You won't find many fighters more patriotic or inspirational than UFC middleweight Brian Stann.
In fact, if he were ever cut in a fight, we might find that he actually bleeds red, white and blue.
The US marine corps veteran was awarded the Silver Star for his service in Iraq and then swiftly made the transition from fighting for our country to battling fellow mixed martial artists inside the cage. In just his sixth professional fight, he was already the WEC light heavyweight champion and was brought over to the UFC when Zuffa merged the heavier weight classes.
After a rough 2-2 stretch at 205 pounds, "The All-American" made the cut to middleweight and hasn't looked back since. With the elite team at Greg Jacksons Submission Fighting behind him, Stann has finished all three of his opponents at 185 (Mike Massenzio, Chris Leben and Jorge Santiago), winning two "Fight of the Night" awards in the process and has quickly become a contender in the division.
Stann will battle former title challenger Chael Sonnen in a number one contender match at UFC 136 this Saturday night (October 8, 2011) and he spoke with MMAmania.com about Sonnen's mind games, preparing for Chael's wrestling and his own evolution as a mixed martial artist in part one of this exclusive interview.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Chael Sonnen has had a lot to say about you in recent interviews and I've got to ask you to respond to one thing in particular. Is Brian Stann running for President in 2016?
Brian Stann: (laughs) No, I'm not running for President in 2016. I am far from qualified for that position. Other than Chael, there have been a lot of people that have teased and brought it up before about me running for office. All I can say is that I wouldn't consider running for office until my daughters are grown and possibly in college or even after. The amount of time it takes to serve, it takes time away from family.
You need to be wise when you go into office. You need to be experienced and knowledgeable in a great many things and although we have elected public leaders in their 30s, that doesn't mean that those men and women are actually qualified for the job and understand the different issues we're gonna deal with. Many times they just adopt the policies of whatever party they ran with and that kind of negates the whole system and the reason why we elect leaders.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Going back to Chael a bit, I know you and him are on pretty good terms but are you worried at all that he's got some kind of deeper mind game at play here? I know he's been respectful to opponents in the past but he's almost taking it to extremes with you this time. Is he trying to kill you with kindness or something?
Brian Stann: Nobody can mess with my mind. I'm stronger than any fighter in the UFC mentally. I think that having spoken with Chael, literally two weeks before we were matched up to face each other, I think his feelings are genuine and I think when he does dislike a guy, he's genuine about it. He's simply the kind of guy who says things that are on his mind. he doesn't hold back.
I don't think there's anything deeper to these words than exactly what he's saying and I don't think that's gonna stop him from trying to take me down and pound me out for three straight rounds come October 8th. I don't think any of that will and I don't think it's any kind of mind game. He knows what he has to go do and I know what I have to go do. We're professional fighters, it's what we do for a living. You don't have to hate the guy to go out there and do these things.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of him trying to take you down, obviously Chael is regarded as having some of the best MMA wrestling in the UFC. How much does it help you in preparing for a strong wrestler like that knowing that you've faced elite wrestlers in consecutive fights in Phil Davis and Mike Massenzio just last year?
Brian Stann: Well, I also faced Chael Sonnen's teammate Aaron Stark as well in my first ever pro fight and Chael Sonnen was the ringside announcer for it. Having to work wrestling has been the key theme in my training camp for really the last two years. I haven't fought many strikers. I've really mainly fought guys that are looking to take me down so it's constantly a theme and I've been working a lot with my wrestling coach John Bardis and I'm also working a lot with Israel Martinez from Chicago. I've been bringing Izzy in for my last three training camps now. He's been here for the last two weeks specifically helping me with this fight.
