Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
Middleweight Brian Stann was fighting with a heavy heart Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena during UFC 125.
Stann, a former Marine, dedicated his TKO victory against slight favorite Chris Leben at the 3:37 mark of the first round in the co-main event to a soldier he served with in Iraq who died this week in combat.
During Stann’s post-fight interview with pay-per-view announcer Joe Rogan, he spoke about the tragedy and how his thoughts were with the fallen Marine’s family. The crowd of 12,688 fans cheered wildly in support.
Sgt. Garrett Misener, 25, of Cordava, Tenn., died Monday in Afghanistan during combat. Misener was one of 42 Marines who served in Stann’s unit during his deployment to Iraq in 2005.
Stann, who in 2008 retired with the rank of Captain, received the Silver Star — the third highest military honor — for managing counterattacks and leading his team safely through a six-day ambush in Iraq with no casualties.
“He was the most professional Marine I have ever met,” Stann said of Misener. “I believe he volunteered to go to Afghanistan and deploy again. I think this was he third or fourth deployment to combat.”
Making the transition from military officer to mixed martial artist has been full of trials and tribulations for Stann. But after changing weight classes from light heavyweight to middleweight last February, Stann appears to be headed in the right direction.
He was defeated by national champion college wrestler Phil Davis and realized he could compete at light heavyweight (205-pounds).
“Absolutely, I should have gone down sooner, but you need those losses to grow,” Stann said.
His athleticism and aggression in the octagon was obvious against Leben. Despite being less experienced, Stann didn’t back down from Leben — a proven puncher who likes to get in punch-trading wars — and initiated the action around the two-minute mark of the round by dropping Leben with a big right-hand shot to the chin.
Leben, with his hair freshly dyed red, managed to get back up and the two traded shots. Stann dropped him again and let loose with several hits to face and body until the referee stopped the fight.
It was arguably the most significant win of his brief career. The 6-foot-1 Stann was also aided by a 2-inch height advantage in improving to 10-3 with seven wins coming by knockout.
“It was angles. It was movement,” Stann said. “Chris gets frustrated with fighters who move and don’t stand in front of him. We knew he could be attacked to the body. The attacks to the body, the kicks to the body, is what set up the knockout.”
Leben, who fell to 21-7, received plenty of praise from Stann afterward. Stann expressed his appreciation that Leben agreed to take the fight.
“He didn’t have to do that. I’m a lesser-known fighter,” Stann said. “He could have waited for a big-level fight. He is true fighter, a true warrior. He gave me my opportunity, so I have to thank him first."
Only time will tell when the 30-year-old Stann will fight again. He plans on returning to the gym in three days to continue training.
“I’m in this to fight the best,” he said. “I don’t want any question marks left behind when my career or my time in this sport is finished. So, whoever I need to fight to be in the top 10 of the world is who I want to fight next.”
Regardless of who he fights, Stann’s ability to stay calm under pressure — something he showed Saturday — will surely be one of his strengths. After all, he’s been in more difficult spots than the octagon.
“I’ve been in a little more intense situations than (a sequence against Leben) before and kept my calm,” he said, clearly referring to his time in combat.