At 26, former professional mixed martial artist Brendan Schaub took the Ultimate Fighting Championship by storm. Six years later, he retired as one of the top ten heavyweight fighters in the world to pursue his lifelong love of comedy.
Following the recent release of his “Gringo Papi” comedy show on YouTube—which has garnered over one million views—Brendan embarked on his “Trash Panda Tour,” for which he continues to balance multiple-city performances with two of his greatest passions in life: fatherhood… and podcasting.
As the host of multiple popular shows, including The Fighter and the Kid, The Schaub Show, and King and the Sting and the Wing, Brendan is one of just a small handful of podcasters who consistently has multiple shows at the top of their respective categories.
His dedication to the medium and his two sons have also earned him Podcast Magazine’s “Top Dad in Podcasting” title for 2022.
Brendan’s ambition and success may make his self-description somewhat surprising: “I’m just your normal, ‘thiccc’ White boy, trying to make it in America,” he laughed.
“Especially living in LA, people think I’m Persian, Armenian, Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, native American… you name it. Turns out, I’m nothing exotic. I pursued 23 and Me also assuming I had some sort of unique ancestry. Turns out, I was wrong. I sent them my DNA, and they sent me back a jar of mayonnaise.”
Brendan’s ancestry might just be his only indistinctive quality.
Unlike so many professional athletes, fighting was never in the realm of Brendan’s dreams before joining the UFC.
“If you gave anyone who grew up with me, especially my brother, a thousand guesses as to what I’d do with my life, none of them would have said, ‘cage fighter.’ I wasn’t aggressive in any way. I was actually always a sensitive, silly kid. I cried nonstop! My brother was the tough guy for me.”
Growing up in Aurora, Colorado, in the late 80s/early 90s, Brendan described the area as “rough.” He struggled to fit in with his predominantly Black peers, and despite his predilection for comedy even then, he turned to sports as a medium for making friends.
“It was a double-edged sword, really,” Brendan said. “What I really wanted was to be on Saturday Night Live, but in order to be accepted, I had to show my athleticism off at recess.”
Brendan began playing tackle football in third grade, and he continued all the way to Division 1 for the University of Colorado.
What he remembers most about the entire football experience is his father’s consistent presence.
“My dad never missed a game. He was, and is, always there.”
Reflecting, Brendan remembers how his father taught him the importance of honoring your commitments.
“I think I was in fourth grade when I decided I wanted to quit football. There were so many practices and so much pressure on me as the team captain. I was playing running back and linebacker, but really, I just wanted to hang out with my friends. So, I told my dad that I didn’t want to play football anymore. He’s like, ‘Okay, cool. We’re going to walk up to practice, and you’re going to tell everyone you’re quitting, so you can see how it affects those who rely on you.’
“The coach gathered the team around, and at my father’s prompting to explain my intention to quit, I just started bawling. My dad goes, ‘You wanna get your pads and practice now?’ And I did.
“This was not only a life-changing learning experience for me, but sticking to my commitment eventually led to a scholarship and Division 1 ball, too,” Brendan shared.
While attending CU, Brendan trained at Easton, the biggest chain of Jiu-Jitsu gyms in Colorado, for summer conditioning. He had a natural talent for it, though at the time, he viewed it only as a method for getting in shape and staying strong. After “an Uber ride” with the Buffalo Bills post-college, Brendan said, “The Bills were like, ‘We’re all set on slow white guys.’ So, I went back home and started to really dive into Jiu-Jitsu, because I enjoyed it so much.”
Soon, his interest in boxing was piqued, as well. He decided to visit the TKO gym, where he was invited back to train with “another big guy who could use a big body.” Brendan was more than willing to help and quickly agreed.
That “big guy” turned out to be Shane Carwin, who went on to earn the heavyweight championship. He and Brendan became “like brothers,” and when Brendan couldn’t afford the gym membership and private training fees, Shane took care of them for him.
In fact, it was Shane who signed Brendan up for the Golden Gloves box tournament just a few months into his training.
Brendan’s initial reaction?
“But I don’t want to do that,” he recalled with a chuckle.
Shane said, “Just do it, and let’s see how it goes,” and Brendan agreed. He then told his dad, who said, “What the hell are you doing, dude?”
His dad reminded him that with the double major he earned at CU, there were a million things he could do other than boxing. While both agreed the Golden Gloves was pretty insane, Brendan struck a deal with his greatest role model:
“I said, ‘Dad, do me a favor… come to the Golden Gloves. If I lose, I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll work for your company, even. But if I win, you gotta support me.’”
His father agreed. Upon arrival at the competition, Brendan was surprised to learn that he wasn’t just fighting once. It was actually a tournament, and he would fight six times over two nights.
He won every match with a KO.
In the finals, Brendan was set to fight “a military guy who was 6’9” and about 280 pounds.” While getting his hands wrapped, he and his dad caught a glimpse of him.
“Dad goes, ‘Jesus Christ. He’s the one you’re fighting? Let’s get out of here!’
“I ended up knocking him out in the second round, and I won the Golden Gloves. That’s when I realized there might be something for me in the fighting industry, and it was off to the races.”
Brendan had his first MMA fight shortly after, and within 18 months of that, his life trajectory changed again.
