The team of analysts for the UFC on Fox Sports 1 and Fox broadcasts has been providing the most in-depth coverage that mixed martial arts has seen in its 20 years of existence.
With a collection of seasoned fight veterans and a handful of well-versed hosts at the helm, the people working the pre- and post-fight shows for the UFC have consistently raised the bar.
Brian Stann may have retired from fighting just north of a year ago, but that hasn't slowed "The All-American" down in the slightest. The decorated war hero has traded his fight shorts for a suit and tie and swapped time inside the Octagon for a role behind the analyst desk—and occasionally the commentator booth—for the UFC on Fox Sports 1 broadcasts.
Nevertheless, the former WEC light heavyweight champion is still delivering knockout performances on the regular as he's become a bright star in his new realm. While those duties make for a packed schedule, he always takes time to drop by this column and prove how much more well-versed he is in the fight game than yours truly.
In his last appearance, he went head-to-head with Jon Anik, but on this go-around he flew solo to tackle what is the most stacked card to ever hit a UFC on Fox event as the Octagon rolls through Orlando for UFC on Fox 11 this Saturday.
While that might be a tough pull for some, this is Brian Stann we are talking about, folks, and there hasn't been a day of his life that he's turned down going toe-to-toe with a monster.
This is what he had to say about the upcoming card for UFC on Fox 11.
It's always nice to have you in the mix for "Dropping Knowledge," Mr. Stann, but we'll save the niceties for later. We are here to talk the hurt game, and the best place to start will be with the big boys in the main event. Travis Browne and Fabricio Werdum will step into the cage on Saturday night to determine who will be the next man to face Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight title.
There are plenty of interesting storylines leading into this fight, but what do you believe are the key factors for each man in this tilt?
Brian Stann: It's definitely an interesting matchup, and let's start with Travis Browne. He has phenomenal footwork for a man his size, and it's only improving because he's recently made a real commitment to his nutrition.
He is much leaner than he used to be and certainly so coming into his last fight. I think that is really key for him.
There is no secret about Werdum wanting to take this fight to the ground because that is where he is the strongest. If Browne uses his footwork and his reach advantage, that should keep Werdum at bay and lead to him winning this fight.
For Werdum, on the other hand, anytime you have to close distance to neutralize reach, it is a complicated proposition. It is really tough to do unless you are one of those elite-level wrestlers like a Cain Velasquez. They can shoot in and use chain wrestling to get you to the mat.
For Werdum, he has to use a lot of movement and feints. He has to cut Browne off and may have to try and withstand the damage he may endure to get inside on Travis Browne.
He also has to use his strikes to set up his takedowns. There have been times in his career where Werdum wasn't able to get the takedown, and he tried to pull guard like in the fight with Alistair Overeem. That is not going to work here. He has to mix in his takedowns with his improved striking to get Browne on the mat, or he can try to smother him up against the cage and make it an uglier fight.
He just can't give Browne a lot of space because that is where he really excels. That is where he knocks guys out with superman punches, front kicks and all kinds of crazy stuff. That said, you have to be careful when you put him against the cage after what he did to Gabriel Gonzaga and Josh Barnett, but I honestly don't think Fabricio is going to make that same mistake and keep his head there for multiple elbows to get dropped on.
Another interesting angle heading into this heavyweight showdown is Werdum's path through the UFC. He came in and picked up solid momentum by defeating Roy Nelson and Mike Russow, but then decided to take an extended layoff to coach The Ultimate Fighter in Brazil. Following his win over Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira, he sat on the sidelines for another long stretch, waiting for a title shot to materialize. All the while he was on the sidelines, Browne was staying busy and wrecking shop in the heavyweight ranks.
How much do you think Werdum's layoff plays a factor in this fight?
It plays a big factor. Every time you talk to a fighter who has been on a long layoff, the term "ring rust" is going to come up. Of course they are going to say it's not going to be a factor. They can't have that in their mind and be worried about it, even though it is always in the back of our heads.
But it matters. There is a rhythm to fighting. Especially in terms of the mental aspect of fighting. If you don't get into a rhythm, you get into trouble. You have to find a rhythm to the entire approach. When you do a training camp, cut weight, do the media rounds and make that walk to the cage, you get into a zone. You get accustomed to doing it, and the biggest challenge becomes performing inside the Octagon the same way you perform inside the gym.
