Brendan Schaub and Bryan Callen, Riding the Whirlwind

Sydnie Jones@syd1138Featured ColumnistMay 6, 2016

Bryan Callen, left, and Brendan Schaub
Bryan Callen, left, and Brendan Schaubvia Twitter: @FighterNtheKid

On Tuesday, literally minutes before Brendan Schaub and Bryan Callen’s new cinematic web series The Fighter and the Kid 3D was released in its entirety, Bleacher Report spoke with the duo via telephone. We covered a variety of topics in the allotted half-hour, including current events in MMA, the runaway success of their podcast and why Schaub named his son Tiger.

When retired UFC heavyweight Schaub and comedian Callen began their podcast The Fighter and The Kid, the premise was about as stripped down as you can get. “We’re just talking like a couple of guys,” Callen said. In a garage, no less—but it took. They say the podcast now garners over 3 million downloads per month and spawned live tours and, as of Tuesday, the Fox-financed web series.

The magnitude of the podcast’s popularity and the spoils it has delivered are surprising even to Callen. He described it as “kind of overwhelming. ... When you've been in the business as long as I have, you fail a lot. And this is a serious success. In some ways, success like this is kind of interesting; it's hard to get used to. ... It's been a whirlwind.

Schaub doesn’t have the same issue. Or, perhaps, as a relative novice to this type of work, he hasn’t fully processed what it means. “I don't really think of this as being successful, or I'm not surprised that there's 3 million downloads," he said. "I just get these blinders on, we just keep working, we keep doing this thing, (Tuesday was) the release of our TV show, direct to the fans...and we pre-sold 10,000.”

This is the Fighter & the Kid we're OUT! pic.twitter.com/xxPPUcYQ07

— Brendan Schaub (@BrendanSchaub) May 1, 2016

With sold-out live shows across the U.S., the pair have stumbled upon an equation that works. “Me and Bryan do what we think is funny, we know that it's real and authentic with us,” Schaub said. “I think it's just a combination of Bryan and I, we have this chemistry, and we're part of this club. I think all our fans, all 3 million listeners, are part of something pretty special. We know them, and they know us, and we're just as honest and open as we can be.”

“We try to be as funny as possible, we try to crack each other up, we never, ever shy from what's really going on with us, and people appreciate that,” Callen agreed. “That's why whenever we do shows and people come up to us on the street, they say, ‘I feel like I know you.’ And that's the best thing you can say to me, because you do know me.”

They are staunch adherents to keeping it real; both say their honesty and vulnerability are instrumental in the podcast’s success. “It really does resonate with people. Be as vulnerable as you want, as long as you're truthful. People are pretty cool about it,” Callen said.

At the very least, the openness between them augments the rapport that’s proved so popular. The space they’ve created is so comfortable that, the day after Schaub lost to Andrei Arlovski in what he called “the biggest fight of (his) life,” he cried during the podcast. And so far, the reception to such raw vulnerability has only been gracious. During that episode, Schaub said, per MMAFighting, “I've never got so much love in my life (as a result of the podcast) since this fight.”

That was nearly two years ago now, and the experience stuck with Schaub. “No one's gonna make fun of me because I cried,” he said. “No one's doing that. No one likes a bully, our fans aren't bullies, we're not bullies. Again, as long as you're real, you can't go wrong.”

So it’s unsurprising that Schaub seems as devoted to his fans as they are to him. He said he “lives” for the live shows. “To have one-on-one interaction with the fans...to see these fans that listen to us, and to see their faces and have interactions and take pictures for three hours after the show, that's why Bryan and I do this.”

If the podcast centers on their camaraderie, the live shows grant the fans direct access to the club and the chance to participate personally in the radius of Schaub and Callen’s chemistry.

“You're talking about a comedy duo, and you will laugh for an hour-and-a-half,” Callen said. “We've never done a show where there was an exception to that. And that's the big difference. We're up there to entertain you and get you laughing, clapping, whooping and hollering. ... The one thing that I'm very confident in is that our live shows are just as or more entertaining than the podcast.”

With all these acts going, Schaub now describe their offerings as a “three-headed monster.” However, the podcast remains the keystone. “One thing we both agree on: nothing happens without the podcast, that's the mothership, we'll never take anything away from the podcast and neglect that,” Schaub said. “Without it, there is no live show or TV show.”

