When Brendan Shaub was young, he, like many elementary school dreamers, had big goals for the future.
He would either become a professional football player or a ninja.
While most of us gave up on our lofty aspirations to be superheroes or NBA players or presidents when we got older (and realized we didn't have the athleticism, height, or brains,) Schaub kept working towards those childhood dreams.
And believe it or not, he achieved them.
His football dream was realized when he was picked up as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Bills in 2006 after a successful four-year college career at the University of Colorado. Though his time with the Bills was brief, he looks back on his NFL stint with pride.
"Buffalo was kind of a surprise," he said. "It was a great experience for me, growing up seeing all of those great Bills teams with Thurman Thomas and Jim Kelly and all those guys. It was a little surreal for me. Short-lived but definitely surreal."
Though football was on that short list of optimal careers, Schaub came to the realization that he wouldn't stay in the NFL long during his junior year of college - but it wasn't for lack of talent or effort.
"I knew it was not because of my skill set, but more because I just didn't have the passion for the game, and that's trouble. You're just not going to make it in any professional sport if you don't have the passion," he said.
His love for mixed martial arts, however, had grown even stronger than it was at age ten, when he first set his sights on the UFC.
"When you're that young and you like the UFC, I think people confuse that with an aggressive kid," said Schaub. "That wasn't the case at all. I was a martial artist. My dad was a black belt in tae kwon do. If you named a sport, I competed in it. It just so happened that football and martial arts kind of pulled me in that direction."
He would even sneak away after a full slate of strength and conditioning two-a-days in college to go to the jiu jitsu gym.
He was exhausted. Not even his best friends knew he was there. Plain and simple – Brendan Schaub had found his passion.
"What's funny is that as the season went on and we were winning, the more I wanted to do jiu jitsu," he said. "That's when I knew. We were having a great season and I was doing well, but for me I was all about jiu jitsu and seeing what I could do with it."
So when Brendan's time at the Bills ended and he checked off one-half of his childhood dream, he focused on the second half: becoming a "ninja." After committed to training fulltime in boxing and martial arts and advancing through those ranks, he signed on as a heavyweight with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Sure, he's not exactly *a ninja,* but he admits that as a UFC fighter he's about as close as it gets in today's day and age. Much like how one might define a ninja's craft, the sport showcases athleticism, strength and strategic martial arts maneuvers, and favors those who are prepared for anything.
"Really what separated me when I was young from the other kids was my mindset," said Shaub. "My work ethic was so much better than everyone else's. Always. I think to be a world class fighter in the UFC, you have to have that work ethic."
To prepare for a fight, of which Schaub has about two each year, work ethic and focus come very much into play. It's in this aspect of his career that he sees stark similarities to the NFL.
"I do the same type of preparation I did when I was playing football," he said. "You break down tendencies, you watch fight film, you go over strengths and weaknesses. It's no different than the NFL. Coming from football, I think it's helped me. It's given me advantages as more of a cerebral fighter."
He's not the only one to make a smooth jump from professional football to the UFC. Schaub has faced and beaten two other former NFL players – including Marcus Jones, a first-round pick in the 1996 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – and has won against both. This Saturday night, he'll face a third when he fights Matt Mitrione in Toronto.
"This is the third former NFL football player I've faced," Schaub said. "I'm undefeated against all of them. I destroy former football players. I have always had the mindset of the martial artist, so when people make the comparison of two former football players, I thrive off of it. I like to stand out. I think I'm the best kind of crossover athlete into mixed martial arts. For sure the most successful. When they try to make those comparisons, I go out there to prove a point. It's going to be the same come Saturday night."
For more information on Schaub's Saturday night fight in Toronto, click here.