While at the gym one day (not just any gym, mind you… the famed Jackson-Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, NM), Rashad Evans and Greg Jackson walked in and approached him. They were looking for a wrestling partner for Rashad, who was set to fight Chuck Liddell for the UFC light-heavyweight championship.
“Greg warned me from the get-go that Rashad could not get hurt, so I was to tread lightly. I got this double leg on Rashad, and I ran through it and accidentally ran him into a bag. He hurt his rib, and everybody just hated me. I remember Jackson—who is of course considered one of the ‘Holy Grail’ of MMA—going, ‘What the hell?’ Oh my God… I had tears in my eyes. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m done.’ It was equivalent to Richard Pryor telling you your joke is awful.”
Brendan was more than a little surprised when Rashad returned to the gym the next day, watched Brendan train, and approached him about trying out for UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter. Brendan was skeptical, admitting he had only two fights on his professional record. But Rashad, who was a coach for TUF, reassured him that the show was exactly for guys like him—up-and-coming fighters.
Rashad called the UFC and streamlined the process, allowing Brendan to skip tryouts and go straight to the interview stage.
“I’ve never met a camera I don’t like,” Brendan explained, “so I just kind of lit up the room and all the other fighters, making fun of them. They, including Dana White, were dying laughing. I walked out knowing I got that gig.”
Two weeks later, it was confirmed.
That season of TUF was the highest-rated season of all time, which Brendan attributes to Kimbo Slice’s presence. With Rashad as his coach, Brendan defeated all three of his opponents, advancing to the finals where he would compete not only for the title of The Ultimate Fighter, but for a lucrative contract with the UFC, as well.
His opponent? One of the top heavyweights of all time, Roy Nelson. Brendan suffered his first professional loss.
A couple years later in 2012, Brendan was still fighting professionally when he decided to launch The Fighter and the Kid podcast alongside co-host and fellow comic Brian Callen as an outlet for humor. This, he said, was “when everyone and their aunt wasn’t doing a podcast yet.”
The show “changed the game” for him, he said, because when he received a paycheck for the ads run on the podcast, he compared it to the paycheck he received for “getting punched in the face” during his last fight.
“The paycheck for being myself—for being funny on a podcast—was more than the one for getting pummeled. So, I had a plan B.”
Strongly believing that there was more for him than fighting, Brendan decided it was time to answer his true calling—comedy. And that is what led him to his current career.
He has also since become “ingrained” in podcasts.
“The one thing I know is the ins and outs of podcasting. So, I launched my own Thiccc Boy network, under which we have nine shows, including The Fighter and the Kid, which is still going strong now, almost ten years later.”
Brendan confided that nothing in his professional life—from playing Division 1 football to starring on a reality television show and fighting huge cards in the UFC to venturing into podcasting—ruffled him.
Fatherhood, however, is a different story altogether.
“My anxiety is through the roof since I’ve had kids,” he laughed. “I’m constantly worried. If I’m out on the road, and my wife (who definitely keeps me grounded) tells me they’re going to the movies, I’m like, ‘Sit by an exit and make sure you’re aware of your surroundings.’ I’m like the fricking Dr. Fauci of dads now… ‘Bring your mask,’ and ‘Make sure you have your scarves; it’s cold outside.’ These little dudes need me. I’ve even dialed back my tour schedule to be with them more. I’d rather deal with the backlash from a club manager than my son.
That reveal initiated a quick game of “Which Is Harder?”
Q: Calming the Latina wife down when she’s mad, or fighting Mirko ‘Cro Cop’?
A: “Hands down, calming the Latina wife down. Because there’s no Herb Dean to help me out if things get outta hand. Joanne is the toughest opponent I’ve ever had in the mental warfare. She’s spicy! And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Q: First jumping into Jiu-Jitsu and getting tapped left, right, and center, or getting both kids to sleep?
A: “Getting both kids to go to sleep. With the first one, it’s trial and error. He’s a stubborn kid who just doesn’t do what you say, which has equaled many sleepless nights. We actually hired a sleep trainer to help with our second son. He’s been really easy.”
Q: Getting out of Roy Nelson’s side control, or saying “no” to your mother-in-law’s cooking?
A: “Well, I did get out of Roy’s side control. When my mother-in-law is cooking on a Sunday—sopas, and all that kind of stuff—there’s no resisting that. It’s on.”
With family being the clear center of Brendan’s universe, he shared that the most important advice he hopes to impart on his sons is exactly what his father taught him:
“It’s about work ethic and ‘the grind’ mentality. Dad would say, ‘You don’t have to be the fastest. You don’t have to be the smartest. Just be the hardest worker in the room. You can control that.’ And I carry that with me to this day.
“Life isn’t easy. You have to work at and through things. No matter what it is, if you’re passionate about it, run with it. You can’t worry about the money or what other people are going to say, because they’re definitely going to talk. You put blinders on, and pursue it like a racehorse.
“Whether I’m relentlessly pursuing something I’m passionate about or working at Walmart, my work ethic isn’t going to change. I got that from my dad.”
With Brendan’s continued rise as a comedian and podcaster, odds are good we won’t be seeing him as a ‘greeter’ anytime soon.