For Werdum, it's almost going to feel unfamiliar because he's been out so long. He's only fought four times in the last three years, and that isn't a lot. It plays a tremendous role in this fight. Travis Browne has been on a roll, in a rhythm and he's getting better. And let's face it...when you don't have a fight coming up, it's hard to go in the gym and get better in order to add to your skill set when you don't have anything on the books.
Browne's been fighting top-notch guys and has been constantly improving with each camp. Werdum has had the other route where it makes you wonder. How motivated is he? When you have nothing to chase and work toward, that can make you stagnate as a fighter.
The crazy thing about the heavyweight division—at least in my opinion—is how the title picture in the heavyweight division has shaped up. Less than two years ago I wouldn't have given either guy much of a chance of beating Cain Velasquez, but both have had some interesting moments where it has made me wonder about those matchups.
Do you think both Browne and Werdum have turned the corner to become serious threats to Cain Velasquez's title reign?
I certainly think there have been huge steps taken in that regard. When Fabricio Werdum fought and beat Roy Nelson, he had some serious momentum. That was some of the best-looking work of his career. He looked better than ever that night. But the entire problem with this scenario is that both of these guys will be fighting for a chance to face the champion, and I think people sometimes forget exactly what that champion did to Junior dos Santos not once but twice.
After those fights, I don't know how many guys really want to get in there with Velasquez.
To be quite honest, I don't know how much either one of these guys has to offer Cain Velasquez. He is one of the best heavyweight champions in the history of the UFC. He doesn't have the title defenses racked up to prove that yet, but when you go skill set for skill set and look at the performances he's put on inside the Octagon, you can definitely make that argument.
When you look at Travis Browne, he definitely has heart and durability. He also one-punch, -knee, -kick or -elbow power that can put your lights out, and he showed that against Josh Barnett in an awkward position. That is really what makes him an interesting pairing for Velasquez. If he wins this fight and gets the title shot, he can get taken down and maybe have the power to throw an elbow off his back to wobble his opponent and set something up or put their lights out. He has that kind of power.
On paper, a lot of people wouldn't think Werdum has much at all to offer Cain Velasquez. But then again we said the same thing about his fight with Fedor Emelianenko and the rest is history. You can never count anyone out in this sport, but in any heavyweight title fight—at least in the next 24 months—my money is going on Cain Velasquez.
There is a big fight in the women's bantamweight division on this card between Miesha Tate and Liz Carmouche. Both women have fought for the title and have been turned back, but have proved to be in the upper tier at 135 pounds in the process. Due to the division being so new, a lot of the focus is constantly put on finding potential title contenders for Ronda Rousey, but if you take that out of the equation, this is still a great fight.
How do you see this scrap going down from a stylistic standpoint?
I love this fight. I think both of them having the experience of fighting for the title has brought their games along at a quick pace. They've learned how to promote themselves and make people interested in watching them fight. Whether it is on social media or in their interviews, they are getting people's attention.
Miesha, on the fighting side, is a fighter who takes a lot of risks in there. And that is a double-edged sword. One, it puts you at risk when you are in the Octagon, but on the other side, it certainly gets you a lot of fans and makes people want to watch you fight.
Miesha's striking has improved, but I think she's made the biggest strides in her wrestling and scrambling abilities. Several times in the rematch with Rousey, she was able to scramble out of a bad position and get into top position. She was able to shoot in for a nice takedown and actually took Ronda down once. And Ronda is no slouch. You could match her skill set up with any fighter on the planet. She really is that good.
As for Liz, she has shown dominance in really one or two areas. She has found success working in the clinch and getting top position and maintaining it. She is very strong. She is a physical specimen for a female. She lives a Spartan discipline where she cooks all her meals and eats strictly for performance.
She is dedicated to her career, but the question hovering around her is whether or not she is going to be able to pull the trigger. In her fight against Alexis Davis it looked like she got caught up in the moment of being a veteran and fighting on a military base. She just didn't pull the trigger that night.
I think Carmouche has to take advantage of the risks Miesha Tate takes inside the cage. Tate throws punches and sometimes overcommits to them, which will make it easier to land the takedown. She will scramble for a submission or really unleash with her ground-and-pound, and if Carmouche can keep her composure, there will be windows of opportunity that will open up for her.
