Brian Stann is gearing up for a huge 2011.
"The All-American" got things off to a fantastic start by cracking Chris Leben's vaunted iron chin at UFC 125 in January with a first round knockout.
The Greg Jackson-trained fighter is now slated to pair up against Sengoku middleweight champion Jorge Santiago on the main card of UFC 130 this upcoming Saturday (May 28, 2011).
The former Marine, who earned commendations for his service in Iraq, was a guest on Pro MMA Radio this week and spoke in depth about the fast rise of his career thus far and his big plans for the future.
One thing's for certain: You don't want to be on the opposite side of the cage against the combat veteran on Memorial Day weekend.
Follow after the jump to hear all the reasons:Pro MMA Radio: You've had 13 professional fights and remarkably, 12 of them have taken place under the Zuffa banner. You had your first fight a guy named Aaron Stark and you TKO'd him and then you're right into the WEC. How did that quick progression happen for you?
Brian Stann: Well I had started e-mailing promoters at the end of my first tour in Iraq and two of those promoters were Matt Lindland and Scott Adams. Matt Lindland is a promoter for SportFight and Scott Adams was the promoter for the WEC for a very long period. and both of them had gotten back to me after I e-mailed them about 10 times. In my last e-mail I said. "this is absolutely ridiculous. You guys won't even return my e-mails. I can fight for my country but I can't fight for you guys." I was a little angry but after I won in SportFight, Scott Adams had already been looking at me because he's a marketing guy and he thought he could market my military background. He called me and told me "go win a fight and I'll sign ya because I can't sign a guy who's 0-0." So Matt Lindland gave me my first shot. I won that fight. I quickly called Scott Adams and told him, "hey I won this fight and I know Matt wants me to fight for him again. Whoever gives me a fight first, I'm gonna take it and then I've gotta go back to Iraq," and Scott set me up with my first WEC fight which I won quickly in 16 seconds. Basically, you hit the guy once, get lucky and catch him on the button and as soon as I had gotten back, I had a lot of e-mails from Scott Adams that something big had taken place. When Zuffa purchased the WEC, Scott saw something with me and my background that they could market as a new organization debuting on the Versus network so that's how that all took place.
Pro MMA Radio: So you go 5-1 in the WEC which includes grabbing that 205-pound title. Then you go over to the UFC and you go 2-2 in the light heavyweight division and that last loss was to Phil Davis and then you dropped to '85. Was it something about that fight, Brian, or was 185 something that was running around in your head?
Brian Stann: After I lost to Krzysztof Soszynski, one of my coaches said. "I really think you can drop down to 185, Brian. In all honesty, you can make it." I had no experience cutting weight so I wasn't really favorable to it and the Phil Davis fight, we always do this, there's a pre-weigh-in in the morning for weigh-ins in the UFC and during that pre-weigh-in, I weighed in at 204 pounds so I didn't have to go cut any weight, I went and ate breakfast and this was a common occurrence for me at 205. I was eating extra calories and lifting extra weights to try and be a bigger light heavyweight and at the time, me, Keith Jardine and Rashad Evans were all kind of smaller light heavyweights and we thought that was the way to go with speed. I fought Phil Davis and he had a very common game plan that most guys who face me have and that's take me down, get me on the ground and control me. When you're facing a guy as big as Phil Davis with his wrestling pedigree and you have a skill-set like mine where you want to strike or be on top, you've got to be the bigger, stronger guy. That fight taught me that lesson and we said "ok, lets see if we can make 185" and the UFC didn't give me any easy shots. I went from one national champion in Phil Davis right to Mike Massenzio who was almost as high caliber a wrestler as Phil Davis and it was much different. Mike was able to take me down a couple times but was never able to hold me down. He couldn't control me on the mat. I stuffed a bunch of his takedowns and just had a lot more success. Overall, the weight cut came at the same time as my skill-set started to turn the corner.
