The Harsh Reality Behind Joe Rogan’s Tough Love Intervention of Brendan Schaub

ufc-on-fox-5Do fighters sometimes need to be saved from themselves? That’s a question Brendan Schaub was forced to confront this past week, courtesy of some brutally honest tough love from one of his best friends. Unfortunately for Schaub his friend has one of the biggest voices in the wider MMA community and it was a pill he had to swallow live on air. Opinion has been divided; was Joe Rogan right, or is a fighter’s destiny his own to command? Harsh Reality Reality TV reached a sordid new low in 2005 with the launch of a show called ‘Intervention’. Each episode followed an individual with ongoing self-abuse issues, building up to the titular intervention where friends and loved ones pleaded with them to get help or change their ways. The interventions themselves made for strikingly awkward viewing because for the most part, the subject was unaware (or unwilling to acknowledge) their problem(s). On one hand the concept disgusts; an individual at their most vulnerable being embarrassed into compliance for our ‘entertainment’. On the other hand the argument is that the pressure of confronting their issues in a public forum is required, in order for the subject to wake up to an often harsh reality. This past week Brendan Schaub got his own intervention. MMA has had its share of awkward moments, but few have come close to Joe Rogan lambasting his friend’s chosen path and tearing down his career and masculinity live on air. Schaub’s response was typical of the addicts featured on the Intervention TV show; denial, defiance and delusion. Much of the debate stemming from Rogan’s bare-bones honesty has avoided the thorny subject of what he said, centering instead on where he said it. Rogan’s social media footprint stands at 1.5 million on twitter alone; there was no chance his comments would go ignored or be swept under the proverbial rug. It was side-swipe broadcasting at its finest. “The reality is, I don’t see you beating elite guys…” Rogan mused. “You have no fluidity.” “When I look at the performances, you are not an elite fighter. I know what I am seeing. You’re not recognizing…” Schaub looked on in stunned silence. “You are not fighting at that level…” Rogan continued. “You’re going to get f***ing hit man.  I worry.  You leave more openings, you have vulnerabilities. Werdum…Cain is another level than you.” While we’ll never know exactly what was said prior to recording, Joe insinuated that the discussion was not his idea. Perhaps Schaub had expected an easy ride from his cohorts; a pat on the back and a touch of gentle ribbing. The look on his face and the heavy, awkward silences that permeated their discussion made it abundantly clear that he’d got more than he bargained for. That’s the point of tough love though. There comes a time when a quiet word in private isn’t enough. Regardless of how appropriately Rogan chose his moment, the truth is that he’s right. Take away loyalties and allegiances and there are very few rational people who would back Schaub against the likes of Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez; fighters he insisted he could beat. There’s a cruel joke in there somewhere about Schaub’s high opinion of his abilities being evidence absolute of him taking too much punishment in the cage. During his five-year UFC tenure the Colorado native has been given every opportunity. Management have thrown him his share of aging veterans in Cro-Cop, Nogueira and Arlovski; relics of a bygone era almost ten years removed from their prime. One of them he beat, one outpointed him and another (arguably the most broken down of the three) knocked him out in ferociously efficient fashion. Roy Nelson and Ben Rothwell – both now firmly entrenched as gatekeepers – handled him savagely. Where does he go from here? Beat up some over-matched brawlers, get knocked out when the inevitable step up in competition occurs, rinse and repeat? Schaub’s UFC career has devolved into a twisted parody of Groundhog Day, only with less Bill Murray slapstick and more cerebral trauma. There’s nowhere to hide in MMA, especially in the UFC’s heavyweight division. Schaub’s drive – some might call it stubbornness – will undoubtedly prevent him from taking a step down to a safer level of competition. He’s still here for a career and to fill his retirement pot. The Brain Game A scathing review of his friend’s standing as a less-than-elite fighter wasn’t the only ammo Rogan was packing. The second barrel contained an even more stinging round of verbal buckshot; a plea for Schaub to assess his health. “You’re a smart dude…” Rogan pleaded. “You know about concussions you have had. Fifteen minutes with an elite fighter… You can’t do that. Your brain doesn’t get better from punches.” “The reality of brain damage is that it doesn’t heal.” he finished. This time Schaub’s rebuttal was sound. As a comedian and broadcaster Rogan has earned enough money to retire to a privileged and comfortable life many times over. Schaub has not. It’s the fighter – not the critic – who has lived the life and faced the struggles head on. It’s perhaps rich of Rogan to tell any fighter – let alone one who jumped in at the deep end and treaded water for five years – when to hang up his gloves. But then perhaps it’s Rogan’s position and stature in the industry that gives his stance weight. He said (possibly in jest, possibly not) that concerns over head trauma may cause him to retire from calling fights in the near future. While media White Knights can easily be drowned out by Dana White’s mighty roar, were one of the icons of UFC programming to walk out over such a hot-button issue, the UFC’s hand may be forced. Our sport is too young to generate any meaningful data on head injuries, but common sense says that years of big hits on the Gridiron and a bunch of heavy knockout losses in the cage will have done Brendan Schaub more harm than good in the long run. Ultimately Schaub’s health is his own responsibility. He owes nothing to the fans that lament the punishment fighters endure, only to rave at YouTube videos of the latest big knockout. There’s a degree of dishonestly there. MMA’s high-risk, low-reward nature requires a level of self-belief and a willingness for self-sacrifice that can often transcend common sense. Rogan’s on-air deconstruction of his friend may have been brutal, but at least it was brutally honest. By Brad Wharton @MMABrad48   

Written by Brad Wharton

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