When Joe Schilling was a younger man, his biggest problems were the same as any burgeoning kickboxer in America: lack of fights and lack of finances. Nowadays, if Schilling can somehow find time to take a few weeks off, he considers himself lucky. Because please understand, when Schilling set out to be Spike TV's own Donald Cerrone, he wasn't joking.
When all is said and done, the 31-year-old may very well wind up being Viacom's first triple threat star. Schilling, already a world class GLORY kickboxer, made his Bellator debut last November after six years away from the cage and promptly destroyed Melvin Manhoef with a ridiculous ‘Knockout of the Year' candidate. Now Schilling is pledging to sow his violent seeds in both sports simultaneously, a Bo Jackson of the head trauma variety, while also making a serious play at boxing under Spike's Premier Boxing Champions banner.
Such ambitious goals have seen Schilling launched from a rocket ship dead-set for stardom, and now, after grinding in anonymity for over a decade, he's reminded daily how crazy and quickly things can change.
"On my Instagram I have a hashtag for bucket list, and this year has been really insane," Schilling said. "Mike Tyson knows my name. I was just hanging out with Bill Goldberg the other night. Being able to train and roll with Rickson Gracie has been incredible. It's like I'm living in a dream right now. All the opportunities that are coming and the explosion financially has just been phenomenal this year."
With so many spectrums to spread his focus across, life is busier and more chaotic than ever before for Schilling, although it's all part of a grand plan for 2015 that, if successful, could make Schilling a household name among fight fans by the end of the year. That plan? It's simple: fight as often as possible.
After knocking out Manhoef in November, Schilling turned around and donned the 10-ounce gloves two months later, pasting up-and-coming kickboxer Robert Thomas in a three-round decision that left the young Canadian with a firm familiarity with Schilling's fists. Now Schilling is swapping back the cage, preparing to face streaking heavy-hitter Rafael Carvalho on April 10 at Bellator 136, but even that isn't the end -- tentative dates are already being set for Schilling's next GLORY bout and next Bellator showing, provided he skates by Carvalho relatively unscathed.
"You hear people say ‘when it happens, it happens really fast,'" Schilling said. "And it's like, I don't feel like that because it took so long and I've been working so hard. I started kickboxing when I was 15 years old, and it's really been all I've ever wanted to do and worked for.
"I've had ups and downs, knee surgeries, broken jaws, and it's just nuts that once people started paying attention, now all the opportunities keep coming. It's been amazing to feel this, meeting people that I've always looked up and respected, and hearing that they know who I am and they respect what I do. I'm seriously living out my own dream right now. I feel like I'm starring in my own movie."
If he can keep his absurd pace up, Schilling has been told there's a "real possibility" he could be lacing up his boxing gloves for PBC by the end of the year, effectively making him the North American posterboy of Spike's Friday Night Lights Out experiment. But there's plenty of challenges standing in the way of that goal for now, most pressingly the ultra-jacked Brazilian who's been tearing through the middleweight division for the past three years.
Since losing his first pro fight, Carvalho is unbeaten with nine knockouts adorning his 10-fight win streak. Carvalho established that he meant business last September in his Bellator debut, knocking out Bellator stalwart Brian Rogers with a blistering first-round sequence.
A résumé like that is no joke, and Schilling won't overlook the level of talent he's up against this Friday.
"I think that Bellator is making exciting match-ups for me, but they're not giving me any favors," Schilling said. "I mean, my first fight with Bellator was against a striker in MMA today who nobody wants to fight and it worked out really well. Now they're giving me another guy on a 10-fight win streak, so they're testing me the way that I should be. I feel challenged, and that's when I do my best, when I feel like I'm being challenged and I'm ready to rise to the occasion.
"He'll be a really good test for me to show where I'm at in this MMA game," Schilling added. "I still think there's a lot of people who look at me as just a kickboxer, just a kind of fluke, flash in the pan, this guy who not taking it seriously, and it couldn't be farther from the truth.
"I work really hard on my ground game and being well-rounded. I'm not going out there to be humiliated or to embarrass my team or my coaches. So it's going to be a really good test for me. I don't know if the fight is going to stay standing or not, but I'm prepared for anywhere the fight goes. I'm just really excited and looking forward to having a really good fight."