Former WEC champion focused on earning his place in the top ten
LAS VEGAS — While UFC President Dana White won’t say whether the decision to have decorated United States Marine Captain Brian Stann competing on the organization’s annual Memorial Day event was a calculated move, the middleweight contender will.
This weekend, Stann faces the stiffest test of his young career, squaring off with Jorge Santiago in the opening bout of the UFC 130 pay-per-view. On a weekend where the country remembers those who lost their lives in service, Stann says fighting on Memorial Day is something he is always willing to do.
“I think it’s important for me to fight on Memorial Day. I asked to fight on Memorial Day. I knew there would be an onslaught of media to do during that time, and I think it’s important. It sheds more light on things that need to come to light, things like The Boot Campaign and things like my charity, Hire Heroes USA.
“For a while there I was resistant, but now I’ve had to learn to accept the role of representing those veterans, and using the attention that I get for the UFC for the betterment of their services in America and for my charity. I think it’s a big deal, and for me, I’m usually angry on this weekend anyway and feel like fighting, so why not get paid for it? Plus, I got an amazing fight out of it.”
Stann’s military service doesn’t just impact the narrative in the media heading into each of his fights; it has played a vital role in helping him develop into the fighter he is today. So too have his coaches and teammates.
“Everybody is a product of their experiences. Every fighter’s discipline is going to depend on what their life experiences have been to that point. I think my Naval Academy and military experiences certainly, and as an athlete, makes me very accustomed to going through a training cycle and then having a competition, and being mentally able to focus and adapt during those competitions.
“I think it’s my background and who I was before fighting in conjunction with those who trained me, Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn and all my teammates down there, as well as my coach Roberto Traven in Atlanta. I’m a product of those guys’ knowledge, and the amount of time and skills that they’ve poured into me. Without the discipline that I had coming into the game and their knowledge, I wouldn’t be there. Without a doubt, I was just an athlete who could throw punches before.”
Though he’s advanced beyond the stage of being just an athlete, it was a powerful punch on New Year’s Eve that gave Stann the opportunity to compete on this weekend’s Memorial Day event, even if it’s not against the man he first asked to fight.
After upsetting Chris Leben at UFC 125, Stann sat at the post-fight press conference and lobbied for a bout with former Pride superstar Wanderlei Silva. Though a bout with “The Axe Murderer” wasn’t in the cards, Stann explains that his meeting with Santiago suits him just fine.
“In all honesty, Wanderlei was hurt, he didn’t know when he was going to be back, and he didn’t want to drag me on. When you get to legend status like Wanderlei is, some fights pique your interest and some fights don’t.
“And let’s face it: I got a tougher opponent who is better for my career. Look at who Jorge Santiago is; he’s a champion, 11-1 in the last four years, basically undefeated, multiple belts, and I have so much more to gain from this fight than I would have facing Wanderlei Silva, in my opinion.”
The 30-year-old former WEC light heavyweight champion has a point. While Silva is certainly a bigger name, he’s not the same fighter he was during his glory days in Pride. Meanwhile, Santiago returns to the UFC as a consensus top ten middleweight, and Stann knows the impact a win over the former Sengoku champion can do for his career.
“This is huge. A win in this fight puts me right there with the top four or five guys in the division in the UFC, and will end all the questions of my legitimacy. He tries to say there is no pressure on him, but realistically, he’s number six in the world and I’m not even in the top ten. So there is no pressure on me. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain in this fight.
“Jorge and I both know the implications of this fight. The winner of this fight is probably going to get into a number one contender bout, possibly, and we’ll see what happens from there. But I’m totally focused on Jorge and nothing else. I’m not thinking about the title or anything like that.
“My goal in 2011 is to get into the top 10. I haven’t gotten there in many rankings at all, and this is a fight I need to do that. Jorge is ranked as high as number six in the world. A win over him cements me in that top 10, and gets me to where I need to be, confirms my training, confirms how good I think and believe that I am. I know I can win this fight.”
There has been speculation that if he does indeed win on Saturday night, a place coaching opposite Michael Bisping may await Stann. The eventual matchup would make sense from a rankings standpoint, as well as being an intriguing pairing for the Spike TV staple. Although he has one condition, it’s an opportunity the middleweight contender says he would definitely be interested in.
“Sure. Why not? Who doesn’t want to be on The Ultimate Fighter? I think it would be real interesting. The only negative side I can see is that I’d want to make sure that I could have my family out here with me while I was out here to coach.”
But who and what comes next isn’t Stann’s concern right now; the present is all that matters. That means making the most of his time in the UFC and the opportunity before him this weekend.
“I don’t have to do this; I could go do something else if I wanted to, but I’ve been given an amazing opportunity by the UFC, and here I am, so I’m going to make it a point to enjoy every minute that I’m in the Octagon. In the blink of an eye it could be taken from any one of us.
“How many people get the opportunity to be a professional athlete, have an entire arena screaming for you at a moment in time? We’re gods in there for 15 minutes during that time, and that’s going to pass us by, so I savor the opportunity. I’m very lucky to be fighting a champion like Jorge on Memorial Day.”
If he does manage to come out of Saturday’s encounter with a win, Stann says he’ll stick to his routine for calling out his next opponent.
“Last time, when I called out Wanderlei, it wasn’t until the press conference when I had some time to sit in the locker room and think about it. All I was focused on was [Leben], now all I’m focused on is Jorge. If I come out with a `W’, I’ll tell you guys at the press conference.”