UFC 128 Fight Card: Can Brendan Schaub Evolve into a Future Title Contender?

Leon Horne@@Leon_HorneAnalyst IMarch 16, 2011

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 01:  Mixed martial artist Brendan Schaub arrives at the third annual Fighters Only World Mixed Martial Arts Awards 2010 at the Palms Casino Resort December 1, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Up and coming heavyweight prospect Brendan "The Hybrid" Schaub will faceoff against veteran of the sport Mirko Cro Cop.

Schaub looked up to Cro Cop as one of the guys in the sport that a young fighter should model themselves after. Just because Schaub is a fan of Cro Cop's don't expect Schaub to be throwing high fives and smiling come fight night the way Pat Barry did when he fought Cro Cop in 2010. Schaub is going to be focused for the fight and even if he is one of Cro Cop's biggest fans he is looking to bury the legend come Saturday.

"There's a difference between me and, I think, the last number of opponents 'Cro Cop' has had in that I respect the guy so much I'm going to go in there and give him the best that I've got, My respect is by throwing a right hand in his face." Schaub told MMAjunkie.com Radio when asked about the fact that he is such a huge fan of Cro Cop's.

Schaub's date with Cro Cop at UFC 128 this Saturday is definitely one of the higher profile fights in his burgeoning career, the question is can he turn himself into a future contender?

Brendan caught the attention of fight fans with his appearance on the reality television show The Ultimate Fighter. Schaub joined the likes of Kimbo Slice, Roy Nelson and coaches Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans for the series' tenth installment.

Schaub made it to the finale with relative ease and was faced with a very experienced opponent in Roy Nelson. He was landing more shots than Roy in the early going, but late in the first round Nelson caught Schaub with a powerful punch and knocked Schaub out.

Schaub has been undefeated since the loss to Nelson and has amassed a 3-1 record in the UFC. Most recently, he put on a clinic against the man who knocked out Cro Cop in his first UFC stint, Gabriel Gonzaga. In fact, Schaub was Gonzaga's swan song in the UFC.

Since the fight with Nelson, Schaub has fought two-low ranked heavyweights in Chase Gormely and Chris Tuchsherer and his fight with Gonzaga is his highest profile fight to date.

In order to evolve, Schaub needs steps up in competition and so far his progression has been just right. Gonzaga was on the back end of his career when they fought, but he was still a game opponent for anyone in the UFC, no matter what their ranking. Cro Cop like Gonzaga is definitely on the back end of his career having gone 5-4-1 in his last 10 fights. That being said, Cro Cop has always been a dangerous striker and even a tired Cro Cop is a good next step for Schaub's career.

In order to continue his evolution towards title contendership it is paramount that Schaub beat Cro Cop in decisive fashion. A loss or close fight with Cro Cop will bring Schaub a step backwards and it will be a while before he gets back up in the rankings. A big win over the Croatian and Schaub will probably be just a few fights out of contention for the UFC heavyweight strap.

Next steps aside, what intangibles does Schaub bring to the table?

First off, the guy is a tremendous athlete. Prior to making his foray into the world of mixed martial arts Schaub was an established football player having played for four years in college' he spent some time in the Arena Football League and on the Buffalo Bills' practice roster.

Being a great athlete is one thing and being a great fighter is another. Schaub seems to have more going for him than just his athletic prowess. In all of Schaub's fights he has looked very calculated and he tries to fight to his opponent's weaknesses.

He brings good boxing to the Octagon having been a Golden Gloves boxer in the past, his movement is fluid and Schaub trains in all the aspects required to be a force in the cage.

Above all Schaub is training with a camp that turns guys into world class fighters. He is primarily training at the Grudge Training Center in Colorado and Greg Jackson's camp. Guys like Georges St. Pierre, Shane Carwin, Rashad Evans and Nate Marquardt have all found success in these camps and that can only be a good thing for the up-and-coming Schaub.

Schaub has all the intangibles to be a contender and possibly a champion someday, but he is going to have to keep his momentum going. Anything less than a decisive victory over Mirko Cro Cop this Saturday in Newark, New Jersey is going to kill what he has built up for himself. Due to what is at stake expect Schaub to come out on another level once again as he tries to put Cro Cop away come fight night.

If Schaub wins this weekend a rematch against Roy Nelson to avenge his loss would probably be a good next step for him whether Nelson wins or loses to Frank Mir at UFC 130.

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Leon Horne has been contributing to Bleacher Report for two years now. He focuses mainly on mixed martial arts, but he has also written about tennis, football and hockey. Just send him a message if you want to talk sports or discuss any opportunities. You can follow him on Twitter for updates: Follow Leon_Horne on Twitter