LAS VEGAS – Someone with a sense of humor in the International Fight League office had to have made sure that Alex Schoenauer wound up competing for the Los Angeles Anacondas.
How else could it be that the guy who hunts rattlesnakes in his spare time wound up fighting for a team named after a large snake?
Unlike the anaconda, though, which is a solitary and ornery being, Schoenauer is an engaging and inquisitive guy who tried mixed martial arts on a whim and says he gets an adrenaline rush from being surrounded by dozens of noisy, angry and, yep, poisonous rattlers.
Schoenauer, who gets a chance to avenge a Feb. 2 loss when he meets Mike Ciesnolevicz of the Quad Cities Silverbacks on Aug. 2 in the IFL semifinals at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., doesn't see the fuss about seeking out a deadly foe.
Sure, the light heavyweight concedes, most people shiver at the mere thought of a snake and usually run in the opposite direction at the sight of one, but what is life without a little adrenaline to keep it interesting?
"Doing that type of thing is kind of equivalent to fighting," said Schoenauer, who earned a degree in industrial engineering from Montana State and was preparing to enter the real world before his adventurous side kicked in. "The adrenaline, the action, the unknown of what is going to happen. You have to put it all out there and see. To me, that's incredible."
After graduating and getting work in the engineering field, the 31-year-old Schoenauer decided he wasn't ready to join the work force full-time – at least not in the traditional way – and opted to earn his captain's license that qualified him to pilot a 100-ton craft in international waters.
He was hired to captain a 96-foot yacht, which he took from Seattle to Alaska and then from Alaska to Mexico with 10 passengers aboard.
Routine trips along serene waters aren't likely to hold Schoenauer's interest. But that wasn't what he found. Not long after leaving Seattle, he encountered turbulent seas with 50-foot waves. "We were afraid the windows were going to be crashed in," Schoenauer said.
While he was trying to find a way to solve that problem, he discovered another one: seasickness.
"Everyone made fun of me because of that," he said, bemusedly. "But that's what makes good memories."
When he lived in Montana, he discovered what he called the joys of rattlesnake hunting. He'd walk onto a prairie and before long, he would see snakes wherever he would look. But when he'd ask friends to go with him, he got a uniform response.
"Just about everyone said the same thing: No," he said, laughing. "But if you ask anyone who went with me, once they did it, they got hooked. They always wanted to go back."
The riskier, the merrier, in Schoenauer's opinion, which is why he decided to try out for the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter even though he didn't have any real MMA experience.
He said he had played around with MMA when he was in college, but was a neophyte and he knew it.
But the opportunity to compete in a sport that, at the time of the filming in 2004, wasn't widely understood and carried an aura of anything-goes mayhem appealed to him. So, too, did the opportunity to work with legends in the sport like Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell.
He quit his job and began to train in martial arts, learning jiu-jitsu. He moved to Las Vegas and walked into the Combat Club, a gym where then-UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir was training.
Schoenauer announced his intention to become a mixed martial artist, which quickly grabbed Mir's attention.
"He looked at me and he laughed," Schoenauer said. "And he should have laughed. I was terrible. I was getting my butt kicked all the time."
But he was diligent at his work and fearless in his fights. His personality landed him a spot on the reality series on Spike TV, a show which in large part helped save the UFC and, by extension, the sport.
Schoenauer was beaten by popular Forrest Griffin inTUF, but has since become a solid, if not spectacular, fighter who has compiled a 12-7 record. And Couture, who coached him during the reality show and who trains with Schoenauer at his Xtreme Couture gym in Las Vegas, said Schoenauer's potential is clear.
"He's what we call a gamer," said Couture, the UFC's heavyweight champion. "In the gym, he doesn't seem all that good. He gives up things. He gives up a lot of positions. But when it's time to compete, he's good. He's better in competition than he is in training."
He's worked with a number of coaches, from Bas Rutten and Couture to Shawn Tompkins, one of the game's elite coaches and his coach with the Anacondas.
Tompkins said Schoenauer, who still has less than three years as a full-time fighter, is among the most dramatically improved fighters he's seen.
"From my standpoint, he's the most improved fighter over the last two years, no question," Tompkins said. "He's becoming a complete fighter and I think he doesn't get credit for his overall ability.
"What he has accomplished is pretty amazing considering he hasn't been in the game that long. He dabbled in it for a while, but it's only been recently that he's really gotten into it and devoted himself."
And Schoenauer's devotion is coming up with a way to defeat Ciesnolevicz. He said he's going into the rematch as a different fighter.
Tompkins said Schoenauer had been working hard to improve his kicks before the first fight with Ciesnolevicz. He tried one in a fight and was taken down and ultimately lost a decision.
But Tompkins said he thinks Schoenauer is ready for a turnaround.
"Alex dominated that fight and he lost because of a couple of mistakes we made," Tompkins said. "I say we, because we're a team and we were working on those things together. … But he's come so far since then. He's getting better every day and I'm fully confident Alex will submit him this time."
Check out the Yahoo! Sports MMA/Boxing Experts Blog for the complete lineup for the IFL's Aug. 2 show.
- Alex Schoenauer