Brian Stann plans to return to 185 pounds after UFC on Fuel TV 8. | Photo: Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
Like much of the global mixed martial arts community, Brian Stann regards Wanderlei Silva with a reverence fit for one of the sport’s true all-time greats.
Stann will face “The Axe Murderer” in the UFC on Fuel TV 8 headliner on Saturday at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Perhaps nowhere outside of his native Brazil is his popularity better preserved than in the Land of the Rising Sun, where he blossomed into a superstar inside Pride Fighting Championships more than a decade ago.
“The popularity of my opponent is very well-deserved,” Stann said during the pre-fight press conference. “When I first thought about coming into the sport, my favorite fighter was Wanderlei. I would watch his fights in Pride, and I would just marvel at the tenacity that he brought inside the ring and how he fought; not only that but the way he treated other people and conducted himself outside the ring. I really admired all of those qualities.
“For me to come into this fight, I’m obviously not going to be the most popular fighter,” he added. “Wanderlei’s earned that. He’s earned that right. He deserves it. I’m so happy that he gets to return to Japan, where he had some of his greatest accomplishments, and I’m very honored that I get to be his opponent.”
Silva made his first appearance in the island nation in January 1999 and soon emerged as one of the most feared and beloved figures in MMA history. A mean streak and flair for the dramatic were his calling cards, as he held the Pride 205-pound championship for more than five years. Though Silva is no longer the fighter he was in his prime, time has done nothing to diminish the legacy he carved out for himself.
“I’ve got to put it all aside for right now, and it’s difficult,” Stann said. “Even now, I look across at Wanderlei, and it’s hard not to get nostalgic. He’s forgotten more about MMA than I’ll ever know. He’s done more for the sport in any two years of his career than I’ll ever do in my entire career. I’ve got to put all that aside, and I’ve got to put on my best performance to defeat him.”
A former World Extreme Cagefighting champion at 205 pounds, Stann made a seamless transition to the middleweight division in 2010, cracking the top 10 after consecutive finishes against Mike Massenzio, Chris Leben and Jorge Santiago. He did not alter much in terms of preparation for his one-off return to light heavyweight waters.
“I did not think it would benefit me to put on extra weight,” Stann said. “Speed is more important. I’ve always been strong, and I’ve always been powerful, even when I was training with much larger light heavyweights. I think it’s more important to be athletic and fast.”
Beyond his bout with Silva, Stann does not see a long-term future at 205 pounds.
“I’m a middleweight fighter,” he said. “I can compete at light heavyweight, but if I want to be top 10 and compete for the title, it needs to be at middleweight. With my style and the ways I’ve had difficulties in my career with people neutralizing me, it benefits me to be the bigger, stronger individual.”
Diego Sanchez always wanted to fight in Japan. Twenty-eight bouts into his professional career, he will finally get his chance.
Sanchez will lock horns with former Pride champion Takanori Gomi in a lightweight showcase, as he drops back to the 155-pound division for the first time since his loss to B.J. Penn at UFC 107 in December 2009. The 31-year-old Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative has won two of his last three fights, though he fell short in his bid to unseat world-ranked welterweight Jake Ellenberger at UFC on Fuel TV 1 a year ago.
Once thought to be on his last leg, Gomi has quieted those doubts with back-to-back victories over Eiji Mitsuoka and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 6 winner Mac Danzig. Sanchez did not hesitate to act when the chance to take on “The Fireball Kid” arose.
“When I decided to make the move back to 155, I looked at the list of [potential] opponents and I figured, ‘What’s a better opportunity then to come out here to Japan, live one of my dreams and fight one of the best fighters to come out of Japan in his own hometown,’” he said. “That’s a perfect situation for a war, a great battle, and that’s what I live for. That’s what I came here to do, to give the fans and the company a great showing and a great fight.”
This & That
Stefan Struve will have a 14-inch height and nine-each reach advantage in his co-main event matchup with Mark Hunt ... South Korean welterweight Hyun Gyu Lim has finished five consecutive opponents inside the first round ... UFC on Fuel TV 8 will feature five cast members from “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series: Sanchez (Season 1), Brad Tavares (Season 11), Alex Caceres (Season 12), Bryan Caraway (Season 14) and Cristiano Marcello (Season 15) ... Siyar Bahadurzada, who turns 29 on April 19, shares a birthday with baseball hall of famer Cap Anson, professional wrestling legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” actress Rooney Mara, among others ... Rani Yahya was a gold medalist at the 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships ... Hector Lombard has not fought in Japan since he needed all of 50 seconds to put away Eiji Ishikawa with punches under the Deep banner on Feb. 16, 2007.