Opening up the main card at UFC 121 this Saturday night, The Ultimate Fighter season ten runner-up Brendan Schaub (6-1, 2-1 UFC) will take a considerable step up in competition as he faces former UFC heavyweight contender Gabriel Gonzaga (11-5, 7-4 UFC). He previously defeated prospect Chase Gormley and Brock Lesnar training partner Chris Tuchscherer via first round technical knockouts. Both fights proved to be needed challenges to Schaub's progression as a mixed martial artist, but didn't truly test his abilities as a whole. Despite his debut loss to Roy Nelson at The Ultimate Fighter season ten finale, Schaub's surge into the middle pack has proven that he is capable of coming into his own and being a name in the upper echelon of the division in the future.
While Schaub's striking easily overcame the much more deficient stand-up skills of both Gormley and Tuchscherer, Gonzaga should be his strongest competition to date in terms of skill. He also happens to be one of the most threatening Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners in the UFC's heavyweight division, and Schaub hasn't truly faced an opponent of Gonzaga's grappling acumen who will actively try to gain the takedown.
Schaub's boxing background and ability to soak in knowledge quickly make this an intriguing fight to scrutinize. His stand-up game has been on an accelerated plan from the beginning, and he's picked up skills that would take most mixed martial artists a lengthier amount of time to master. While Schaub is no consummate pugilist, he's definitely one of the better punchers in a division dominated by powerful, yet sloppy striking.
Those skills will put Gonzaga's potentially wilting chin to the test. Junior dos Santos and Shane Carwin both found a home for their power against Gonzaga in the past, and Schaub seems to have that type of power as well. In fact, the only lacking attribute for Schaub is his size, weighing in normally at 245 pounds.
There is also the obvious question as to whether Schaub can hang with Gabriel Gonzaga's grappling acumen if he finds himself on his back. While Schaub did prove during his stint on The Ultimate Fighter that he has the abilities on the ground to be a threat, it's a tough sell to believe he can work around Gonzaga's Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt while also dealing with the twenty pound weight difference.
On paper, Gonzaga should be the favorite and win this fight. Schaub is only six fights into his career, gives up twenty pounds to his opponent, and isn't the grappler that Gonzaga is on the ground. Unfortunately, Schaub has the power in his hands to completely nullify an objective breakdown, and Gonzaga happens to be rather vulnerable to it. That question mark makes this somewhat of a toss-up, although I think Gonzaga still has the slight edge since he can dish it out both on the feet and on the ground.
We won't know until Saturday night how much Schaub has improved over the last three months, so it's tough to gauge exactly how he'll perform. The safe bet is Gonzaga as he is more diverse in his abilities, at least from what we've seen. The fact of the matter is that Schaub could be just as diverse... we just haven't seen that yet because he hasn't had to use those other skills. I'll take Gonzaga, but Schaub deserves some love here.