A trip two months ago to Brazilian favela (shanty town) Tijuquinha prompted Brendan Schaub to return tonight. This time, he and his team are bearing gifts.
Three duffel bags worth of gear – from Schaub sponsors RevGear, Echo Unlimited and Bony Acai – are going to Troupa Thai, a school that teaches in the impoverished mini-city within Rio de Janeiro.
"The kids were practicing jiu-jitsu on the cement," Schaub manager Lex McMahon told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) as the team prepared to leave for the favela. "They had no gear. The guys from Troupa Thai said they could use some help."
So Schaub delivered.
"You go there, and these kids have nothing," the heavyweight said today at a pre-event press conference for UFC 134, which takes place Saturday at HSBC Arena in Rio. "Literally, nothing, and they're as happy as can be.
"They have heroes like (Antonio Rodrigo) 'Minotauro' (Nogueira), Junior Dos Santos, Royce Gracie, Vitor (Belfort). So they're training in mixed martial arts – jiu-jitsu, boxing, kickboxing – but they don't have the necessary equipment.
"For me, it was a rude awakening. It's stuff I'm not used to in Denver, Colorado – my little bubble – so I got all my sponsors together (to collect) donated gear."
And Team Schaub members aren't the only ones who are reaching out. UFC president Dana White said the fight promotion has similar plans in store for the favelas. While the scope of the outreach has yet to be determined, he said it's an essential part of bettering communities such as these that are stricken with overcrowding and crime.
"When you have these underprivileged areas and they can get involved in a combat sport, it releases aggression – it changes kids' lives," White told MMAjunkie.com. "It changes adults' lives, let alone kids.
"We know this for a fact. I've been doing this since I was 19 years old, and that's really where I came from. It's easy for us to slide into some of these neighborhoods and parts of town that need it and give them some help.
"What a lot of these places do down here is they hand out a few soccer balls, and kids play soccer. You do the same thing. You build an octagon and you give kids some equipment, and you'll have some world champions coming out of here."
Schaub, of course, is about to take on a former world champion. On Saturday, he meets Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on the main card of the pay-per-view event, and he'll lobby for a title shot if he's successful.
But for now, he wants to encourage those who surmount poverty with passion.