For the first time in his professional career, Joe Schilling has real, tangible, lucrative opportunities in front of him.
After nine years of experiencing otherwise, the former kickboxing world champion is relishing the feeling.
Schilling, 31, faces Rafael Carvalho in a mixed martial arts contest at Bellator 136 on Friday in Irvine, California. Less than two months ago, he won a professional kickboxing fight under the GLORY banner in Hampton, Virginia.
By the end of the year, Schilling says there is a "95 percent chance" he will make a pro boxing appearance for Premier Boxing Champions.
The ability to fight (and collect paychecks) for multiple organizations in different sports is a welcome development for Schilling, who has long dealt with the uncertainty that comes with being a full-time professional kickboxer in the U.S.
"I have a family at home. I have two kids to take care of. I've held championships and at the same time, not had money to put gas in my car. People go to Muay Thai fights and don't even know who's fighting. They just go to see a fight." Joe Schilling, on the struggles of earning money as a fighter
"I have a family at home. I have two kids to take care of," Schilling told ESPN.com. "I've held championships and at the same time, not had money to put gas in my car. People go to Muay Thai fights and don't even know who's fighting. They just go to see a fight.
"Throughout my whole career, it's been me chasing this dream and this hope that something would happen -- an opportunity. Now, with Bellator and Spike TV really behind me, it's like I can almost taste it now. It's not just a dream anymore. As long as I do my job and show up and perform, I know money and opportunities are going to keep coming and I've never had that before. It's motivating."
Despite the fact Schilling has just one MMA appearance in the past six years (a thrilling knockout against Melvin Manhoef in November), the California-based middleweight has his eye on the Bellator title in 2015.
When Bellator president Scott Coker signed Schilling last year, it was widely viewed as a way for him to promote some of his signature "fun fights," -- pick up a veteran world kickboxing champion and let him go to work against other strikers with four-ounce MMA gloves.
Schilling (2-3) says that's not the reputation he's looking for in Bellator, though. He's known for exciting fights and certainly delivered one of them in his Bellator debut against Manhoef, but he's also not looking for preferential matchmaking inside the cage.
"I don't think I'm being protected in any way and I would never want to be," Schilling said. "You can look at that Melvin Manhoef fight as a good matchup for me, but at the time, no one looked at it that way. Everyone thought I was going to get murdered. I think if I keep winning fights, Bellator isn't against me winning a title. That's the path I'm on."
Although he was never explicitly told so, Schilling believes that with a win Friday, Bellator would have looked at a fight between him and former champion Alexander Shlemenko. That fight isn't likely now, as Shlemenko is currently appealing a suspension in California based on a failed drug test. Should Schilling face an opponent of that caliber though, it would be hard for anyone to argue he's not on a title path.
In addition to chasing a Bellator title, Schilling expects to enter the boxing ring for Al Haymon's PBC time-buy on Spike TV.
He has an official record of 1-0-1, with the one win coming in the form of a five-second knockout in 2008. Schilling hasn't boxed competitively since early 2009, but spars regularly with pro boxers and estimates he'd need only a three-month camp to feel comfortable enough to get in the ring.
"Boxing is more of a fit for me than MMA, to be honest," Schilling said. "I used to go to open sparring at [Freddie Roach's] Wild Card. Richard Perez, the Diaz brothers' boxing coach, has a boxing gym and I've sparred with his guys. It's not something I would feel out of place in at all."
Whether or not attempting to constantly switch back and forth between sports (while facing high-level opponents) could become detrimental, Schilling admits he doesn't know for sure.
But after years of never really knowing where and when his next paycheck was coming from, Schilling isn't about to turn down any offers to get in the ring (or cage).
"I'm not delusional to the fact a lot of people think I'm just a kickboxer," Schilling said. "I think a lot of people will look at this as a gimmick or whatever but that's why I'm trying to put myself in a position to get better in all areas and aspects of MMA.
"I think a lot of people are excited about me right now, which has been incredible. When I beat Melvin, it kind of exploded. That card was the highest-rated fight on cable last year. The PBC show they had on NBC was like, 3.5 million viewers. So, I think to be visibly shown and put on exciting fights in all three sports, it's a huge opportunity for me."