American kickboxing has been hurting for stars since the original rise and fall of the sport in the 70’s and 80’s. Names like Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Rick Roufus, Benny Urquidez and “Superfoot” Bill Wallace might ring a bell for purists, but the style of kickboxing from yesteryear went out of fashion, fell off of the map and very few made the transition to the K-1 style (out of those names only Roufus, really). Since then we’ve been hurting for stars to help to sell the sport to American audiences.
Sure, there have been attempts and muay thai has gained cult popularity among fight fans, but there hasn’t really been anyone that has connected on a mass level yet. The one name that people will kick around who seems primed to break through on that level is Joe Schilling, though. Schilling had initially moved out to LA thanks to their booming interest in muay thai where he initially made a name for himself. When kickboxing came knocking he answered, though, and for the past few years Schilling has been one of the few Americans that promoters can feel confident putting on their banners without a show completely bombing.
Over the span of multiple contract disputes with GLORY he found himself fighting in MMA for Bellator, with one of the biggest knockouts of 2014 under his belt against Melvin Manhoef before he waded deeper into the waters of MMA that involved bad decisions based upon grappling and then a showdown with karateka Hisaki Kato. Kato was still a virtual unknown at the time, all of his professional fights happening in one of Japan’s minor leagues called HEAT when he was called up to fight Schilling. Karate vs. kickboxing, what was there to lose?
It was a Joe Schilling fight through-and-through, with him being aggressive, but MMA always seems to hinger his aggression. “Yeah, I mean, people were saying all this stuff like ‘oh, you are a kickboxer and this guy knocked you out,’ well yeah, it happens. In kickboxing you don’t have to worry about someone shooting in for a takedown on you, keeping your hands up is a part of the game, in MMA there’s so much going on. It was a superman punch, he threw a hail mary and it caught me,” Schilling explained.
Kato went on to lose to Melvin Manhoef, clouding the waters of Bellator’s Middleweight division even further. So after Schilling had fulfilled his duties to GLORY, he was eager to step into the Bellator Kickboxing ring as soon as he could. “I really don’t know what happened with GLORY. Things were going great, I was their marquee guy for that pay-per-view that nobody bought, you know? That was just one of the many stupid decisions that they made, but anyway, I was their guy for it, then it was radio silence. I had to do something, so I went to Bellator. I thought that I was their guy, but apparently not. I re-signed with them and nothing got better, so when it came time for Bellator to launch their kickboxing I wanted in.
“GLORY all of a sudden wouldn’t let me go, so I fought two more times for them without a contract in place and here I am now. I’m so happy to be with Bellator and Spike. I didn’t have an option before, it was just MMA, but now that I can fight kickboxing for Bellator? It’s just perfect.”
So on June 24th he’ll be stepping into the ring with Hisaki Kato once again, but this time it’s under kickboxing rules and there is no cloud hanging over Joe’s head. He’s with Bellator, he doesn’t have to do MMA anymore and he gets to fight Kato under the rules that he’s not only good at, but he’s one of the best. “This time it’s in my ring, my realm. This is where I made a name for myself, this is what people know me from. I’m not gonna take anything away from him, but will he be comfortable in kickboxing? I doubt it. He gets to fight the best Joe Schilling, the one that can be aggressive without having to worry about takedowns. I feel bad for him.”
As for MMA, while he isn’t ruling it out, he also doesn’t seem to feel like there’s a reason to fight in MMA when kickboxing is right there. “Now that Bellator has kickboxing I can be their star. You know, they were all about being in the Joe Schilling business after that win over Melvin, then I had those two losses and I thought, ‘shit, that’s it for me.’ But it’s nothing like that, they are still very happy to be in the Joe Schilling business. Scott Coker, everyone at Bellator and Spike have been great to me and they still see me being a star for them, so I’m going to prove them right. Will I fight MMA again? Maybe, but kickboxing is where I want to be and I think where they want me to be.”
Bellator still haven’t exactly filled out their divisions just yet, though, so the question is for a guy like Schilling, is he comfortable just being the number one guy in Bellator while his career-long rivals in Simon Marcus and Artem Levin are still out there? “Let me tell you about Artem Levin, man. I respected that guy once, you know? We had some stuff go down before, but after the second fight we had a mutual respect and all of that is gone now. Cancelled fights and then that shit that he pulled against Simon? I have no desire to ever fight him again, he’s proven the kind of fighter that he is. As for Simon? Look, Simon’s a great guy and he deserves that championship, but I’ve proven that I can beat him. I’m fine with us not fighting again. He can do his thing, while I’ll do mine. I’m the number one kickboxer at Middleweight right now and he’ll have to live with that, not me.”