At first it was his fight nickname, “Danger,” that made me a bit biased in favor of Matt Schnell; however, it was the tenacity and dedication he showed during TUF 24 that cemented my admiration for the fearless flyweight.
Matt had always been an active and athletic kid, but he didn’t formally start training in martial arts until the summer after his senior year of high school. His competitive drive needed an outlet that he couldn’t seem to find anywhere else. “I was a five-foot-five, 110-pound kid when I graduated high school, so there wasn’t anybody beating down my doors to play sports at the next level. It started with me just walking into a gym and trying to learn how to wrestle a little bit…and it turned into a lot more.” Despite his initial interest in learning the ground game, Matt admits that he now finds striking to be more enjoyable than grappling. “I enjoy both aspects. I think naturally I grapple well because I used to wrestle around with my brothers and my uncles my whole life. So I like both, but striking has been what I’ve been in love with here recently.” (Secretly, this was the answer I was hoping to hear.)
Matt’s exceptional skill both in standup and the ground game is what propelled him to fame, first on MTV’s Caged and then on The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of Champions. He has nothing but good to say about both shows and the exposure they brought him but confesses that they were vastly different experiences. “Caged was a lot easier—just not being away from your people, I got to work with my coaches every day…It was nerve-racking, the fights were stressful, but The Ultimate Fighter was on a whole other level. Obviously the competitors were on another level and it was a different playing field entirely.” One aspect of TUF that Matt says the cameras didn’t show enough was the camaraderie among fighters on each team. They were a tight-knit group that would often stay up late and joke around throughout the season, at one point sticking “big, goofy glasses” on the fight poster of head coach Henry Cejudo. When I asked what it was like to train under the Olympic medalist, Schnell described Cejudo as extremely knowledgeable, big-hearted, and an overall “good dude.”
Besides his TUF coach, Matt can name quite a few other inspiring figures who have influenced his fight career. He notes that “Crazy” Tim Credeur, Kyle Bradley, and Dustin Poirier are all fighters who hail from Louisiana and have fought in the UFC. “I really look up to the guys that are from my area because I know how difficult it is. I just know how hard it is to get there and to get yourself noticed being from such a small market. Me and Dustin, we talk daily, and the guy’s a huge inspiration.” Schnell also draws inspiration from many of the athletes on American Top Team, such as Robbie Lawler and Hector Lombard. “I watch these guys every day and I want my career to be similar to theirs. I want to be one of the best.”
As for the most important characteristic in a fighter, Matt believes that heart is bigger than anything else. It comes down to having a good attitude, persistence, and maintaining a positive reputation. Regardless of the level of notoriety one achieves, there is no excuse to not be kind, genuine, and a good sport—even in defeat. “I’m not ashamed to pick up some L’s because it means I’m not taking easy fights,” he reflects. It’s his belief that taking on tough opponents makes you stronger: If you’re not challenging yourself, you’re not growing.
I asked Matt which of his own characteristics gives him an edge in the sport. Without hesitation, he answered, “My physicality.” He contends that this is perhaps underestimated. Schnell trains hard year-round to always be ready for his next fight, which can’t come soon enough. “I’m eager to get back in the cage,” he states. “First things first, I wanna win some fights in the UFC.” Knowing his determination, he’ll stop at nothing to continue making a name for himself—and in my humble opinion, he couldn’t have chosen a better name than Danger.