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Brendan Schaub eyes heavyweight shakeup

Describing heavyweight UFC fighter, Brendan Schaub, as pumped for his upcoming heavyweight fight against Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 121 would be an enormous understatement.

The 27-year-old Schaub, who hails from Aurora, Colorado, considers his bout against the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt a game changer for his career and for the heavyweight division.

Schaub, a former professional football player, jettisoned into the MMA spotlight by earning his way into the UFC via the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter about a year ago. Although, he lost in the season’s finale to Roy Nelson, Schaub has made the most of his opportunities. Most recently the up-and-coming heavyweight has won two straight fights, both of which were first round TKOs.

A fight on the main card of one of more stacked UFC events in quite a while against a Top 10 heavyweight contender is more than enough motivation for the fast-rising Schaub.

“This [fight] is why I do it,” Schaub told ESPNDallas.com. “I’m not going to say I wasn’t pumped to fight Chase Gormley or Chris Tuscherer, but no one knows those guys. If I want to make it in the UFC, I have to beat guys like Gabriel Gonzaga who are household names. I think I can compete with anyone of those heavyweight stars and now’s my chance to prove it. I’m pumped. I’m ecstatic. This is why I train so hard; to fight guys like Gonzaga.”

Schaub has made quick work of his opponents. In his 7-fight career, three of which were in the UFC, he’s never gone past the first round. Although a quick end to the fight surely minimizes the damage a fighter might take, Schaub would have preferred more cage-time in at least a couple of those fights. Acquiring the experiences that a three-round clash entails is seemingly priceless to Schaub. And for his fight this Saturday, it looks like he’s getting his wish.

“At least these past couple in the UFC, I’m thinking to myself that this is going to be a three-round war,” Schaub said. “Let’s show them what you got and keep pressuring them. Hopefully they’ll break before I do. I know my heart and gas tank is bigger than anyone in there. It just so happens that I’ve been touching these guys and they’ve been going to sleep. It’s been a short night for me. It’s a little unfulfilling. You know, I’ve asked for tougher opponents and they’ve given me that in Gabriel Gonzaga. So I look forward to the challenge.”

Although, Schaub has been associated with the UFC for only about a year, he’s seemingly evolved ten-fold as a mixed martial artist. With four fights in the last twelve months, Schaub is a completely different fighter from when he stepped into the TUF 10 house last year, at least mentally.

“Before and during The Ultimate Fighter, I was just going in there to scrap,” Schaub explained. “I didn’t care what the guy did; I was going in there to make it a fight. I was just a dog. I knew I had the heart and the tenacity that those younger guys couldn’t handle. But you know; now it’s a different game. Especially these past two fights, I’m a lot more relaxed, I have a game plan. Everything is methodical. I’m trying to set guys up or bait the guy in. It’s a chess match now. I think I’ve really improved that aspect of my game. Not going in there and just going crazy. Now, I’m definitely more of a thinking man’s fighter.”

Schaub is certainly happy to be fighting for his place among the heavyweight elite, but he’s also eager to take a step back so he can comprehend and appreciate his accomplishments over the past year.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Schaub explains. “Hopefully after this fight I can take some time and look back at this past year. This will be my fourth fight in under a year. That’s pretty active. And after these fights I don’t take a lot of time off. I’m always in the gym trying to perfect my skills. After this one, hopefully I can get away and get a little bit of a break and look back on things.”

Before Schaub gets that bit of rest and relaxation, he’ll have to get past one of the best heavyweight fighters in the UFC. Despite the challenge of defeating a mixed martial artist of Gonzaga’s magnitude, Schaub needs little or no motivation to get “up” for the showdown.

“If you need any more motivation, besides getting the call from Dana White and Joe Silva that you are fighting Gabriel Gonzaga, then you’re in trouble,” Schaub said. “I think I deserve to be on the main card, so I plan to stay. I train every fight that it will go all three rounds. I think cardio is a huge attribute of mine. For the Gonzaga fight, the only thing that has changed for this camp was intensity. You are kind of messing with a different caliber of fighter, in Gonzaga. I have definitely approached everyday like I plan on beating him.”