As the live shows differ from the podcast, so does the web series. Callen says of the series that it’s “one of the most unique experiences, visual experiences, that I've ever been a part of. And I think we've done something—if I may be so bold, and I'm a pretty strong critic—really unique here, and I'm really excited. It's basically Bryan and Brendan, in very extraordinary situations.”

When being punched in the face or acting in Hollywood blockbusters like The Hangover is your job, the bar for what constitutes "extraordinary" has to be high. They wouldn’t tell me much, but it sounds like the show frolics through a heightened reality at a frenzied clip. So, what’s extraordinary?

“Oh, I don't know, like in a kung fu fight with seven ninjas,” said Callen. “Or naked in Griffith Park, or doing drugs until our lives spiral completely out of control and we lose everything and die.

“We basically would come up with ideas and we're like, ‘(Fox is) never gonna let us do this.’ And then they did let us do this, and we're like, ‘really?! OK!’...We have 15 of the craziest things we could come up with that we did. And again, nobody was censoring us.”

From the podcast’s humble beginnings in a garage to this is a progression Schaub acknowledges is unexpected. “As an athlete and UFC fighter for 10 years, I think people will be surprised at the product that they get. I guarantee you're not going to find anything like this out there, so I'm excited for it.”

Brendan Schaub takes down Travis Browne in his last fight before retiring.
Brendan Schaub takes down Travis Browne in his last fight before retiring.Robert Laberge/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

With tour dates throughout May, they don’t appear interested in slowing down. Schaub and Callen will build on the momentum they've generated so far, as their trajectory is set by an apparent perpetual motion machine running on the success they create. Schaub’s blinders seem firmly in place. “As long as people are looking, listening, and watching us, we're just going to continue to work.”

Bleacher Report talked to Schaub and Callen, who weighed in with some quick takes:

B/R: Daniel Cormier said Jon Jones' performance at UFC 197 against Ovince Saint Preux is the new normal for Jones. What do you think? 

Schaub: I don't know if you can say that, I mean, it's one fight, if you look at his 22 other fights, that wouldn't be "the norm."

We see him on ESPN in Dockers and a buttoned-up shirt, and he's trying to be very friendly and, "I'm doing god's work." Before when he was the villain...I'm not saying wreck into pregnant women and run from the scene, I don't need you to be that wild, but I don't need to see him buttoned up, dressing like a high school social studies teacher. I think that's taking away from his creativity.

And also, don't forget, he has Greg Jackson in his corner, so they've been known to trick people. Holly Holm, before she fought Ronda, the fights were never that great. It was like, “Yeah, she's screwed against Ronda!” Well, what they were doing is they were kind of playing opossum, just waiting for the big shot. So, I think Jon knew DC's watching; he didn't want to show all his tricks. Also, OSP wasn't doing anything, so those are big words from DC, for a guy who's been beaten by Jon Jones.

Callen: Look for a different DC in this next fight. I think DC is going to come, he's going to be relentless, he's going to be probably more relaxed. He's not going to gas out in the third, fourth and fifth rounds, and Jon's gonna have his hands full. As anybody would with Daniel Cormier. I'm calling for a different look for this fight, and I think Daniel Cormier's going to come out on top. There! I said it!

B/R: DC says he's not changing anything about the way he fought in their first fight. Is this a good game plan?

Schaub: Well, listen, DC's not young; what's DC good at? He's one of the best wrestlers in the UFC, and he's going to stand up, and he's relentless. He puts his head in your chest, and tries to push you around, throw you around. At his age, we're not gonna see DC doing anything different. I mean, we know what he's good at. He's great at it, he's one of the best of all time.

But, you know, to fight that way against Jon Jones, we've seen how that works out.

So, maybe his cardio will be better, the nerves won't be there, but we're gonna see the same DC we're used to seeing, which is great. I don't know if that's good enough to beat Jon, but if Jon does show up, the same Jon that fought OSP, he'll probably lose. But I don't think we're going to see that same Jon.

Callen: I'm excited about the fight, I'll tell you. I'm excited because they dislike each other for real.

B/R: Why do you think the UFC booked Miesha Tate vs. Amanda Nunes?

Schaub: Maybe Ronda wasn't ready...and I don't think they want to do Holly-Miesha 2. I think Nunes was next in line, so there you go.

Callen: Nunes is very, very good. Nunes is a very exciting fighter, very talented, and I think Nunes could easily and should be easily up there in the top four, with Holly, Miesha and Ronda. Depending on the day, I can see Nunes beating any of those gals. So, she's the real deal.

B/R: Why would the UFC book that fight when other fights are bigger moneymakers?

