickly. I have something like 16,000 Twitter followers already, which is crazy to me. I mean I'm no Joe Rogan, but that's pretty good for a guy with eight pro fights."
A question brought up often amongst the MMA community is whether or not the sport will institute a cruiserweight division. While "The Hybrid" says he would consider moving down in weight, he doesn't believe the 265-pound division is strong enough to make a force at cruiserweight.
"I would, but there are not enough talented heavyweights to split up the division into a heavyweight and a cruiserweight division. There are about ten studs and then the competition falls off pretty badly. There probably aren't too many light heavyweights who would come to cruiserweight because it's not a huge difference for them but if the UFC made one, I would consider it."
"The rumors about me fighting Mir were just that ... rumors. It came from me calling him out after I beat Gonzaga. Someone asked me who I wanted next and the biggest guy I could think of was Mir. So then he tweeted about it and I did the same and we had this little twitter battle going on. In the end it was just hype. I was never offered a contract by the UFC and to my knowledge he wasn't either. Struve and I are part of the same management company (Alchemist), so If that one did happen, Lex (McMahon) would probably have a cow."
Instead of getting a former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title-holder or the "Skyscraper," Schaub gets an MMA legend in Cro Cop. "The Hybrid" has an idea of what he can do to minimize the chances of suffering his second knockout loss.
"Not getting kicked in the head. I grew up watching Cro Cop destroy guys with his left leg, so I know that his reputation is well deserved. I don't want to be on the receiving end of that kick, but I'm also confident that I can take it if I am. If you watch the Roy Nelson fight, he connected on my chin several times before the KO and I took them. That doesn't mean I want to test his leg, but I think if one gets through I'll be okay. I might not remember my childhood, but I'll be okay."
Schaub has tons of respect for Cro Cop, but he won't have a hug fest with the Croatian striker when they meet in New Jersey.
"Actually I was thinking ‘don't hug him in the middle of the fight,' (jokingly). I don't want to come across as hating Pat Barry, but I'm going to go in there and go after him no matter how much I respect him. This is a lifetime opportunity and I should take it."
While a victory over "Cro Cop" would be the biggest name on Schaub's resume, he doesn't want to guess how close it would put him towards title contention.
"I try not to think about that. I mean I've got a huge challenge in front of me with Cro Cop but at the same time, everyone looks down the road and tries to determine where they'll be. I think two more wins and I should be in contention."
For the first time in his young MMA career, "The Hybrid" will be competing in "The Garden State." Schaub shared his thoughts on the UFC's efforts towards legalizing MMA in the "Empire State."
"Heck yeah. I think it's only a matter of time before MMA is legal in New York. I mean Dana White is relentless and when he sets his sights on something, he usually gets it. The UFC has conquered bigger obstacles, so it's just a matter of time before they get in there."
Schaub took the time to thank his management and sponsors.
"Alchemist management has been very good to me. I also love working with Five Star apparel."