Joe Schilling scored an incredible second-round knockout to win his Bellator debut against Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 131 last Sat. night (Nov. 15, 2014). A right hook from the southpaw caught the Dutch icon on the button as he charged in, and the laws of physics took over. The left straight that followed was mere window dressing as the damage was already done and Manhoef's back was finding its way to the canvas.
If you hit the rewind button to view the first round, things were not looking great for Bellator's newest middleweight. Schilling found himself in trouble fairly early in the opening frame after an overhand right found its mark. Schilling was down, but according to him, he never lost his bearings or wherewithal.
"It was an overhand right, but it was from a weird angle," said Schilling. "He is a lot shorter than me so the punches were coming up at me. I didn't see the punch so it hit me on the top of my head. My equilibrium went out. My legs went out, but my head -- I was never rocked or wobbled or dizzy confused or anything like that. As soon as I got hit, my legs went out and then I immediately knew what was wrong. I tried to pull guard because I knew he was going to continue to attack me. It was weird how he hit me on the top of the head and it knocked out my equilibrium. That is the biggest difference with the MMA gloves. With boxing gloves, if you got hit on the top of the head it wouldn't affect you like that."
So there he was in a not-so-good position against a very aggressive finisher. Yet, it actually turned into a positive for the No. 1-ranked GLORY middleweight kickboxer, because he proved he wasn't a fish out of water on the ground and remained calm under fire.
Which was the exact opposite of what his family was.
"Everybody was flipping out when I got dropped," Schilling said. "All my family doesn't like it. They aren't used to the ground thing. They worry when I'm down there. Little Joe was crying and he had a terrified look on his face. He was hiding his face in my sisters shirt. He was not happy."
Schilling was able to avoid any finishing blows and rolled away from trouble before establishing guard. A roll that was reminiscent of Nick or Nate Diaz, with whom he trains on his ground game with. While you wouldn't have mistaken him for a submission machine by any means, he did show solid control, good technique and was able to defend against any heavy punches being thrown at him. He also got in a few elbows before referee Mike Beltran stood the two fighters back up.
"I've been working a lot on my ground game," said Schilling. "It wasn't the best, but I was pretty proud that I was able to show that. I know that people saw that I knew what I was doing. He had me in side control twice. The second he got into mount I bridged. When I bridged I got back into half guard. From half guard I got my knee across and I started working for space and throwing elbows and got back to guard. I felt like once I had him in guard, I was going to be able to find a submission or cut him open with elbows, but the ref stood us up."
On the broadcast, Schilling looked like he was upset with Beltran standing him and Manhoef up, but he revealed that while he did want to continue to show what he had on the ground, it was a cheap shot by Manhoef that got him upset.
"Right when the ref stood up, the ref slaps us for the break and as soon as I let go, Melvin hammer fists me in the face, right after the break," explained Schilling, before adding it was one of the "best shots" Manhoef landed on the ground.
He had remained calm under fire after getting dropped, and when he was back on his feet, Schilling felt the worst was over and he would soon be able to go on the offensive.
"When I first got up I felt completely relieved and not impressed," he said. "I felt like 'okay he doesn't hit that hard and he is not as strong as I thought he was.' I finished the round strong and in the second round I knew I was going to knock him out. My coaches were all saying he was falling apart. You can really see a big difference in my comfortability of being in the cage from that one round. I improved a lot from the first round to the second round just by being comfortable in there."
The Dayton, Ohio native said he was "really focused" and there was no way he was going to buy into Manhoef's intimidation, which he said "usually starts with eyeballing and trying to scare his opponents at the hotel a week before the fight." He wasn't going to fight tentative and he wasn't going to quit if he did get his bell rung, like many of his opponents have done before.
"90 percent of Melvin's dangerous weapons are just him scaring the shit out of people before the fight and before they even get hurt," he said. "Melvin plays the mental game with a lot of those guys and they fold on him. Vinny Shoreman (his mental coach) and I worked on staying focused and composed. That was a compliment I was receiving after the fight: how calm I stayed in the situation I was in."
