Over the course of nearly a week in May 2005, Marine Corps 2nd Mobile Assault Platoon leader Brian Stann and his charges endured a fierce battle for survival near Karabilah, Iraq.
Their mission was to seize a bridge, but an ambush left the unit fighting for their lives. Stann and his men faced rocket-propelled grenade attacks, machine gun fire and detonating improvised explosive devices.
Stann, a former Navy linebacker, risked his life along with a fellow Marine to save four injured soldiers trapped in a tank.
“It was a six-day period where my platoon overcame a lot of odds, a lot of adversity, several ambushes and several casualty evacuations, and my guys did excellent,” Stann said. “Their discipline, their courage and their will to fight never strayed during the whole period.”
For his efforts, Stann was awarded the Silver Star, the fourth-highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“It was really an award for what all of my men did,” he said.
Now back in the States and stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., as the 8th Marine Regimental Headquarters Company Commander, Stann has his sights set on another award, albeit a far less significant one.
“I dream of being the (World Extreme Cagefighting) light heavyweight champion,” Stann said during a workout Thursday in Las Vegas.
He will attempt to take one more step toward that goal today when he meets Craig Zellner on a WEC card that begins at 4 p.m. at the Hard Rock Hotel.
Stann has won all three of his professional mixed martial arts fights by first-round technical knockout, including first-minute stoppages in his two previous WEC appearances.
The Scranton, Pa., native competed in martial arts as a youth before starring as a high school quarterback and eventually moving to linebacker at the Naval Academy.
Stann then was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marines and rekindled his interest in martial arts while training in Quantico, Va.
“When I was younger, I did some of the more traditional martial arts, and I had grown out of it, but I always had an admiration for fighting and a desire to get involved,” he said.
During his first tour in Iraq, Stann began e-mailing promoters of MMA events around the U.S. and expressing interest in competing professionally.
He lined up a fight in a small promotion and scored a first-round victory. Then he fought on a WEC card and earned a TKO triumph over Miguel Cosio in 16 seconds in June 2006.
Stann then returned to Iraq for a second tour of duty from July 2006 until February.
While he was deployed, Stann worked out a long-term deal with WEC co-general manager Scott Adams via satellite phone.
Stann returned and stopped Steve Cantwell on March 24 in 41 seconds.
After what he has experienced overseas, an opponent can’t do much in a cage to rattle Stann.
“Being in the Marine Corps, you are in a constant combat mind-set. It brings so much simplicity to a cagefight,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot less stressful than combat.”
He incorporates much of his training into his fighting career.
“I study my opponents not only physically and their skill level but also psychologically as much as I can from watching their fights,” Stann said. “Just trying to know your enemy as much as possible and trying to look for any gap or weakness in their game and then trying to exploit it.”
In addition to his goal of becoming a champion, Stann has a few other goals for his MMA career.
“Originally, it was just to compete,” he said. “Now, I hope to gain enough skill that maybe I can teach and also use some of the notoriety of the sport to help out some of the programs for the wounded veterans of the military.”
One way for Stann to get his message out quickly is for more people to see the organization, and that might begin to happen today. This WEC card will be the first broadcast live nationally as Versus (Cox Channel 67) will televise the main portion of the card, scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
Also on the card, WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber will defend his title against Chance Farrar in the main event.
Faber, a 28-year-old graduate of UC Davis, has won both of his previous WEC title defenses by first-round submission and quickly is becoming the face of the organization.