My wrestling has grown by leaps and bounds and this fight is gonna be an opportunity for me to showcase some of those things. I feel that I am the best prepared opponent Chael will have had in years. I think a lot of the guys watching his fights, they went in there and they really focused on what they were doing and they didn't focus on things he was really good at and they weren't prepared for some of the positions he put them in.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In your middleweight debut against Massenzio, you really showcased Brian Stann 2.0 by adding kicks, takedown defense and submissions to your arsenal. Does it give you confidence that you have that triangle choke in your back pocket just in case you're put in a bad position on the ground?
Brian Stann: Man if you think that fight was Brian Stann 2.0, I am leaps and bounds better than that fighter. That was over a year ago and I am 10 times better than that fighter now and I have a very well-rounded submission game from working with my jiu-jitsu coach Roberto Traven who's one of the best in the world. I've been training with him for years and in between fights I put a gi on and I train gi jiu-jitsu. I did several gi jiu-jitsu training camps with his team for the world Pan Am games so I feel very well prepared to fight off my back and do the things I'm gonna have to do for this fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In a similar vein to your training, can you talk about how adding the TRX suspension to your workouts has helped you improve?
Brian Stann: The biggest thing that I love about TRX is I get stronger and I get in better condition with zero risk of injury and I think that's really the genius behind the system. You know, when you're training this hard and you're trying to improve your wrestling and jiu-jitsu and striking, when you're training strength and conditioning, a lot of different systems a coach will normally have you do is a lot of things that would normally put significant stress on your joints, potentially even taking fights off your career.
Those workouts will then limit the workouts which are most important which is your sparring, grappling and wrestling because you did too much of the weightlifting in strength and conditioning. I never have those issues with TRX. I can do single leg squats and lunges and all kinds of crazy leg lifts and I won't have any knee pain so it won't limit the next workout I have to go do and that's the biggest thing that I love about it so much and we incorporate it in our regular strength and conditioning days, we incorporate it in our circuits and I actually incorporate it for my stretches and cooldown after I practice.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You started out your MMA career as this crazy power puncher before training at Jackson's and now after moving there and improving the rest of your game, you've kind of come full circle to where you're comfortable throwing the big powerful strikes again. Can you talk about how working on every other part of your game has raised your confidence in your stand-up?
Brian Stann: Oh yeah, absolutely. A lot of it was, even when I was just the power-puncher, I had very limited assets. I had a couple punch and kick combinations that I threw well and that was all I had. Working with Mike Winkeljohn, who, in my opinion, is the best MMA striking coach in the world, he completely transformed me. It was a process, it took time.
First was working on my footwork and making me hard to hit because I would just let people hit me. The second was being able to be hard to hit and being able to cut angles and attack and we really came into our own in the last year to where I can attack guys and attack guys and attack guys and obviously working with great wrestlers and working with great ground technicians allows me to feel comfortable throwing my full arsenal of kickboxing because I'm not as worried about defending the takedown, I'm not as worried about fighting off my back.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In reading your book, Heart for the Fight, you were in some very dark places at times with your legal issues in the marines but you found that outlet through the marine corps Martial Arts Center for Excellence, the M.A.C.E program. Would it be a stretch to say that getting involved in that and fighting might have saved your life?
Brian Stann: Yeah, that would be a stretch. I wouldn't say it saved my life, but it absolutely changed my life and it provided me the balance necessary that's needed in life to be successful in all the different areas that human beings are required to be successful both in your personal relationships with family, your professional career and your spirtual well-bring.
Martial arts was really the place that I could go, it was kind of my sanctuary that I could go to and I could clear everything out and come right down to it and remind myself that, "No matter what's going on in my life, no matter what lies are being said and no matter what happens, I know who I am and I'm gonna be who I am and I'm gonna move forward no matter what happens." That is what martial arts provided for me and still does to this day and why I encourage more warriors who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan to get into martial arts.
Stann will need to bring everything he's got if he wants to be victorious this Saturday night against Sonnen. Stay tuned tomorrow for part two of our interview where Stann discusses why Sonnen has been able to outstrike his opponents, how he thinks he can win as well as giving his thoughts on the champion Anderson Silva.