NEWARK, N.J. -- Making his way into the MMA world years ago, there were few heavyweights Brendan Schaub
enjoyed watching as much as Croatian star Mirko Cro Cop
. Schaub loves the standup game, and Cro Cop was the best heavyweight striker around. Schaub bought his fights, wore his T-shirts, mimicked his kicks.
On Saturday at UFC 128
though, Schaub will have to put his adoration aside and step in the octagon with Cro Cop standing across from him. It's a scenario we've seen play out before. Just last June, Pat Barry told the same stories. He idolized Cro Cop, was honored to fight him, and seemed on his way to a win when he stepped off the gas pedal. Given the opening, Cro Cop stunned him with a late, rare submission.
It was a lesson learned for Schaub, who doesn't plan on making the same mistake.
"I'm a little different than some guys he's fought previously," he told MMA Fighting. "There's a reason Dana White gave me this fight. When I get locked in, I'm taking care of business, so all that stuff goes out the window. Afterward, it would be great to call him my friend, but I could care less right now."
After a series of fights against grapplers and wrestlers, Schaub has been refreshed by the opportunity to face a striker. Cro Cop has an extensive background in both kickboxing and amateur boxing, and rarely looks to take a fight to the ground. In fact, he spends a lot of time trying to stay upright. According to FightMetric.com
, Cro Cop has successfully defended 90 percent of takedown tries in his UFC career, the highest percentage in UFC history among fighters who've faced at least 20 attempts.
He likely won't have to worry too much about sprawling to stop Schaub, an athletic 6-foot-4, 240-pounder who played professional football before transitioning to MMA.
Schaub says the key to beating Cro Cop lies in aggression.
"I think Fedor [Emelianenko] kind of laid the blueprint for facing him," he said. "Stay in front of him and get in his face. That's my style, so it's a great matchup for me."
In preparation, he spent time sparring teammate Shane Carwin as well as southpaws Todd Duffee and Ovince St. Preux, among others.
In Cro Cop's last fight, he was knocked out in the third round by Frank Mir. Afterward, Cro Cop was criticized for his passive style in the bout. Many say he's lost a step. But Schaub said that was an oversimplification of a complex subject.
"That [judgment] is based off his last couple fights," he said. "We have to remember, there's two guys in the octagon. With the Frank Mir fight, you can come down to my gym in Denver any Tuesday, pay $19.95 for a more exciting session than his last fight. So it's Frank Mir's fault, too, not pushing the pace. Cro Cop is a counter fighter, so if people don't push the pace, it's going to be a boring fight. It's not just Cro Cop. I'm ready for him. I'm up for the challenge."
Schaub realizes the opportunities that would come from back-to-back wins over Cro Cop and his last opponent, Gabriel Gonzaga. A victory would give him four straight, and bump him ahead in the division. That's just what he plans on.
"This one's not going to a decision, I guarantee it," he said. "It's going to be a convincing knockout or submission. I can't predict when, but this fight's not going all three."