Callen: That's confusing to me too; I'm always surprised that they do that. I want to see Miesha-Holly again, I want to see Miesha-Ronda again, I want to see Ronda-Holly, I want to see those way before I see (Tate-Nunes)—all due respect to Amanda Nunes.

Schaub: I think what they're saving Holly-Miesha 2 or Holly-Ronda 2 or Miesha-Ronda 3 for is Madison Square Garden. I don't think they wanted to waste it on this card; I think they wanted to blow out that Madison Square Garden fight. Whoever's the bantamweight champ, I guarantee that fight's at the Madison Square Garden card against Ronda or Holly. They're saving it for that, it's all about timing.

B/R: What's your take on the Conor McGregor situation, where first he announced he retired, and now the UFC won’t put him back on the UFC 200 card?

Callen: Well, personally, I think Conor probably realized that if he were to fight Nate again, it would be a replay of...the first time. Look, Nate is just too good. He's too good on the ground, his boxing is too good, he can take Conor's power shots. In my opinion, Conor has been so devastating in the 145-pound division because of his reach and his power and, of course, his boxing. So when you're dealing with bigger guys, that's not a factor anymore.

So, I think Conor, somebody probably said to him, "Go back to 45. You're a 45'er. You're not a 55'er and you're not 170 pounds." Go to 45, and there are some very exciting fights for him down there. Frankie Edgar, Jose Aldo. So, you know, let's stay in our lane. I think that's really what's going on.

We had Conor on the podcast. One of the things I thought was interesting was, he's a very muscular guy, but he's not a big guy. Certainly not as big as Nate. I've seen Nate. Nate walks around at probably 6'0", 6'1", and he's probably 190. He's got a big frame. He's thin, but a big frame. The MMA gods do not care about past dues, they don't care about the hype, they don't care about how you talk. And that's what I love about MMA.

Schaub: The media tours that they asked him to do, (it’s) ridiculous. I think they have to look at their business model and kind of change up something. And the fans say, or Dana White says, "Man, all I want him to do is a press conference."

Well, he's getting ready for the biggest fight of his life. He's done more interviews in his short three-year career (in the UFC) than any fighter in UFC history, so I think with Conor McGregor, he was going down this WWE road.

This is mixed martial arts; you need to focus on fighting, and he's absolutely correct that for him to fly 14 hours in for a press conference, when he could get more views if he did a tweet or did a press conference in his own hometown—I don't think a lot of thinking went into this. I was on board with Conor from that standpoint, but now, he keeps tweeting, kind of being a little relentless, and I don't know if that's the way to go. I think him and Dana need to have a straight-up heart-to-heart conversation. Just as much the UFC needs him, he does need the UFC, I think. They need to just have an open conversation, because there's a lack of communication right now.

B/R: Would the UFC be receptive to an open conversation like that?

Schaub: I think they have to; (I don't think they) can afford not to. He's the first kind of crossover superstar in pop culture; he's the biggest draw they've ever had. So I think they have to. They have no choice.

B/R: Who do you think has the upper hand?

Schaub: There is no upper hand. They're both losing. Conor's not in UFC 200; the UFC doesn't have Conor, (and) Conor's not making money fighting at UFC 200, which we all wanted to see. The UFC won't get anywhere near the numbers that they could've with Conor headlining. There is no winner right now.

B/R: Do you think McGregor overestimated his value, given he was coming off a harsh loss?

Callen: Yes. The answer is yes, I do. I really do.

Schaub: No, not at all. I think the fans realize what he's up against, but he's still the biggest draw. His tweet, when he "retired," is the biggest tweet by an athlete this year, even bigger than Kobe Bryant's tweet. I don't think he's overestimating anything. He can only do this for so long before him and the UFC come up with a settlement.

B/R: Brendan, I saw you just had a baby. Congratulations. How did you end up settling on the name Tiger?

Schaub: My whole life, I was thinking of names for kids, and I had a couple of kind of different names. I just didn't want him to be one of the crowd, with a—no offense to people with these names, but—I don't want him to be a Bob, Dave, Harry, Larry. No, I didn't want any of that bulls--t. I've always been kind of a different dude, and I didn't want my kid to have a normal name; that's what it comes down to.

His middle name's Pax. When he's older, if he wants to go by Paxton, Pax, Tiger, he has that choice. So, he has no choice not to be average with a name like that. It could go horribly wronghe could be a DJ in the Midwest with the name Tiger, we'll see.

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