A middleweight tilt pitting Brian Stann vs. Alessio Sakara draws co-main event honors at Saturday's event from Stockhom, Sweden. The bout will complement a salivating headliner between 2 Alexander Gustafsson and Thiago Silva, and the main card festivities begin at 3 p.m. ET following the Facebook stream of the preliminary card at 12:30 p.m. ET.
Brian "All American" Stann (11-4) is a decorated Marine and the former WEC light-heavyweight champion. Stann was unseated by Steve Cantwell at WEC 35 by TKO, which was the first loss of his career. His Octagon stint started on the wrong end of a Krzysztof Soszynski kimura, but Stann rebounded by avenging his loss to Cantwell in the rematch and defeating Rodney Wallace, both by unanimous decision.
Stann would flounder under the massive frame of imposing wrestler Phil Davis and the disappointing loss inspired a drop to middleweight, where he's found new life. Three consecutive and impressive stoppages vaulted Stann into the top-ten of the consensus world rankings: a triangle choke on Mike Massenzio and back-to-back TKOs against Chris Leben and Jorge Santiago. The surge elevated the Greg Jackson product to a duel with polarizing Team Quest wrestler Chael Sonnen, and the world's second-best middleweight laced an arm-triangle on Stann in a veritable rout.
Alessio "Legionarius" Sakara (15-8) is a Roman-born Italian boxer who's faced a lot of adversity throughout his 7-year tour in the UFC. His debut in 2005 against Ron Faircloth was marred by an unintentional shot to the pills that Sakara could not walk off and the match was ruled a No Contest. He picked up a decision over Elvis Sinosic but was finished in the opening stanza by Dean Lister (triangle choke) and Drew McFedries (TKO) afterward.
Sakara would flip-flop results in his next spurt, all of which were decided by 1st-round TKO: he stopped Victor Valimaki but suffered the same result against Houston Alexander, then finished James Lee but was dropped by Chris Leben in the follow up.
At this point, his appearances sloped off throughout injuries and the death of his father -- Sakara would fight once more in 2008 and compete just once per year from 2009 to present. However, he's been successful in all of his annual performances but one. Chris Weidman burst onto the scene by out-wrestling Sakara as a short-notice replacement in his last, which snapped the 3-fight roll he was on (Joe Vedepo and James Irvin by TKO, Thales Leites by split decision).
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Stann's put together a very straight-forward and effective routine. He combines sizzling punching power with good awareness and timing to punch people in the head ... hard.
Rather than isolate himself into the pure brawler or technician categories, Stann has found a sensible balance between swarming opponents with boiling aggression while still staying composed enough to avoid the pitfalls of being a sloppy slugger. What's really enhanced his no-frills striking is the way he's cutting angles when counter striking.
These two sequences from Stann are relevant for the Sakara match up. Sakara generally uncorks a blazing combination of neatly unfolded punches while moving straight forward to clinch or trade in phone-booth range. Above, when Leben puts head down and strikes his way into the clinch, Stann controls him with a petrifying single collar-tie and detonates left hands and knees to end him. To the left, Stann side-steps Santiago's incoming hook and plants a fight-ender in his grill while swiveling his head far over his left shoulder for protection.
Sakara is indeed a high-level pugilist with exemplary boxing technique, especially for MMA standards. The sequence to the right portrays the best aspects of his striking. He unrolls crisp -- and I mean crisp -- volleys of punches with alternating hands, he varies his target zones by going downstairs with a few, he keeps the pressure on relentlessly and adjust his distance and range in the pocket based on whether he's defending or attacking. Though he doesn't pay for it here, you can also see what is perhaps his biggest flaw, which is the tendency to dip his head down into the same spot while crouching defensively. This is how his pure boxing background works against him, as you can get away with this tactic wearing balloon-size gloves with no threat of takedowns.
It's rarely mentioned, but Sakara is a BJJ black belt and longtime member of American Top Team and I daresay his ground game is somewhat under-rated. Considering the force Weidman's proven to be with his submission grappling, it's impressive that Sakara is able to finagle a sweep from his guard to escape from the wrestler's domineering top game (left). He might not have the wrestling chops to take Stann down, who's lost 2 of 4 by submission, but Sakara could have the element of surprise and throw Stann off by rifling for takedowns.
Even if the ploy doesn't work, the technical dynamics when facing a striking specialist change drastically when takedowns come into play. If Sakara works in some level drops it will force Stann to think twice about holding his ground and firing a counter, as a stationary opponent whose arms are committed to punches and striking defense is highly vulnerable for a takedown.
In addition to the mental duress, I think Sakara will be a handful for Stann if he can get him to the mat. "All American" has circumvented his inability to train full-time throughout his career with his raw toughness and heavy hands. That works with striking, but it's much more difficult to compensate for a gap in technical skill in the grappling department and Sakara started BJJ at age 18.
Therefore, I'm pretty open to Sakara pulling off the upset and the steep odds as high as -400 for Stann seem severe. In this case, I think Stann's rugged brutality and power will be enough.
My Prediction: Brian Stann by TKO.
Sakara vs. McFedries gif by Yours Truly
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com