"He has an incredible will," said Shoreman about Schilling. "Joe already believed he would win. When your mind believes that you will win, it will get you up off the floor and that is what Joe seems to do very well."
Schilling's confidence was peaking in between rounds and in his head it was only a matter of time before he ended Manhoef's night.
"In the second round I knew I was going to knock him out," said Schilling. "Watch the video in the corner, they were saying he was falling apart and I said 'yeah, I'm going to fucking knock him out this round. I got it. I figured it out.' I was really confident in the corner."
When the second frame began, the two began mixing it up rather quickly. Schilling took another big shot by Manhoef and when "No Mercy" charged in at him, he landed the right hook/left straight combo that laid out Manhoef flat on his back at the 0:32 mark of the second round for the victory; the same exact combination he used to knock out Simon Marcus in the opening round of the GLORY: "Last Man Standing" tournament back on June 21, 2014. And one he has worked on with his coach Mark Komuro "for a long time."
"It is crazy that it has happened twice," he said.
Schilling said he "felt like he was out" after he connected and he contemplated the "walk off" after Manhoef went down, but he is aware there is no standing-eight count in MMA and he started to go in to finish him off just in case. Beltran dove in on Manhoef and Schilling knew it was over.
So he proceeded to do what he promised himself prior to the fight he wouldn't: jump on the cage.
"Before the fight, it's funny Mike, going into the cage I was like 'no matter what happens I'm not going to jump on the cage. I'm not going to be that guy who jumps on the cage,'" he confessed. "And then as soon as I knocked him out I was screaming 'are you fucking kidding me?' I was running around 'are you fucking kidding me?' Then I jumped up on the cage and high-fived Artem Levin. How random was that? I was all pumped up."
Levin, the GLORY middleweight champion and rival, was there in support of Schilling. The two fought at a pair of previous events. "I was at the boxing club cutting weight in San Diego and he was down there and we talked," said Schilling. "He is a cool guy and we show a lot of respect for each other. He said 'I'm cheering for you.' It was kind of cool. After I got the knockout I was like 'fuck yeah' and I'm looking in the crowd all pumped up and he was pumped up too."
His family back home were excited too. Schilling lost his father and his cousin in September and when he looked at his phone after the fight he received a bunch of messages, of course, and a lot of them were from members of his family.
"My uncle had all my cousin's friends over the house watching it," he said. "I guess my uncle was jumping up on the coffee table. Cody really was into my fighting and really looked up to me. I meant a lot to him and he was really excited about the fight. It was really cool that my family got together and they were all thinking about that. It worked out really well. It brought a lot of joy to a lot of hurt people."
Now 2-3 in MMA, Schilling is proud of how he performed and happy to have more than just one win in the sport now. And it appears as though he is ready to embrace MMA as his future and put all of his focus on climbing the ranks and challenging for the Bellator middleweight title, which is currently held by Brett Halsey.
Don't get him wrong, he loves kickboxing, but the excitement of learning new things and having different challenges is winning him over. He has won multiple WBC titles, GLORY tournament titles and avenged losing to Simon Marcus by being the first one to defeat him in 40 fights, with the knockout victory at "Last Man Standing." There could be a third fight with Levin, but he has defeated him once before.
To win a title in Bellator, is a new goal and something he truly believes is possible.
"I think I can be a Bellator champion in two years. With kickboxing, I've done it for so long. I love it. But as far as challenges go, it's just monetary for me."
Is it safe to say, MMA has got its hooks in him now?
"Yeah absolutely," said Schilling. "I learned a lot in this camp and I see how much more I can learn and there is so much I can get better at in training. It's exciting, I like it. So whether I continue to kickbox or not, my future is MMA, for sure. And I'm going to keep training MMA, whether I get a kickboxing fight or not. I'm going to be really good."
"My best performances have been in the GLORY tournaments, when it is the hardest in the sport. Both of my best performances in GLORY have been 'Last Man Standing' and GLORY 10. Those big challenges really push me and bring out the best in me. MMA is another big challenge for me."