In February of last year, Brian Stann entered the Octagon at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada with a tall task at hand. He was scheduled to battle 2008 NCAA Division I wrestling champion and four-time All-American Phil Davis on the UFC 109 preliminary card. Most fans didn't give him a chance against such an elite-level wrestler, and Stann's previous losses to Steve Cantwell and Krzysztof Soszynski didn't inspire confidence that he had the skills to stop Davis. As expected, Stann was dominated for three rounds, losing on two of the judges' scorecards by a tally of 30-26.
It was a rude awakening for Stann, who immediately decided that a drop in weight would be his best option for success. He debuted in the UFC's middleweight division at UFC Live: Jones vs. Matyushenko in August, defeating Mike Massenzio via triangle choke in the third round. It wasn't a win that put him on the map by any means, but it was a step in the right direction.
Stann's knockout win over Chris Leben at UFC 125 in January was a validating performance however. While Massenzio provided that initial step into the waters of the middleweight division, Leben was a legitimate veteran who had rattled off three straight victories that included an impressive come-from-behind win over Yoshihiro Akiyama on short notice. The hype was around Leben, and fans were interested in seeing if he could produce the results to garner some bigger fights in the upper half of the division. Stann silenced the talk in only three minutes and thirty-seven seconds, impressively stopping a fighter who has been notoriously tough to finish.
The victory thrust Stann's name into discussions about future match-ups within the division's middle ranks. Stann wasn't quite a relevant fighter at the apex of the division, but he wasn't jockeying for position in the basement of the division either. That is until Saturday night at UFC 130.
Stann tagged Sengoku veteran Jorge Santiago repeatedly with powerful shots on the feet in the opening bout of the UFC 130 main card, taking out the American Top Team fighter who had some considerable hype among hardcore fans as he entered the UFC for the second time. Stann proved that the UFC still houses the crème de la crème, and Santiago isn't quite up to par.
The bigger story in the aftermath is the potential for Stann to emerge as a star. Many fans can't buy into the notion that Stann will ever compete with the likes of Anderson Silva, but Silva isn't getting any younger and Stann still has some time to improve before reaching that level. Perhaps Silva will be out of the picture by the time Stann progresses his game to that level, which he stated he was two years away from at the post-fight presser.
Furthermore, he's found a knack for finishing opponents, and the improvements he's made in every area of his game give him a chance against some of the better competition that awaits him at the upper crust of the division.
Let's also not forget that in a time in which Americans were celebrating in the streets over the death of Osama Bin Laden, Stann is an American war hero who may resonate with fans due to his harrowing story of survival in the face of death on May 8th, 2005. While the media has ran with the story in the lead-up to many of his fights, it is something that will likely be used to help promote him and bolster his fanbase in future fights.
Does Stann have the combination of skill and appeal to become, at the very least, a minor star in the UFC's middleweight division? My gut believes he'll run into major obstacles as he works his way up the ranks, which could slow down the hype train. If he gets his wish in a fight with Wanderlei Silva, which Silva has stated he didn't want to take due to the hate he would receive for beating up a war hero, it could be a victory that gets fans talking and gets the UFC behind him for at least one major promotional push down the road.