With Miesha, she is a little rough around the edges right now. I think part of that is because we are evaluating her in fights against Ronda Rousey. When you are fighting someone with Rousey's skill set, why not take those risks?
Let's not forget that Tate had some success in different aspects of those fights. But for this fight with Liz, I think Miesha needs to clean up her striking and work in her takedowns better. She needs to take less risks all the while still being exciting. She needs to stay out of the clinch, execute takedowns on her schedule when Liz is backing up, and she can win this fight.
We talk about exciting matchups all the time in this column, and how some pairings—at least on paper—seem to be "no fail" when it comes to being an exciting fight. Sometimes those things don't necessarily materialize, but in this fight between Donald Cerrone and Edson Barboza, is there any possible way this thing doesn't turn into a barnburner?
No...there is no way possible this thing doesn't turn into a barnburner. I spent years training with "Cowboy" and never had a sparring session with that maniac that wasn't a barnburner. In fact, I don't think I've ever gone to dinner with Cerrone, and it wasn't a barnburner. The way he's chosen to live his life is in complete and utter eyebrow-raising fashion.
This is going to be an awesome fight.
I remember Edson Barboza's last fight against Danny Castillo, and the leg kicks he was hitting him with were hurting me. I think he knocked out one of my wisdom teeth with one of them as a matter of fact, and I was a good couple of hundred yards away from the cage. This is going to be incredible. Rarely do we see Donald Cerrone in matchups where it may not behoove him to strike.
He's so tall for that division and such a dynamic striker where we expect him to have the advantage in that department in most fights. With a guy like Barboza, it is not a great proposition to spend a lot of time with him on the feet. However, we did see Danny Castillo make him dance and do so significantly several times in their fight with some good crisp boxing.
One thing I think is an X-factor in this fight is Cerrone's wrestling. He's been working that skill set for a long time now, and he truly has some explosive takedowns in his arsenal if he chooses to use them. I think we are going to see them in this fight, and the big question is going to be if Barboza can finish this thing or debilitate Cerrone's legs so much early on that it takes away his ability to use those explosive shots.
A few well-timed takedowns from Cerrone can win Cowboy this fight unless Barboza has a magic guard that I'm not aware of. Cerrone is very difficult to sweep and submit.
With your history as a fighter and the time you've spent with Cerrone, you may be able to answer this next question better than anyone else on the planet. At a recent media day in Albuquerque, N.M., Cerrone said he hasn't watched a lick of tape on Barboza save for seeing his highlight-reel knockout of Terry Etim with the spinning heel kick. I know Cerrone has a "fly by night" lifestyle, but it's hard to believe even someone as rough and tumble as Cowboy hasn't watched tape on a guy he's about to fight.
Is it possible there is not a game plan or strategy in place for him going into this fight with Barboza?
There is a definitely a game plan for him going into this fight. That said, this is Cerrone saying that, and I truly believe him. I believe he hasn't watched a single fight that Barboza has been in. But what I also know is that all of his trainers, training partners and coaches have all watched it for him and have been in his ear throughout his entire camp.
I spoke to one of his wrestling coaches just the other day, and I know for a fact they have a game plan in place going into this fight. It's never usually a sophisticated one with Cowboy, and at any moment he may throw it out the window if he feels like brawling with Barboza. But I do know there is a game plan in place, and there are people around him that have studied Edson Barboza.
Another important fight on the card that is flying somewhat under the radar is a middleweight clash between Brad Tavares and Yoel Romero. Both of these guys have some solid momentum and are right outside the Top 10. Tavares is on a five-fight winning streak, but he has been criticized a bit for his fighting style. He is certainly an efficient striker who throws volume, but he doesn't have a lot of finishes on his record. Romero is a fighter who is going to come at him.
Do you think this is one of the matchups where the UFC will take whoever emerges victorious and put him into much bigger fights going forward?
I certainly think that's the case. I know for a fact that because of Romero's age, if he wins this fight he will be facing a top guy in his next one. I remember having a conversation with Joe Silva about that very topic.
Romero isn't a young man, and he doesn't want to sit on the fence very much. He wants to get into those big-time fights, and he's out there finishing people. When paired with his resume and wrestling credentials, that is certainly impressive.
Tavares does get nitpicked a little bit, and sometimes we just don't allow fighters to develop. Brad is a young guy, even for all the fights he has under his belt. He gets better and better each time out, but it takes two to dance. You need two guys to make a really aggressive fight, and I think Romero's style is going to bring out a more aggressive Tavares.