Pro MMA Radio: You ended up submitting Massenzio and I read an interview you did where you felt that was really a big deal because Massenzio was such a high level grappler
Brian Stann: Absolutely. I surprise 99% of the guys in the gym the first time they grapple with me. If it's sparring day, I can sit in the cage or the ring and I won't get too many people saying, "hey do you wanna get next round?" but if it's grappling day, I'll get a line all the way outside the door because they think I haven't grappled before. They think "Oh, I wanna catch him," and they end up getting pretty surprised. I've been training with Roberto Traven for a long time and my jiu-jitsu has really grown by leaps and bounds. Obviously it still has room to grow but I'm gonna surprise people when it comes to my ground game. I'm not the type of guy that when I hit my back, I don't know what I'm doing.
Pro MMA Radio: After Massenzio, you asked for Chris Leben. Ends up being a great move, just like the move to middleweight and you end up TKO-ing him in the first round. You referred to Leben as a tough guy but was there something in his style that made you look at him and say, "this is the right fight for me?"
Brian Stann: Yeah. He was a guy that likes to stand and trade. Really what happened was I was sitting around and the UFC had given me a date but not an opponent. They wanted me to fight in December in Montreal but every single middleweight I could find was matched up. I was waiting and wondering, "who are we getting to fight?" and I called my manager and said, "Chris Leben's not matched up yet. I know he's waiting for Wanderlei (Silva) but the rumor is he's not back until spring or summer 2011. Let's call the UFC and see if they'll give me Chris. He's skyrocketing to the top right now and maybe they'll think ‘here's a guy for Chris to knock out while waiting for a fight with Wanderlei.'" As it turns out, Joe Silva liked the idea and he took a lot of heat for making that matchup. A lot of people criticized that matchup saying, "why is Leben fighting Stann? He's gonna kill him!" and, "Why is this the co-main event?" Joe Silva knows what he's doing and he certainly knows the coaches in the game and me and my coaches were certainly confident in that fight.
Pro MMA Radio: You are still fighting on that May card. It's Memorial Day weekend, Brian and given your past and your career in the military, how much does that add this event to you personally?
Brian Stann: Well it's a no-brainer. I called the UFC and said, "This is when Brian wants to fight." ... In reality, I got a better opponent than Wanderlei Silva. Jorge Santiago is a world champ, cemented in the top 10 the last two years and he's very highly regarded. He didn't come to the UFC to fight me. He came to the UFC to fight Anderson Silva but he happened to be given to me so it's a great opportunity for me to steal everything he has.
Pro MMA Radio: When you look at Jorge, where do you see his strengths and weaknesses and where do you see advantages in the fight with him?
Brian Stann: I think he's pretty sound all-around. That's gonna happen with anybody in the top 10. He's a very sound mixed martial artist and he's a very high level Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner. I think that's obviously his strongest asset. I think he's got pretty good Judo and he's still developing his wrestling skills. I think that I'm gonna be a better wrestler than he is and I feel I have better striking. I have a more diverse skill-set on the feet and quite a bit more power. I see the fight where he gonna try to fight me long with his reach. He's a long, lanky guy. He's gonna try to frustrate me and stay away from me to get me to overextend and he'll try to shoot underneath my strikes. He'll try to take me to the mat and then control the fight from there first while he looks for a submission or he looks for a finish. I have to find his chin and my targets and keep the fight where I want it which is either me striking with him or me on top of him.
Pro MMA Radio: You mentioned his length. Is there anyone in particular that you sparred with that you felt gave you a good look coming into this fight?
Brian Stann: Tom Watson's always one of my main training partners. I brought Dave Branch in from Renzo Gracie's. Carlos Condit is obviously a very long and great kickboxer and a very good grappler as well. I've had a lot of guys that were able to come in and give me a really good look for that kind of length and not to mention a bunch of black belts from the Roberto Traven Academy that I've been working with him as well in regard to my submission game.
Pro MMA Radio: How does this fight end?
Brian Stann: I sense a knockout with me winning. I don't know what round, it'll be, whatever round it takes. He's gonna make it tough. He's got a knack for finding ways to win fights, but this is Memorial Day. He's gonna have to kill me, break my arm off, choke me unconscious or knock me out to stop me. As long as that bell's still ringing and I'm still there in front of him, I'm gonna be trying to knock him out.
Stann seems like an extremely determined human being. Do you think he'll continue his torrid rise in the middleweight division?
Sound off, Maniacs!
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