Despite coming off 2011 losses, middleweight standouts Brian Stann and Alessio Sakara have the opportunity to begin 2012 with a clean slate when they collide in the co-main event of April 14th’s UFC on FUEL TV card in Stockholm, Sweden. It’s a pivotal battle for both men careerwise, but in addition, it’s a pleasing stylistic clash that is likely to produce more than its share of memorable standup exchanges. But who has the edge a month from now? Let’s break it down as we take a closer look at the matchup.
WHERE THEY’VE BEEN
The mettle of Captain Brian Stann of the United States Marine Corps was proven in a place far removed from the UFC Octagon, as he received the Silver Star for his valor in battle while serving in Iraq. And while this aspect of his past was an intriguing angle for the media from the time he entered the WEC in 2006, in recent years, the man dubbed “All-American” has developed into a legit force in his new weight class of 185 pounds. That move to middleweight in 2010, coupled with his work at Greg Jackson’s camp in Albuquerque, was a career saver for Stann, who struggled at 205 while in the UFC, losing two of four bouts. At middleweight, Stann has won three of four, finishing Mike Massenzio, Chris Leben, and Jorge Santiago consecutively before an October 2011 submission loss to Chael Sonnen. Now he’ll look to start another winning streak against “Legionarius.”
A member of the UFC roster for over six years, Italy’s Alessio Sakara dazzled fight fans in his 2005 debut against Ron Faircloth, lighting the veteran up with strikes until a shot to the groin in the second round rendered him unable to continue and forced a no contest ruling. From there, the former pro boxer has had an up and down run in the Octagon, but with the exception of a 2009 bout with Thales Leites (which ironically was one of his biggest wins), he’s always put on exciting fights. In late 2008, Sakara broke out of his inconsistent funk, defeating Joe Vedepo (with a highlight reel headkick), Leites, and James Irvin for his first three fight win streak in the organization. It was a streak snapped by a decision loss to late replacement Chris Weidman in March of last year, but like Stann, someone is going to start a new win streak next month.
WHERE THEY’RE AT
As mentioned earlier, both middleweights are looking to get back in the win column after seeing identical three fight winning streaks snapped. So who’s in the better spot heading into Stockholm? That depends on who you’re talking to. Stann can say he lost to the second best middleweight on the planet in Sonnen, which was a big step up for him in just his fourth fight at 185 pounds. He can also say that the crafty number one contender took him to a place where he’s had difficulty in the past by simply putting him on his back and keeping him there until he submitted him via arm triangle in the second round. If you’re a Stann supporter, you say the odds of a repeat strategy from Sakara are slim and none. If you’re Sakara, you can chalk up your recent form to a number of factors, not the least of which are the injuries and the illness that saw UFC 123 and UFC 133 bouts against fellow striker Jorge Rivera get scrapped. Want more to support Team Sakara? How about going from preparing for a standup battle with Rivera to a fight with a wrestler in Weidman on short notice? Sure, you could say that with his experience, Sakara should be ready for anything at this point, but at this level of the game, it only takes one wrench in the works to throw everything off when you least expect it. The edge? It’s a toss-up.
WHERE THEY’RE GOING
2012 will be an important year for both Stann and Sakara, and it’s imperative for each fighter to get it off to a good start. Surprisingly, despite the difference in experience between the two, Stann is the older man at 31, to Sakara’s 30. In terms of fighting mileage though, the 19-8, 1 NC Italian (who is also 8-1 in pro boxing) has seen a lot more in the fight game than the 11-4 American. Add in the fact that Sakara’s toughest opponent in the last few years has been his own body (he’s only fought once in each of the last three years due to injury), and Stann is definitely the fresher fighter. On paper, Stann has a lot more to lose heading into this bout, as a win over Sakara and another couple victories can put him in the title picture. Sakara probably has a longer road to build momentum and get into a similar position, but hey, there’s no better time than now to start a run.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Stann has proven both in the WEC and UFC that he can bang with anyone, and while everyone looks at Sakara’s striking and boxing background, the “All-American” has one shot stopping power that is far superior to Sakara’s. Don’t get me wrong, Sakara has great handspeed and technique, but in a firefight, you may want to give the edge to Stann.
But will it even get to that point? Sakara’s Achilles Heel in the past has been getting into early wars with guys who have one punch KO power (McFedries, Alexander, Leben). Of course, you have to mention that two of those losses came at light heavyweight, probably making his chin a little sturdier at 185. But the point remains that if this one erupts into a slugfest, Stann probably wins it on power alone.
If it’s more of a measured standup battle, Sakara’s ability to rip off combinations and use his speed could cause Stann trouble, despite the American's improved ability to stick and move under Jackson’s tutelage (see the third Cantwell fight for proof). Stann has greatly toned down his WEC habit of putting his chin in the air during exchanges, and the positive results since then show that, but if you get pecked and poked enough by a legit boxer, then old habits can return in the heat of battle.
And who knows, Sakara may want to take the fight to the mat and show off his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. That’s not likely from a guy who hasn’t scored a submission since 2002, but stranger things have happened, and with two of Stann’s four losses coming via tap out (and the third coming via decision in a bout against Phil Davis fought primarily on the mat), it may be an option Sakara looks into. Then again, with Stann willing to stand and trade, Sakara’s ego may not allow him to do anything but throw hands with his opponent. Whether that’s a good call or not for him, we’ll find out on April 14th, but for us watching, it’s definitely the scenario we would like to see played out.
Stann – Steve Cantwell (twice), Doug Marshall, Mike Massenzio, Chris Leben, Jorge Santiago
Sakara – James Irvin, Joe Vedepo, Victor Valimaki, Elvis Sinosic
OTHER NOTABLE OPPONENTS
Stann – Krzysztof Soszynski, Phil Davis, Rodney Wallace, Chael Sonnen
Sakara – Assuerio Silva, Dean Lister, Drew McFedries, Houston Alexander, Chris Leben, Thales Leites, Chris Weidman, Roman Zentsov
Chris Leben – Stann TKO1, Sakara TKO by 1
UFC on FUEL TV Preview - Stann vs. Sakara
Previewing the April 14th UFC on FUEL TV co-main event between Brian Stann and Alessio Sakara...