Joe Schilling’s notoriety reached new heights in 2014. If all goes according to plan, it’ll grow even bigger this year since he intends to compete in MMA, kickboxing and boxing bouts.
Schilling has spent most of his adult life as a kickboxer. He dabbled in MMA in 2008, but he quickly exited the sport after he dropped three of four fights. He then flourished in several kickboxing organizations around the globe, but he really began to draw attention when he joined GLORY.
He won the organization’s middleweight tournament in September 2013 and has participated in high-level contests along the way. However, simply being a standout kickboxer didn’t scratch Schilling’s itch.
The 31-year-old wanted a chance to right the wrong of his 2008 MMA stint and took a Bellator MMA fight in November. He defeated Melvin Manhoef in a “Knockout of the Year” contender in his first MMA bout in more than six years.
The exposure from competing on Spike TV for GLORY and Bellator has come with some potential distractions. Schilling said that’s a good thing, though, as long as he makes sure not to let his rise in popularity take him off track.
“From the beginning of my career until now, I think I’ve always stayed the same person,” Schilling said. “I take pride in being very real. Some people hate it, and some people love it, but I’m always going to be myself. I have a great home life with my family and my kids. I’ve been with my main coach since I was fighting amateur 10 years ago. My circle of friends is very close, and I have a great manager and management team behind me.
“I don’t see an issue in staying grounded. I think the overwhelming part is just how much media attention I’ve got and normal attention. I was at a kickboxing fight this past weekend. Usually we would get tickets to the fights but never really sit down. We would hang out at the bar or roam around and hang out with friends. This fight was the first time I’ve been to a fight where I just wanted to go straight to my seat and sit down because there were so many people hounding me. I love my fans, but you give them a couple drinks, and they can become a little obnoxious. I’m still really grateful and fortunate for all the opportunities I’m getting.”
Schilling (2-3 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) has already had a busy year. He outpointed Ryan Thomas at GLORY 19 in February, and he’s on the verge of another MMA bout as he faces middleweight Rafael Carvalho (10-1 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) in Friday’s Bellator 136’s co-main event, which airs on Spike TV from Bren Events Center in Irvine, Calif.
“Rafael has a lot of fights online, so I feel pretty comfortable, and I feel like I know him,” Schilling said. “He’s got a pretty impressive record at 10-1 with nine knockouts. He’s on a 10-fight win streak and is a really well-rounded guy. He’s the type of guy who looks to finish fights, which is exactly what I want.”
If Schilling is successful, it could open the door for him to compete in a third different combat sport this year. Spike TV recently struck a partnership with Premier Boxing Champions, and Schilling said there are ongoing discussions to have him compete at one of the events.
“There’s definitely been a lot of conversations about that,” Schilling said. “There’s no contract or anything to announce or anything of that nature, but it’s definitely something that Spike TV kind of pushed me about. I thought it was a fantastic idea, and I was almost in shock that they would give me that opportunity.
“I just feel so lucky and blessed to be on Spike TV and have them be so open to letting me fight for multiple promotions and promoting me the way they are. It’s definitely something that is a possibility sooner than later, and I think that’s something that will probably happen by the end of the year, to be honest.”
Schilling’s first kickboxing match took place in 2005, and he’s spent most of the past decade flying under the radar. That’s no longer the case.
“It’s been really insane,” Schilling said. “It’s a great feeling, and it’s kind of overwhelming at times. I always knew that there was a bigger fan base for MMA than there was for kickboxing, but I really had no idea how much bigger it was until I knocked out Melvin Manhoef. Overall, the exposure and response from the fans and media is kind of incredible.
“To put it in perspective, I was the first American to ever win a global combat sports tournament of any kind. I was the first GLORY middleweight champion on Spike TV, and I think we did two interviews after that fight. Then I knocked out Melvin Manhoef, and it was like I got the ‘Knockout of the Year’ from all these outlets. It’s been overwhelming how much people have responded to it and how much my reputation has kind of grown. It’s a fantastic feeling and I just want to keep that momentum going.”
Schilling plans to keep that momentum going against Carvalho at Bellator 136. The Brazilian is a striker in his own right and has recorded all but one of his career victories by knockout. Schilling said standing with him would be a mistake, though.
“I know that my striking ability is superior to almost everyone,” Schilling said. “At some point, just like with the Melvin fight, I’m going to touch him, and he’s going to fall down. I feel like my ability all around is really good. At some point, I’m going to hit him, and I’m probably going to put him to sleep. Whether that’s the first 10 seconds or the last 10 seconds remains to be seen. That will be the end result.”
Schilling knows how his fights must go if he wants to maintain a busy fight schedule this year. He said the prospect of participating in three sports excites him, but it’s also a significant physical and mental hurdle.
“It’s going to be a really busy year for me fighting for all these promotions, especially now with the possibility of Premier Boxing,” Schilling said. “I really don’t know how I’m going to make it through this whole year. It seems like every time I get out the ring, I have about three days off or a week off then I’m right back in training camp for the next one. That’s never happened to me throughout my whole career, especially kickboxing.
“There are long breaks between fights. I didn’t want those long breaks, but now I’m able to be active and get the exposure. I’m constantly getting another fight booked and another fight booked. It’s really great, and I’m constantly improving and staying in shape, which is great for me.”