UFC 130 fight card: Brian Stann vs Jorge Santiago battle for honor and respect on Memorial Day weekend

via assets.sbnation.com

You think it was a mistake that U.S. Marine Brian Stann is taking part in the Memorial Day weekend festivities tonight (May 28, 2011) at UFC 130: "Rampage vs. Hamill" on pay-per-view?

You really think so?

Well, it wasn't. As coy as Dana White may become when asked that question, it was a strategic move to place "All American" on the fight card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

But Stann is not just here because he served our country for nearly a decade; he's here because he just knocked out the iron-chinned Chris Leben a few months ago and he's knocking on the door that leads to the middleweight elite.

Standing in his way is a Japanese import who will be making his return to the UFC for his first fight inside the Octagon since dropping consecutive bouts back in 2006, to the previously mentioned Leben and the "Talented" Alan Belcher.

Sure, he's amassed an astounding 11-1 record since his release, winning a 2007 Strikeforce middleweight tournament and the Sengoku middleweight championship (that he never actually lost). But he didn't accomplish that within the confines of the eight-sided playground.

That's where it's as real as it gets ... at least, in the court of public opinion. 

That's where he'll try to pick up where he left off, only this time, with much much better results.

Brian Stann, despite just five years as a professional in mixed martial arts competition, has accomplished more than most. He's a former WEC light heavyweight champion and one of only two men to ever stop Chris Leben by way of strikes.

The other? Anderson Silva. Quite the company to keep.

On top of this, he's an easily marketable fighter, an American hero who is larger than life and represents everything one would look for in a guardian of freedom.

Ironically enough, it was this very fact that nearly kept him from competing tonight. The UFC had initially pegged Wanderlei Silva as his next opponent; however, the Brazilian wasn't interested in playing the heel, as it were, and didn't want to fracture his fanbase by (potentially) knocking out a revered American figure.

Especially on Memorial Day weekend.

While Stann attempted to downplay his standing, he understood and respectfully accepted his position, undesirable as it may have been.

That is, until Jorge Santiago came along.

Once UFC matchmaker Joe Silva came calling with the news that Stann could stay on the May 28 fight card, on pay-per-view, against a very tough middleweight, it didn't even matter who it was.

Enter "Sandman."

Santiago, having gone on such an outstanding run outside the promotion, was afforded no leeway upon his return. There will be no "tune-up" fight; he's getting thrown to the wolves ... and he wouldn't have it any other way.

When all is said and done tonight at UFC 130, only one of these two men will take one giant step closer to the 185-pound division's elite, a title shot looming just over the horizon.

But both of them will undoubtedly leave having earned the honor and respect they will be so valiantly fighting for.

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