Competing in a middleweight division dominated by loudmouths and trash talkers, Brian Stann was one of the few, true class acts to rise above the noise.
In fact, the decorated Iraq War veteran was so revered by his peers that even Chael Sonnen, the UFC's most notorious bigmouth, showed Stann respect by not engaging in pre-fight trash-talking during the buildup to their battle at UFC 136.
While his knockout power and skills inside the Octagon certainly commanded people's attention, it was his demeanor and actions outside of the MMA world that really made me—as well as plenty of fans around the globe, I'm sure—become a believer in "The All-American."
Months before I had even started covering the sport, I watched a Brian Stann fight live on pay-per-view for the first time when the former Marine put an absolute beating on Chris Leben at UFC 125.
The barrage of knees and punches may have left "The Crippler's" head ringing, but what really resonated with me was Stann's heroic back story.
From Military Hero to Octagon Warrior
Then a lieutenant assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines in May of 2005, Stann was involved in the deadly Operation Matador during the United States' invasion of Iraq.
For six days, Lieutenant Stann and his unit fought off a sea of ambushing insurgents as they tried to secure a bridge near the town of Karabilah, weathering heavy gunfire and mortar attacks during the 360-degree battle.
All 42 members of his platoon survived the lengthy fight due to "The All-American's" leadership, leading to a Silver Star award the following March for Stann, the nation's third-highest honor for valor in combat.
Less than a year removed from the trying experience and still an active-duty Marine at the time, Stann made the leap into professional mixed martial arts when he took on Aaron Stark at SF 14, finishing his foe via TKO in the opening frame.
What was once just a hobby for the American hero quickly turned into a career, as Stann rattled off six straight first-round knockouts en route to the WEC light heavyweight title.
That's an impressive run considering that he was pretty much training himself while balancing military and family life at the same time.
Eventually, Stann retired from active duty as a captain in 2008 shortly before losing his crown to Steve Cantwell at WEC 35, the first defeat of his career. But despite the loss, Stann was poised for big things in MMA as he would soon sign with the UFC.
Finding Fame, Using It for Good
Though his debut with the promotion turned out to be a submission loss to Krzysztof Soszynski, the former Marine found his stride once he made the move down to the middleweight division.
Stann posted three straight wins to kick off his journey at middleweight, winning two Fight of the Night honors in the process for his finishes of Mike Massenzio and Jorge Santiago, the latter receiving a notable chorus of cheers from the military fans in attendance.
The impressive run catapulted Stann to stardom, leading to big name fights against likes of Sonnen, as well as a new role as an analyst on Fox Sports' UFC team.
While he would hit another rough patch, going just 1-3 to end his stint with the UFC, Stann brought his A-game each time and always acted classy in and out of the cage, even when guys like Michael Bisping were talking trash.
Sure, he never fought for a title, but Stann left a lasting impression on the MMA world for his respectful nature, thoughtful interviews and analysis as well as his prowess in the cage.
But beyond his contributions to the sport, the Iraq War hero has left an even bigger impact on the lives of veterans throughout the country.
Now the president and CEO of the organization, Stann's power as a star athlete has helped gain even more exposure for this fantastic and important cause.
As this American hero prepares for the next step in his life's journey, we should all salute Stann for his service in and outside of the Octagon.
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