It doesn't take long to figure out that heavyweights Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione have little trouble putting aside their friendship to fight one another at UFC 165.
"Matt has my number," Schaub (9-3) told Yahoo! Sports in a recent phone interview. "If he wants to know my game plan, he can give me a call and I can tell him exactly what I'm going to do. He's beat nothing but C-list fighters."
For his part, Mitrione (6-2), who played in the NFL with the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings, pretends not to know that Schaub, a former University of Colorado standout, did a stint on the Buffalo Bills' practice squad.
"Did he?" said Mitrione, in a voice that was clearly feigning ignorance. "He made a practice squad one season. That's cute. Good for him."
With friends like these, who needs enemies? Schaub and Mitrione have been buddies since they were both members of Rashad Evans' team on the memorable 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter, in which Evans coached against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and the notorious Kimbo Slice was part of the ensemble.
Four years after the show's airing, only Schaub, Mitrione, and eventual winner Roy Nelson remain on the UFC roster. And while it's every TUF fighter's goal to earn their keep in the UFC, Mitrione and Schaub's opinions varied on whether they thought they would actually cross paths in the Octagon.
"I didn't think so," said Mitrione. "I figured there were more than enough fighters in the heavyweight division and we're both just going to do our things. But the bottom line is, I've got a family to feed and I'm not going to treat Brendan any differently than anyone else I step into the cage with."
Schaub saw things a little differently. "I live a block away from [heavyweight contender] Fabricio Werdum, and we never train together," Schaub said. "It's not that he's a bad guy, but it's just, there are only so many heavyweights in the UFC and you know that if you stick around long enough, there's a pretty good chance you're going to fight. So I figured once we both stuck around there was a pretty good chance we'd fight."
Make no mistake about it, this is a consequential fight in both competitors' careers. Both won their previous bouts: Schaub a unanimous decision over Lavar Johnson at UFC 157; Mitrione a 19-second knockout of Phil DeFries on April 6. But both fighters lost their two previous bouts. Thus, the winner of Saturday's fight at Toronto's Air Canada Centre will come out with renewed momentum in the heavyweight division; the loser will have three losses in his last four fights.
While both combatants have their share of knockouts on their ledger (Schaub has knockouts or TKOs in seven of his nine career victories; Mitrione in five of six), both seem to agree that the difference will come if and when the fight hits the ground.
"Hey, I'm willing to take this wherever he wants to go," Schaub said. "If he wants to stand and bang with me, I mean, has he been in there with Mirko Cro Cop? Has he been in there with [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira? Has he been in there with Gabriel Gonzaga? No. And if he wants to go to the ground, I'll take that seven days a week."
Mitrione, who has moved his training camp to be with the South Florida-based Blackzilians, scoffed at the notion.
"I keep hearing about Brendan's top control game, and the example they use is the way he dominated his fight against Lavar Johnson," said Mitrione. "And my answer to that is, yeah, he did that against Lavar Johnson. Lavar did everything you shouldn't do in that situation. I'm going to be ready."
Both fighters have made news outside in the Octagon in recent months.
Mitrione made headlines in April with controversial comments regarding transgender fighter Fallon Fox, whom he called "a lying, sick, disgusting, sociopathic freak."
The fighter nicknamed "Meathead" was suspended and fined an undisclosed amount by the UFC for his words, and offers an unequivocal apology.
"I got way too aggressive with my words in the point I was trying to make," Mitrione said. "I shouldn't have done that. I still believe we need to have fully informed medical opinions presented before we make a decision on whether to allow transgender fighters. But I should not have used words that sounded like a personal attack on Fallon Fox."
Schaub's headlines were less controversial, but still noteworthy. The heavyweight appeared in June at Metamoris 2, a submission-grappling event, and went to a draw with world no-gi jiu-jitsu champion Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu. Hardcore jiu-jitsu fans were angered by what they viewed as Schaub's unwillingness to engage in Abreu's guard. Schaub feels just as strong about his performance.
"There was a poll online before the fight that asked how long it was going to take for Cyborg to submit me, and most people said under two minutes," Schaub said. "I went to a draw with a world champion. That's a victory for me. Would Cyborg have gone the distance with me in an MMA fight?"
That, we'll likely never know. What we will find out in about a week or so, though, is whether both fighters will live up to their vow to keep their friendship going, despite all the rhetoric, which included a June dustup on Twitter.
"Hey, this is a sport," said Schaub. "No different than any other sport. If you can't separate between what goes on inside the cage and life outside, you're probably not going to make it."
Mitrione is a bit more succinct. "I'm going to smash his face in," Mitrione said. "But after that, we're cool."
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter: @davedoylemma.
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