Schafer puts light-heavies on 'Red' alert
Story by Brady Crytzer
There is no division like 205 pounds in the sport of mixed martial arts. Known as the sport’s “Glamour Division,” the UFC light heavyweight division has arisen from its long time championship deadlock of “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ Tito Ortiz and “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell to become one of the most competitive weight classes. Since losses by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Forrest Griffin, the 205 pound title has changed hands three times in the last two years.
While the day belongs to the newly crowned “Sugar” Rashad Evans, challengers await around every corner. In the midst of those hopefuls is one of the Midwest’s most reliable warriors in Eric “Red” Schafer who retakes the Octagon on Saturday, January 17th.
Schafer, who made his Octagon debut in 2006, established himself as a submission extraordinaire by readily submitting TUF 2 veteran Rob MacDonald with ease. However, consecutive TKO losses to Michael Bisping had Stephan Bonnar had left Schafer out of the UFC picture and forced him to rethink his approach. After going 2-0 in non-UFC competition in 2008, Schafer was grateful, yet cautious, for a second chance inside the Zuffa, LLC. stratosphere.
“I’m still a young guy.” Schafer said. “Right now I’m 2-2 in the UFC and a win is huge. I know I’m not in the top ten, but I think a win here puts me in the top fifteen or twenty. The light heavyweight division is so stacked that a loss or two could be the end for me in the UFC.”
“I think fighting outside of the UFC was good for me. I really gained a lot of valuable experience. Nerves were a real issue for me when and I think I wasn’t mentally prepared for some of those fights like Bisping and Bonnar so experience is very important now.”
Anxious to get back to action, Schafer was faced with one of the sport’s biggest breakout stars of 2007 in “The Assassin” Houston Alexander. A heavy handed slugger with the worst of intentions, most men would’ve crumble under the piercing stare of the sport’s newest knockout artist.
“I didn’t feel that much pressure, we fought in his hometown.” Schafer said. “I sort of went in with the feeling that I had nothing to lose. I knew that I didn’t necessarily want to trade strikes with him because he could’ve knocked me out with one punch. I never felt the pressure though.”
“The fight went exactly like I pictured it.”
Schafer’s calm demeanor should be no surprise to those unfamiliar with his fighting style. Known for his “cool under pressure” approach, Schafer is a product of a long history of mixed martial arts.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but I’ve always loved martial arts movies,” Schafer laughed. “I saw movies like Bloodsport and then I got some UFC VHS tapes in the 90’s and thought ‘this is just like a real bloodsport’.”
“The move to the jiu jitsu came right at the end of my high school career. I was getting recruited by some Division I schools for football and I suffered an injury. The move to fighting just came at the right time.”
Awaiting Schafer at UFC 93: Franklin vs. Henderson is the gifted and rangy striker Antonio “Samuray” Mendes. Although Mendes is 0-1 in UFC competition, Mendes has shown in his most recent loss to Thiago Silva that he is not afraid to trade punches. For Schafer, four bouts on the sport’s grandest stage give him a noticeable and possibly unshakeable edge in experience.
“I approach this fight a lot like the fight with Houston,” Schafer said. “I’ve watched a lot of his (Mendes) European fights and he is a technical striker. I don’t think he hits as hard as Houston and I don’t see him as a real finisher but he has very dangerous kicks.”
Tucked away in the frozen tundra of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Schafer goes to war everyday in preparation for his bout at UFC 93.
“I spent my nights in training getting beat up by guys like Pat Barry and Ben Rothwell,” Schafer joked. “You can’t ask for a better striking coach than Duke Roufus, and we have a lot of good guys with us. Alan Belcher is here for a while getting ready to fight on the same card.”
“Our camp is really one of the best kept secrets in the sport.”