Friday, Aug. 26, 2011 | 4:30 p.m.
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UFC 134 Main Card odds from The Venetian/Lagasse's Stadiun
Three recurring themes kept coming up from Brendan Schaub as the heavyweight made the media rounds in Rio de Janeiro this week in advance of tomorrow’s UFC 134 card.
Schaub has spoken glowingly about his time in Brazil, raved about his progression and guaranteed a knockout victory.
He’s so overwhelmingly positive and confident that it almost feels as if someone should remind the 28-year old star prospect he’s set to face Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. The 36-year old “Big Nog” is one of the most successful heavyweights in the history of mixed martial arts and by far the most accomplished foe Schaub has encountered.
“It’s huge for this kid,” UFC President Dana White said of the fight on UFC.com. “This will put Brendan Schaub on the map in the heavyweight division.”
Schaub (9-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) has gone on a four-fight winning streak since losing in the finale of “The Ultimate Fighter” season 10 to Roy Nelson. As a former football player — he played in college at the University of Colorado before making the Buffalo Bills practice squad — he’s one of the more marketable and popular UFC heavyweights.
Schaub thinks a victory over Nogueira (32-6-1 MMA, 3-2 UFC) should entitle him to a title shot. It’s an idea that neither White nor Nogueira has rejected.
“He’s young, he’s hungry,” Nogueira said. “I’ve watched some of his fights. He can move. He’s got some power in his hands.”
Schaub is known as a power puncher, as evidenced by eight of his nine wins coming via knockout, but Nogueira is one of the most technical boxers in MMA. Nogueira’s boxing prowess and black belt-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu made him a PRIDE champion at 26-years old. He later won the UFC interim heavyweight title by beating Tim Sylvia.
It speaks to the hype surrounding Schaub that his inclusion on the card has overshadowed Nogueira’s comeback. Nogueira hasn’t fought in 18 months and underwent three knee surgeries after losing to current champion Cain Velasquez via TKO at UFC 110.
It’s Nogueira’s 40th professional fight and first in his home country. HSBC Arena is a mile from the gym Nogueira owns, meaning the Brazilian hospitality Schaub has spoke of so far is going to dissipate Saturday night.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than this,” Schaub said at the pre-fight press conference. “To me, mixed martial arts started in Brazil and that’s why I want to be a part of this. I expect the hostility. I do my best with more pressure.”
Schaub began begging for the Rio pairing with Nogueira immediately after knocking out Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 128. Schaub and his team flooded White and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva with calls about the fight.
It’s possible he wouldn’t have received the bout without that effort, as rumors indicated the UFC was close to pitting Cro Cop against Nogueira.
“I respect that,” White said. “I respect guys who want to go after the best — whether they’re the best or legends or whatever that is. I don’t mind guys calling out other guys. I like it.”
Schaub has tried to soak in the experience. After a preliminary press conference earlier this summer, he stayed in Brazil for more than a week to train.
He also visited the Rio favelas, some of the poorest regions of the country, and pledged equipment to the children he met there.
“You go there and these kids have nothing — literally nothing — and they’re as happy as can be,” Schaub said. “They have heroes — like (Nogueira), Junior dos Santos, Royce Gracie, Vitor, all the guys you mention — and they’re training in mixed martial arts, jiu-jitsu, boxing and kick boxing but don’t have the necessary equipment. For me, it was a rude awakening and not what I’m used to in my little bubble in Denver, Colo.”
Schaub has smiled non-stop about what’s taken place before his bout. Most telling, however, will be his demeanor after the fight Saturday night.