Two powerful and exciting middleweights will meet tomorrow (April 14, 2012) as "The All-American" Brian Stann takes on Italian striker Alessio Sakara in the co-main event of UFC on Fuel TV 2 in Stockholm, Sweden.
Brian Stann was on the verge of title contention before a freight train named Chael Sonnen crashed him back down to Earth with a big reality check. He's moved back to Atlanta with his family to prepare for this fight alongside some tough training partners like Douglas Lima and it'll be interesting to see how the change in scenery affects his performance.
Alessio Sakara is always at or around the middle of the UFC 185-pound division. He has not been able to stay healthy in the last few years, but he's always been dependable in terms of putting on exciting fights. The American Top Team fighter will be looking to score what would likely be his most impressive UFC win in his nearly seven year UFC career tomorrow.
Will "The All-American" send Sakara back to the drawing board? Or can "Legionarius" play spoiler against the marine? What's the key to victory for both powerful middleweights?
Let's find out:Brian Stann
Record: 11-4 overall, 5-3 in the UFC
How he got here: If you really want the long (and highly entertaining version) check out Stann's book, Heart for the Fight, but for the condensed version, "The All-American" was a linebacker for the Navy, got interested in fighting while in the marines and would fight whenever he'd come home from Iraq, where he was a highly decorated officer.
Stann fought admirably in the WEC light heavyweight division, winning the title in just his sixth professional fight before Zuffa consolidated the division but he had trouble with the bigger, stronger light heavyweights in the UFC. After a 2-2 stint in the division, Stann made the decision to drop to the middleweight division.
As a 185-pounder, he now had a size and strength advantage over his opponents that he didn't have at 205. The ex-marine was able to showcase his new well-rounded skills with a triangle victory over Mike Massenzio and then followed it up by cracking Chris Leben's granite chin at UFC 125 with a first round technical knockout victory. Stann called out Wanderlei Silva but happily settled for Sengoku middleweight champion Jorge Santiago at UFC 132, defeating "The Sandman" by technical knockout in the second round.
The victory over Santiago put him in title contention and he was been matched up against Chael Sonnen at UFC 136 but was completely overwhelmed by the mouthy realter, eventually succumbing to an arm triangle choke in the second round. He'll be trying to get back on track against Sakara tomorrow night.
How he gets it done: Stann has some of the most powerful strikes in the entire middleweight division. There are only a select few that have put Chris Leben's lights out with their fists and he's on that list.
"The All-American" has some ever-improving technique, but he's going to have to be careful against Sakara, a man who's got some strong striking as well and can still be very dangerous even when hurt. They key for him will be to not be overaggressive in looking for the knockout.
We all know Sakara has had issues taking big punches from heavy-hitters in the past, but Stann can't be just looking for the knockout the whole time. If he works his technique and finds a proper opening, it could very well come but he definitely can't force it.
Record: 15-8 (1 no contest) overall, 6-5 (1 no contest) in the UFC
Key Losses: Chris Weidman (UFC on Versus 3), Chris Leben (UFC 82)
How he got here: Alessio Sakara, believe it or not, has been competing in the UFC for over six and a half years now. "Legionarius" got his start back in 2002 and made it to the UFC by 2005, about the same time he was breaking through with a burgeoning boxing career.
Sakara put his boxing on hiatus to compete in the UFC and has had mixed results thus far. After only winning three of his first six UFC fights, he cut down to middleweight, which has been beneficial to him. Since dropping down, he's lost to top UFC middleweights Chris Leben and Chris Weidman while going on a nice three fight win streak against the likes of Thales Leites and James Irvin.
Sakara's UFC career recently has been plagued by injuries and terrible bad luck. He fought only once in 2009, 2010 and in 2011 due to all sorts of things from food poisoning to tearing his ACL. He's finally healthy now and is hoping to score what would be the most significant victory of his career.
How he gets it done: Sakara is not a great grappler so he's not going to be able to take advantage of some of Stann's deficiencies on the canvas. Instead, he's got to look to mix up his strikes against "The All-American."
Sakara has some above-average boxing skills and he's also added some nice kicks to his arsenal. He can go high to the head with power in his kicks too, the best example being his one-hitter-quitter against Joe Vedepo.
I think the best strategy against Stann will be for Sakara to mix up his attack and keep former marine guessing. If Stann doesn't know what's coming, it could leave a nice opening for a head kick or a punching combination. Stann isn't invincible in the stand-up as evidenced by his WEC title defense against Steve Cantwell so if Sakara can tag him with something heavy, he can win this fight.
Fight X-Factor: There are actually a large amount of X-Factors for this fight. The first, of course, is Brian Stann's mental game. He has had to deal with some personal issues in the lead-up to this fight and didn't even train at Jackson's. He's coming off a loss where he was dominated badly by Chael Sonnen and he just seems a bit distracted heading into this bout. If you factor in that he's a huge favorite to win, there could be a serious recipe for an upset.
The other factor is obviously Alessio Sakara's crazy ring rust. He has not been able to actively fight for over three years now and hasn't fought twice in the same year since 2008. He's coming off a serious ACL injury and stepping in against a top middleweight like Brian Stann is not exactly the welcoming party he was hoping for. He could have a very short night against the heavy-hitting war hero if he gets off to a slow start.
Bottom Line: I don't think the ground or clinch will be utilized much in this fight as both men like to stand and bang. This paints a picture for a very entertaining striking battle. Both Sakara and Stann can bring the heat with their punches and I expect some nice combinations and flurries from both sides. Sakara always seems to get tagged hard even in fights he wins so I expect this to be either a back and forth brawl or perhaps even a one-sided shellacking. Either way, someone is almost certainly going down.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel TV 2? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!