“Not even close.”
That is the answer that the UFC’s Brian Stann gives when asked if he’s reached his full potential as a fighter. Pretty scary stuff—in a good way—considering the fact that he’s already participating, and succeeding, in what he calls the NFL of fighting. And this Marine-turned-fighter is no-nonsense when it comes to looking back on the path that has led him to this moment, as he prepares for his February 6 bout with Phil Davis at UFC 109.
“When I was in the WEC, I was in the military the whole time and there’s not a lot of MMA instruction available in North Carolina,” says Stann. The truth is, a great deal of Stann’s martial arts instruction came from within the United States Marine Corps—not exactly the first place one thinks of when learning to fight in a cage is concerned. Knowing as much only makes a look back at Stann’s 6-0 start in MMA all the more impressive, especially considering each of those six fights ended in the first round by (T)KO. But all fighters face diversity at one point in their careers, and Stann’s first taste would come in the form of losing his WEC light heavyweight championship belt to Steve Cantwell.
“After my loss to Cantwell is when I moved to [Greg] Jackson’s [gym],” remembers Stann. “After my loss to Cantwell, the UFC came to Atlanta, which is where I live. I went to the weigh-ins to interview several different coaches and Jackson actually approached me. He said he liked who I was and he’s a huge supporter of the military and he thought he could help me out. So he flew me down to the gym and the rest is history.”
The move wouldn’t prove immediately fruitful for the fighter, as his UFC debut was met with disappointment, a submission loss to Krzysztof Soszynski. But Stann has no qualms about keeping it real. “Being at Jackson’s gym was basically my first real exposure to true MMA training,” he says. “And he’s helped me in every aspect, including even how to have a game plan for a fight.” As far as game plans go, Stann is entirely aware that he must have one that is top-notch for his fight at UFC 109—something that he thanks his respective wrestling and jiu-jitsu coaches, Harry Lester and Roberto Traven, for providing.
“[My opponent] Phil Davis was a four-time All-American wrestler and a national champion. There’s certainly no hiding what he plans to do in the fight—he’s obviously going to try to take me down, and have good top control so he can hold me down and beat me up for three rounds and win the fight,” professes Stann, who’s ground game has been a weakness in the past. “I’ll certainly try to stop him from taking me down, but if I’m on my back, I’m on my back—I don’t have any issues being there, because there’s plenty of ways I can attack him from there too.”
Clearly, Stann’s confidence has continued to grow alongside his budding skillset, and it is in this scenario that he hopes to set himself apart from the rest of the names in the game who are currently climbing to reach the peaks of their careers. Says Brian Stann, of his continuing quest: “As long as you have the heart and the drive and you’re athletic enough, you’re going to be able to keep learning better ways to win fights.” And who is better prepared to embark upon such a mission than a former US Marine?