Brian Stann Leaves MMA as not the best fighter … but perhaps the best man

Columns, Top Story

“Life happens to all fighters …” – Brian Stann

This morning Brian Stann confirmed what seemed to be evident when he opted to become a college football commentator for the Atlantic Coastal Conference: that he was retiring. Trying to figure out how he was going to balance a family (with three young daughters), Fox Sports duties for the UFC and the ACC alongside a fight career as a Top 10 middleweight would’ve been something that would’ve impacted some area of his life in profoundly negative ways. Leading his own fight team in Atlanta would’ve been one thing but with so many strings pulling him something had to give … and for Stann it was his fight career that was expendable.

Stann’s fight career was absurdly good when you consider the circumstances. Mainly coaching himself, he survived off of guts and self-coaching. A former Division 1 football player and Marine Corps captain, as well as a genuine war hero, Stann managed to go on a significant undefeated streak and won the WEC title without ever having developed his skills as a fighter. Transitioning to the UFC, and joining the famed Jackson/Winklejohn fight camp, Stann would wind up finding his niche in the UFC as a middleweight of some note.

He’s not a Hall of Fame caliber fighter, far from it, but if there was a Hall of Fame in MMA for being a good person Stann would be the charter member. There are two keys to understanding Stann: his fights and his opponents beforehand.

Stann was a fighter never content to just grind out a decision, hoping to do enough to get a judge to score a fight in his favor. Stann was always looking to finish, throwing caution to the wind, and most times wound up on the right side. He never wanted to hurt someone anymore than he had to, either. After knocking out Alessio Sakara on UFC on FUEL 2 in Sweden, Stann saw his opponent was unconscious well before the referee did. Many fighters would’ve continued until the ref stopped them but Stann didn’t; he had done enough and didn’t want anyone to be seriously hurt.

It’s odd to see that in a combat sport, of course, but Stann was a different type of fighter. Listen to his opponents talk about him, the other key to understanding him. There never was trash talking nor did anyone impugn his fighting credentials. It was always about how much they liked and respected Stann, despite signing a contract to sling leather at his head. And it’s not like Stann fought nothing but guys not known for trash talking, either.

Chael Sonnen openly discussed about how he had a problem fighting Stann because they were friends and how late night emails from Stann convinced him that spending a Saturday night inside a cage, trying to find out who’s tougher, wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Considering the sheer volume of trash talk from Sonnen to a wide variety of opponents the fact that his tone with Stann was almost one of reverence was shocking.

And he wasn’t the only one. Stann’s ability to have guys spend pre-fight hype packages talking about how he was a good, decent man was special but somehow fitting.

In a sport filled with tough guys trying to figure out who’s the toughest, and often times degrading their opponents to try and gain an edge, Stann was the one fighter who seemed immune from it. He never talked about his experiences in the second Gulf War, the ones which earned him a Silver Star and special mention by then President Bush, because it was deeply personal and something he held close. Even the FUEL TV special that talked about his gallantry in combat felt a bit forced from him; he did it but talking about it was something he never held out there for self-promotion.

In an age of self-promoters and fighters using nearly anything to get noticed Stann was always an exception to it. He was always the guy that felt like he was designed by a Hollywood screenwriter, meant to give us a standard to aspire to. Stann has been many things until now: a war hero, a world champion, US Naval Academy Graduate, Marine Corps Captain and a professional cage fighter. But the one that feels most appropriate is “good man.”