Gonzaga is a highly decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and is likely the toughest fighter Schaub has faced in that regard. Despite that fact, Schaub told ESPNDallas.com that his past experiences and his current coaches and training partners have prepared him for the challenge.

“I’m sure if he gets the opportunity, he’s definitely going to try to take me down and utilize his ground game,” Schaub said. “Roy Nelson was a black belt. He took me down, and I got right up. Marcus Jones is an absolute nightmare of a man, and he was pretty good at jiu-jitsu. But I don’t expect Gonzaga to do anything specific. I’m just going to go in there, and going to implement my game plan, and try and break him. If he wants to take me to the ground, I’ve rolled with some of the best guys in the world. I’m comfortable down there. I know my advantage is on the feet so I’ll definitely be looking to get back up. I’ve got phenomenal jiu-jitsu training. I roll with guys like my head jiu-jitsu coach, Amal Easton, and Nate Marquardt. Shane Carwin is not too shabby on the ground either. Pimenta, who just finished third in the world at the black belt level, is another guy. So I see these guys every day. Jiu-jitsu is a true passion of mine, so when I’m not in camp I’m usually doing jiu-jitsu or wrestling. It’s a great test for me, so I would like to see how I compare to a world class guy like Gonzaga on the ground.”

Among Schaub’s training partners, is heavyweight powerhouse Shane Carwin who was recently defeated by Brock Lesnar in a heavyweight title fight. Carwin also fought Gonzaga, defeating him via TKO in the first round. Although, Schaub doesn’t think he’s able to learn anything strategically from that bout, he’s clearly aware of how tough of a competitor Gonzaga will be.

“Shane came in with his hands down and ate a couple right hands and then clipped Gonzaga with a right hand, so I didn’t learn too much from that,” Schaub explained. “I know how hard Shane hits so I give Gonzaga all the credit in the world. He had Shane pretty rocked, and took him down. It just goes to show you what kind of fighter Gonzaga is.”

Schaub, who fought Carwin’s upcoming opponent Roy Nelson last December, was able to reciprocate by giving Carwin some pointers about ‘Big Country’. That being said, Schaub doesn’t really think his feedback matters one bit.

“Yeah, I share a little bit with Shane, but at the same time, I don’t think it really matter’s who Shane fights next,” Schaub said. “Roy’s as tough as they come, but fighting Shane after a loss is a complete nightmare. It doesn’t matter who it is, they’re screwed.”

The Colorado native is acutely aware of what is in store for him this Saturday night, especially if he continues to progress through the heavyweight division, but that is precisely what motivates him day after day.

“I just love the competition,” Schaub says. “I love to train. My plan is to make my mark in the UFC and that is by being one of the best of all time. That pressure drives me to get up and really over train every day. I’m a gym rat. There are monsters in the UFC. Dana White and Joe Silva kind of control your fate, so I have to be ready for whoever they call. That’s why I train so hard, because there are monsters looming out there. So I just got to be prepared, and that’s why I train for it.”

Gonzaga has been ranked among the top five or six heavyweights in the UFC in recent polls. With a win over the Brazilian fighter, Schaub feels he should be ranked among the upper-echelon as well.

“I definitely think Gonzaga is in that elite group [of UFC heavyweights],” Schaub explained. “You match Gonzaga with any of the top-three guys in the UFC; it’s going to be a fight. Not only would it be a fight, but you can definitely see him winning. I wouldn’t be surprised if he beats any of the top one or two guys in the UFC. I think beating Gonzaga puts me right there in the top six. It’s only bigger names from there. There are not too many names with a bigger name than Gonzaga. You’re looking at guys like Frank Mir or [Junior] Dos Santos. For me, a win would shoot me up there with the top guys.”

Two of those elite guys that Schaub mentions are fighting at the top of the same card. Heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar will be facing Cain Velasquez in a title bout. Although Schaub didn’t pick a winner, he does have an idea how he thinks the fight between his heavyweight peers might go down.

“The only way I see Cain winning is in a decision by him just fighting smart, winning rounds,” Schaub explained. “I don’t see him finishing Brock. If it doesn’t go to decision, I think Brock wins by TKO.”