Joe 'Stitch 'Em Up' Schilling was a trouble youth who got himself expelled from numerous schools before discovering martial arts to be his path in life. The Ohio native lives in Los Angeles, where he co-owns The Yard gym he fights out of.
A self-confessed ‘emotional fighter’, Schilling always speaks his mind frankly. Having held US titles and twice been the WBC Muay Thai interim champion, he is now signed to the GLORY World Series. Schilling wants respect from the international kickboxing world - and he intends to take it.
Tell us how you got into fighting. What was it that motivated you to start training?
“I started Muay Thai when I was 15. I was a troubled kid, getting kicked out of school all the time. I think I was kicked out of four or five schools by the time I graduated. My mom wanted me to find a hobby, something I could get into.
“I went to a martial arts gym and they had a Muay Thai program. I really respected my instructor, I thought he was a total badass and a guy who got lots of chicks. I really wanted to be like that guy.
“I was there all the time, after school I would go to the gym every day. After six months I would help teach the classes and after nine months I had my first fight.
“It really gave me a lot of confidence, I was proud to be more like my instructor than this snot-nose kid who was getting in trouble all the time. I really didn’t have any ambition to do anything else with my life.
“At age 20 I moved from Ohio to California because I thought there was more Muay Thai out here. I fought amateurs then went pro in 2004. And I did end up getting a few girls as well, ha!
Were you an angry young man? Has the sport cured you of that or is it still there under the surface?
“I think I’m an emotional guy. I was an emotional kid and in the circumstances of that time period of my life the emotion was near the surface. I think I am still a pretty emotional guy, definitely an emotional fighter. As soon as I sign a contract to fight a guy I start to hate him and I hate him until the fight is over, it seems to fuel me.
“[With smack talk,] if someone says something bad about me I get pretty offended about it, I am a pretty emotional person when it comes to things like that. But that’s only part of me - I had a great 4th of July, so I’m not always an angry person!”
You’ve climbed to the top of the US scene, now you’re in the international big leagues of the GLORY World Series. What are your goals for your GLORY career?
“I’m really excited about it. GLORY is a great promotion, definitely the biggest collection of international kickboxing talent in the world. I am really excited to be a part of it.
“It’s not just that GLORY pays well - although the money is fantastic - but there’s a lot of guys on the international circuit that I’ve wanted to fight for some time and I’ve not been able to get those fights.
“Now we are all in GLORY together so those fights can happen at last. So it’s much more about getting that respect in the international kickboxing world than it is about the money.”
Would you say people have been avoiding you or have there been other issues that have prevented these fights from taking place?
“I don’t know that I could say they have been avoiding me, I think that the promoters that I’ve been working with haven’t been able to make it happen.
“I’ve been vocally asking for these fights but either the promoters couldn’t make it happen or the schedules weren’t right or whatever. Now GLORY is in a position to make those fights happen and I’m really happy about that.”
Who in particular have you been trying to get matched with?
“Artem Levin and Stephen Wakeling.
“Levin was the WBC world champion while I was the interim world champion and he didn’t defend the title. I thought me getting the interim title would get me a fight with Artem. I had it, lost it, got it back and still didn’t get a fight with Artem.
“And when I was at 79kg, Stephen Wakeling was champion of the division and I wanted that fight but it never happened, then he moved up in weight.
“My eyes have been on those guys for years because they are considered the best in the world and now we are all in the same division at last. It’s going to be interesting.”
Levin and Wakeling are the two top-ranked fighters in the world at middleweight (187lbs/85kgs), but they have very, very different styles. What is your take on each of them?
“Steven’s got a very traditional Thai style, very powerful kicks. I think that his kicks are his best attribute.
“Actually I think his body kicks are a lot stronger than his leg kicks, it’s just that Eddie Walker doesn’t block leg kicks so that fight kind of worked out well for Steven when they met at GLORY 5.
“His defence for punches is a little suspect and his movement isn’t the best. Not that it’s not good, but I see things there I can capitalize on.
“With Artem Levin it’s completely different, he is not traditional at all. Very mobile, switches stance a lot, very energetic, plays up to the crowd. He likes to intimidate people with his confidence but I think my power would be a big issue for him. We are both tall and we are both very good punchers.
“I thought he looked good against Sahak Parparyan at GLORY 7, he looked sharp.”
As you mentioned, Eddie ‘Showtime’ Walker is also in the GLORY middleweight division. He scored a real upset win over you in October last year, stopping you in the second round of a fight he was losing. Is that rematch something you will be pushing for under the GLORY banner?
“I’ve asked for the rematch with Eddie Walker about six times and he has made it more than clear he is not going to give me the rematch. He knows what happened in that fight. His manager has said on numerous occasions he is ‘not ready to fight Joe again’ and ‘not ready to rematch’.
“Everybody who knows fighting and anybody who has been in kickboxing, long enough knows that those mistakes happen. I can’t think of one world champion who has not made that mistake of letting their hands go and then getting caught.
“I can only look at it as a positive, it was an experience I had never had and it will prepare me better for the international competition in GLORY. But Eddie Walker knows what happened in that fight and so does everybody else.
“If he would give me the rematch I would love that, but I am not going to hold my breath. I know I’m a better fighter than Eddie. The only reason he even has a name is because he beat me. And he was getting destroyed in that fight up to that point.
You’ve got a reputation for damaging people with your arsenal of elbow strikes but GLORY rules are designed to prevent fights ending early because of cuts, so elbows are prohibited. How does that affect your game?
“It’s kind of a letdown that I can’t use elbows just because they have been so effective for me over the years. But I am not strictly a traditional Muay Thai fighter anyway. I grew up watching K-1 rather than Muay Thai. So it’s a lot more my style anyway really.
“If you look at my fight with Simon Marcus, under GLORY rules that would have been a very different outcome because he wouldn’t have been able to clinch and hold on to me. So GLORY is definitely more my style and I can’t wait. I am coming to win that tournament. No doubt.”
From all those fighters you’ve watched over the years, which of them has been an influence or a role-model for you?
“My favorite fighter of all time is Badr Hari, I love his style. And I have been watching Tyrone Spong ever since he was young. He was 79kg back then and that was my weight so I started watching him closely and I’ve watched him since as he’s gotten bigger.
“Then guys like Remy Bonjasky, Ernesto Hoost… all those guys. That’s really the style of kickboxing I always loved and what I wanted to be. I always wanted to be a K-1 fighter but now K-1 is gone, GLORY is bigger and better, and this is just a dream come true for me.”
GLORY recently announced that it had signed a broadcast deal with Spike TV, which will see events aired live in the US. What are your thoughts on that and how do you think fight fans that might never have seen kickboxing before are going to react?
“I think it’s got the potential to be huge. Everybody likes wars and to have that exposure on something like Spike TV is great.
“GLORY fights are really exciting, lots of knockouts, and I think the fans are really going to take to it. They only have to turn it on once. I think once they turn it on once and see it, they are going to be hooked. It’s a really exciting thing for the sport in the US.”
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