It was only when Jake Schilling got laid off that he was really able to get work.
Schilling, who will fight on Saturday’s Brawl in the Burg 3 professional card at a 150-pound catch weight, has a day job in construction. He works in masonry, and he works outdoors. So, when November rolled around, weather worsened, and work slowed, Schilling was let go. And so, Schilling (1-0) turned right around and made preparing for his fight against Shawn Tarlton (0-0) his full time obsession.
“I’m just staying in the gym. Just staying busy in the gym…Just paying my bills., living modest. I think just being a martial artist, this lifestyle is a really modest lifestyle…When you first start out, you’re not making a lot of money, so this is just for the love of the game—for the love of the sport.”
Schilling continued, “It’s about trying to prove my worth. Trying to prove to myself and to others that I can do it…When it’s all said and done, I want to leave this earth with people saying, ‘Wow, that kid did that. He chased his dream.’ That’s why I’m here.”
For Schilling, the path to “here” started when he was 14 years old. That’s when, at a friend’s urging, Schilling walked into the Pittsburgh Fight Club gym in Robinson. At the time, Schilling was just a scrawny, little kid. Or, at least that’s how Khama Worthy recalls the 14-year-old Schilling.
Worthy—who would later go on to own the gym, rename it The Academy of Martial Arts and Fitness, and break into the Ultimate Fighting Championship himself—remembers that despite a lack of size back then, Schilling still had some power behind his frame. Power, and determination.
“He’s known for his heart more than anything. He’s willing to compete, and he’s willing to do anything to get a win,” Worthy said of Schilling. “He’s always been an extremist when it comes to training. If you want to get shit done, you go in there with Jake, because he’s going to try to kill you.”
Said Schilling, “People would go to parties on Friday nights, and I was at the gym on Friday nights. It’s just something that I fell in love with.”
Shilling took his first amateur mixed martial arts fight just a month after turning 18 years old. And, he fought early and often for the next two-and-a-half years. Schilling’s plan was to turn pro by the time he was 21 years old. Four months before Schillings’ 21st birthday, he had racked up a 7-1 amateur record.
Everything was going according to plan—until it wasn’t. Somewhere along the way, Schilling began to lose his focus.
“I don’t talk too much about it, but I had a big gambling problem,” Schilling said. “I was in and out of the casinos a lot. I was wasting a lot of time and giving up training sessions just to try to make more money. I was just too caught up in numbers…My mind just wasn’t there. I was doing the wrong things, and I was spending the wrong time in the wrong places.”
Yet, it was the gym and the appeal of the MMA lifestyle that kept calling to Schilling, and also helped him find his focus once again.
Schilling finished out his amateur career on a 1-1 split between 2017 and 2018. Then, at 25 years old, Schilling fully got his plan back on track by taking his first professional fight. It happened at the Rivers Casino, in Pittsburgh, a place that Schilling knew all too well. He won by rear naked choke in the first round. But, for Schilling, the victory was also about so much more than just having his hand raised.
“Winning at the Rivers Casino felt so great, because I lost a lot there,” Schilling said. “I felt like I was taking a part of my life back. And now I’m taking my next step.”
That next step brings Schilling to the Printscape Arena in Canonsburg on Saturday night, where he will face off against Tarlton. Tarlton did not respond to interview requests. But, Schilling believes that his game plan for handling the Stars and Strikes MMA fighter from Westland, Michigan, is solid.
“Just stay active with my standup. I’m really looking to utilize that in this fight,” Schilling said. “I know [Tarlton] is a ground guy, so he might want to hit the ground at some point. My goal is just to stay up. But if it hits the ground, I’m confident in my game.”
If the fighters do stay on their feet, Schilling will be at his most dangerous. But, Schillings’ teammates at The Academy also give him a lot of credit as an all-around martial artist as well.
“He’s got one of the best right hands in the game around here,” Academy fighter John de Jesus, who headlines the Brawl in the Burg 3 card, said of Schilling. “He’s a strong wrestler…and I train with that savage week-in and week-out.”
Added Chaka Worthy, the younger brother of Khama, who also fights out of The Academy, “Jake, I think, is probably one of the most talented young guys that I know. Just pure, raw talent. He’s strong. He can stand up with you, and he can grapple with anybody.”
It’s a mix of abilities that may be put to the test against Tarlton, who was 6-1 as an amateur and won his final two matches with striking, but who also had three of his amateur wins come by way of submission. Still, it’s also a mix of skills that Schilling’s camp believes will result in a win—one way or another.
“He’ll apply pressure until people break,” Khama Worthy said of Schilling. “Keep your eyes out for him. Jake’s a terror…a fireball, a hurricane.”
Added Chaka Worthy, “Don’t blink, because [Schilling] might end it quick. It’s going to be very exciting.”
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