I think too often Brad's opponents have allowed him to get into a rhythm, dictate the pace and spacing of the fight. He's a combination fighter, and unless you disrupt that rhythm, you aren't going to get any spontaneous action from him.
Romero is a guy who will do that. He's going to push Tavares backward and could force Tavares to do some things that maybe we haven't seen from him yet. That makes for a very interesting fight.
If Tavares can get past Romero, that makes a pretty big statement. He's been vying for Top 10 guys for a while now, and I think he deserves those fights. I don't care how you win five consecutive fights in the UFC, that is a significant accomplishment.
The big question for me in this fight is Romero's fight IQ. Can he go in there and fight a complete fight in intelligent fashion? We've seen him rocked and saw him get taken down many times by Derek Brunson, who is a great athlete but certainly doesn't have the wrestling chops that Romero does.
That fight showcased the difference between competitive wrestling and MMA wrestling and definitely left some interesting questions on the table regarding Romero's ability to compete with top competition. He was able to come back and finish Brunson in that fight, but the top guys aren't going to give him those opportunities. It is going to be interesting to see how he progresses.
The lightweight division has been one of the most competitive collectives under the UFC banner for the past four years, but it has hit somewhat of a rough patch recently. Champion Anthony Pettis has been out with injury, and his next fight with Gilbert Melendez won't take place until the end of the year. The fight between Rafael dos Anjos and Khabib Nurmagomedov is a crucial fight in the title picture, but it's on the lower side of the name-recognition scale.
Do you think the winner of this fight can make a strong case for a title shot?
I think they can, but things are kind of up in the air at 155 pounds right now. Title shots are a tricky thing because they aren't necessarily earned by winning fights in workman-type fashion—they are about winning fights and establishing hype and buzz. They are about getting people excited to watch you fight and creating a demand. That's part of being a fighter. You have to create a demand for your services if you really want to have a successful run at this.
Nurmagomedov is a fighter that not too many people want to fight. I had the opportunity to speak with Gilbert Melendez recently, and Gil was breaking down Khabib's style and telling me this guy is a tough matchup for any of the top-echelon fighters in the division. I certainly take Gilbert's word when it comes to that because he is certainly one of those top lightweights.
If one of these two guys can go out there and finish the other, they definitely put themselves up for a fight with title implications. The way things are shaping up, I imagine the winner of this fight would face the winner of the upcoming bout between Benson Henderson and Rustam Khabilov later this year. That would make the most sense.
Nurmagomedov has been a real puzzle for guys to figure out, and if he can go out there and have a dominant performance against Rafael dos Anjos, that would certainly put him in the hunt for the title.
The same applies for Dos Anjos. If he goes out there and beats the guy no one wants to fight right now, he definitely deserves to be up there in the title picture.
Let's finish things up talking about the return of Thiago Alves. "The Pitbull" has had some of the worst luck of any fighter in recent memory as he's battled through a series of injuries that have put him on the sidelines for the better part of two years. The fight game is a rough business, and injury is certainly something you guys have to deal with.
What will he be dealing with mentally going into this fight, and can he return to being a major player in the welterweight division with a win on Saturday night?
Let's start with the first part of the question and talk about what is going on in Thiago's head. There has to be a tremendous amount going on in there. When you sit out that long in the fight game, not only are you putting yourself in financial jeopardy at that moment, but you are also thinking about the money you lost that you should be stacking away for the future.
I think there are probably a lot of things outside of the actual fight that are stressing out Thiago Alves. All the injuries, miles he's put on his body and all the money it has cost him being sidelined; all of those things have to be weighing on his mind. I think dealing with those things and going out there and putting on a solid performance are the biggest hurdles he's facing.
With GSP out of the picture and with what Robbie Lawler has recently done at welterweight, it showcases that guys like Thiago Alves can certainly get themselves back in the mix. Alves' deficiencies were never of the athletic variety.
Sometimes, guys hit a ceiling and reach a point where they are never going to get any better. Then you get the guys like Jon Jones where the sky is the limit. I think Alves can certainly improve and get himself back there, but the bigger question is can he keep himself healthy anymore, and a lot of that has to do with what goes on inside the gym and not so much inside the Octagon.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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