Three weeks ago, an email showed up in Brian Stann's inbox – from Chael Sonnen (25-11-1 MMA, 4-4 UFC).
Sonnen had two buddies that were military veterans and struggling to find a job. Stann (11-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC), a former Marine who presides over Hire Heroes USA, a not-for-profit that finds jobs for veterans, immediately offered help.
Sonnen provided color commentary for Stann's first professional fight, which came in early 2006, and they briefly trained under the same roof at Team Quest.
"I mopped the mat for them with my back,"
Stann today told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
The two sat close to each other at this past weekend's UFC 132, and Stann said Sonnen was "very respectful."
If all this is sounding like a terrible foundation for a co-main event fight between Sonnen and Stann at UFC 136, which takes place Oct. 8 at Houston's Toyota Center, it probably is.
If fans are looking for any sort of grudge, there isn't.
"I thought for sure I'd be fighting Mark Munoz, and that wasn't the case," Stann said. "It was just a few days later when the UFC came calling and said, 'You're fighting Chael Sonnen.' It's just one of those situations. You want to be the best, you've got to fight the best."
There is, however, scant ammunition for the trash-talking opuses Sonnen has used to transform himself into one of the middleweight division's hottest and most controversial commodities. Stann won't be going down that road any time soon, and he can't imagine Sonnen will, either.
"I know Chael; he's just not going to do it," Stann said. "I know there's respect there."
So, this could be one boring buildup to October.
"If he chooses to do it, honestly, I just don't take it personally
– the same way when I fought Chris Leben and he said I couldn't punch my way out of a paper bag," he added. "Fighters have to sell fights.
"If I get wrapped up in the trash talk, I'm not focusing on the technical skills that I need to win the actual fight. So I kind of submerse myself in Albuquerque and just don't really care. I have so many coaches and great training partners around me that I don't really have time to pay attention to any of it."
He plans to pay more attention now, of course. Part of his pre-fight ritual is to digest every piece of video on his opponent – interviews and all. That means he's likely to encounter Sonnen's recent rants on Wanderlei Silva, Lyoto Machida, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – and the rest of Brazil.
For a guy weaned on respect and honor, Sonnen's public persona flies in the face of everything Stann believes. But given what he's personally experienced, he doubts that Sonnen is anything more than a guy selling a fight. Sure, he might go overboard at times, but it's all for a purpose.
"I don't know if Chael in his heart of hearts really believes what he's saying," he said.
As of late, Stann is the guy who can do no wrong. He's an exciting fighter, a decorated veteran, and he seemingly manages to say the right things all the time. And he's on a hot streak after stealing Chris Leben's thunder this past January at UFC 125.
But Stann said his public character has been a work in progress, much like Sonnen's.
"Some people criticize me for that and think that I make some of the [expletive] up that I say, which is ridiculous," he said. "But the bottom line is, trust me, I've made every mistake there is to make out there.
"I've had to learn from them. If you look at my three losses in MMA, every one of them was nationally televised. So I've been humbled so many times in my life and I'm so thankful for each of those times because it keeps me so level-headed."
Conventional wisdom has Sonnen, a standout amateur wrestler at the University of Oregon, taking Stann down for three rounds to win a decision. Stann doesn't have any wrestling pedigree to speak of, and his limitations on the mat were painfully obvious in a lopsided decision loss against Phil Davis at light-heavyweight.
But that was a long time ago, Stann counters, and many more things have changed than the weight class at which he fights.
"I think a lot of people forget to calculate improvement from fight to fight," he said. "Especially for me in that I don't have 30-plus fights, so I still improve a marked amount from fight to fight, especially in the wrestling area, which used to be the weakest part of my game.
"I have some very, very good contacts for wrestling, and we've made a point of really making that a focus in each of my training camps for my last few fights. I know I'm going to come out in this fight and surprise a lot of people, both with my counter-wrestling skills and my jiu-jitsu skills if I need them."
Prior to a second run-in with the California State Athletic Commission, Sonnen was up for a job coaching opposite Michael Bisping on "The Ultimate Fighter 14" that would have ended with a No. 1 title contender bout. A rematch with Anderson Silva has been on many minds since Sonnen shockingly battered the champ for four rounds at UFC 117 before submitting to a triangle in the final championship round.
Could Stann once again steal thunder with a victory in Houston?
"I think so, but unfortunately, I don't get to control those things," he said. "More importantly to me, a win over Chael shows what the result of very hard, dedicated focused work is, and what the results are by surrounding yourself with great people. Because that's the real reason, from my family to my training partners and my coaches, I've been very fortunate who have a ton of knowledge who have supported me.
"That's what has saved my UFC career."