Correction to This Article
ยท A July 31 Sports headline incorrectly identified a World Extreme Cagefighter. The fighter's name is Brian Stann.

The War Is Over for Stann, But the Battles Continue

By Andrew Astleford
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 31, 2008

Before each fight, Brian Stann walks into the cage knowing that whatever happens, nothing will compare to the hell he survived in Iraq.

He won't hear the cruel cadence of machine-gun fire, and his heart won't thump at the thought of makeshift bombs exploding alongside dusty roads. He won't stare into a moonlit desert sky and ponder what he might have done differently to spare his men from injury.

He won't lose sight of victory, his ultimate goal.

"It's the reason why I'm a successful fighter," Stann said. "Combat is a more complex environment than fighting. Mentally, the reason I win fights is because I can simplify a fight and not overcomplicate it. I don't walk into that cage full of fear. I've been through war already. It makes fighting much, much easier."

Stann retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in May as a captain after serving two tours of duty in Iraq. While on active duty, he became the face of World Extreme Cagefighting, a brand of mixed martial arts very similar to, and owned by, the same parent company as Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Stann, the WEC light heavyweight champion, is undefeated in his six professional fights and has used his emerging prominence to inspire servicemen and women while attracting attention for an organization seeking to gain popularity within the increasingly crowded mixed martial arts world. On Sunday, Stann will defend his title in a rematch against Steve Cantwell, whom he defeated in 41 seconds in March 2007.

Stann knows he will succeed, because he has adapted throughout his life.

His interest in professional fighting blossomed in junior high school. At a young age, he became interested in boxing and kickboxing, and he wanted to learn an aggressive style of martial arts. However, there weren't gyms in his boyhood home town of Scranton, Pa., that gave him the opportunity; kung fu was his only option, and soon he became bored.

Instead, he concentrated on football. As a quarterback, he set school records at Scranton Prep for career passing and rushing yards. His ability caught the attention of then-Navy coach Paul Johnson and, in 1999, Stann enrolled in the academy. The Midshipmen didn't have space available at quarterback, so Stann became a middle linebacker and, before he graduated in 2003, he helped Navy beat rival Army three times.

"You grow a lot," Stann said of his time in Annapolis. "As you grow, and you get closer to your senior year, you start realizing what you're headed for upon graduation, the leadership role that you're taking on. By the time you graduate, you're much more mature."

He knows he will succeed, because he has survived war.

For six days in May 2005, insurgents in Iraq ambushed Stann, a first lieutenant at the time, and the Marines under his command in the 2nd Mobile Assault Platoon. Stann and his unit attempted to seize a bridge near Karabilah and walked into an enemy's trap.

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