Friday, Dec. 31, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
If fearlessness indeed counts as one of the most important traits of a fighter, then Brian Stann has an advantage over every other competitor in the UFC.
Nothing that can happen in the octagon frightens Stann. He’s already survived far more challenging battles.
Before becoming a professional fighter, Stann served as an infantry officer in the Marines after graduating from the Naval Academy in 2003.
While deployed in Iraq, Stann spent more time on the battlefield than he’d like to remember.
“It’s very similar to being Peyton Manning out there calling an audible and knowing I need to make adjustments,” Stann said. “Only you’re not getting blitzed — you’re getting shot at. You’re getting bombs sent your way. That’s certainly more difficult than facing punches any day of the week.”
Stann began training in mixed martial arts while still in the military and found a spot in the WEC after he fulfilled his service duty.
He quickly ascended to the top by winning his first six fights and capturing the WEC light heavyweight title. But Stann (9-3) faces easily the most challenging test of his career Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena against Chris Leben in UFC 125’s co-Main Event.
Leben (25-6) enters as a heavy favorite because of his experience in the UFC and the way he dominated his three fights in 2010.
“He’s got more fights in the UFC than I have fights overall,” Stann said. “But I’ll take my experiences in life over his fights any day. The mental agility, stress and adversity I’ve had to overcome overseas will play a factor in this fight.”
Stann was in control of a unit of 42 Marines who were ambushed in 2005 in Iraq. Stann managed counterattacks and led his team for six days throughout the ambush.
Every one of his men survived the ordeal. President George W. Bush awarded Stann the Silver Star award, the third highest military honor, for his leadership.
“I think it helps me with perspective,” Stann said. “A lot of times, fighters beat themselves mentally before they get in the cage. We’re not worried about getting hurt, we’re worried about hurting our pride. This means so much to us.”
“For me, with the experience I’ve been through, if I was to lose a fight — what does it really mean in the grand scheme of things?”
Leben is quick to point out his efforts, which included numerous trips overseas to bases this year, to connect with the armed forces. He spent a year in the military before discovering MMA.
Leben made it a point to commend Stann for his history and emphasized that he understands the lifestyle. But Leben isn’t ready to concede any advantage.
“He says his battlefield experience will help him in the fight,” Leben said. “To me, that’s like saying, ‘I’ve been in several sword fights so I’m going to be a good boxer.’ He’s fantastic at what he does and I give him the utmost respect, but the fact of the matter is my battlefield is the octagon. The cage is my home turf and when it comes to the UFC, I’m the veteran.”
Leben hoped to fight a more high-profile opponent in the middleweight class than Stann. Leben fought his way into title contention with two victories in two weeks this summer — one over Aaron Simpson at "The Ultimate Fighter Season 11 Finale" and one over Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 116.
He admitted Stann was not one of the names he asked UFC President Dana White to pair him against. But White believes Stann has earned the opportunity to go up against Leben.
“He’s been around and he’s been in some big fights before,” White said. “I think this is a perfect fight for him right now.”
The bout is only Stann’s second in the middleweight division. He submitted Mike Massenzio in August in his first fight since dropping from light heavyweight.
While preparing for that fight, Stann watched UFC 116 and saw Leben’s fight against Akiyama. From that moment forward, he said, he considered Leben the toughest fighter in the UFC. Stann requested to fight him.
“A lot of people think I’m crazy for that, but that’s who I am,” Stann said. “A lot of people who know me know I’m going to take on the bear. That’s just the way I’m going to live my life.”