Funny thing about Brian Stann, he used to hate to talk to the media. When it first began and he started becoming sport-famous, Stann knew what kinds of questions were coming next. He was going to be asked about his days as a soldier, about losing his friends, about all of the things he'd rather keep between him and his brothers. To him, none of this was fun.
It was a past commander who told him that he could use his newly found platform to highlight the work of his fellow soldiers, and to spread the word about MMA. That made perfect sense, and from there on out, Stann became a media darling. It's a role he was made for. He was bright and well-spoken, and with his time at the U.S. Naval Academy and field service, no one could question his smarts or credentials.
Back in 2007 and '08, when MMA was still fighting for respect, Stann stood in front of the pack as much as anyone else and helped educate mainstream outlets about the sport. To those groups, his background brought with it credibility. He wasn't the scary-on-the-outside, mohawk-wearing stereotype; he was the guy you'd want your daughter to bring home. And in that time, that made him a Godsend.
Back then, I was working for NBC Sports. One day, before Stann fought, I spent a day with him in New York. I followed him through his visits with Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, FOX News and more. The fact that he could get audiences with such power players showed the power of his story -- back in those days, only Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture had that kind of draw -- but he also had the gravitas to pull it off, something few other fighters could claim.
But that was only part of who he was. He was a dad and a husband who spoke lovingly about the conflict he faced in sacrificing time away from his family. He gave words to feelings. He fronted an organization, Hire Heroes USA, whose mission was finding work for military veterans. Most of all, he was professional.
Stann retired on Thursday, officially, announcing it on a special edition of The MMA Hour. In 18 fights, he went 12-6 with 10 finishes. Mirroring his military roots, he competed fiercely to the end. As a fighter, he was good. He won the WEC championship, became a contender in the UFC, and fought a thriller with Wanderlei Silva. As an ambassador, he was great.
See, the fighting is only a part of what he'll be remembered for, and that's a good thing. Stann has deals with FOX to play the analyst role on both UFC and college football broadcasts. It's a testament to his intelligence and professionalism that he could parlay his time in the spotlight into something more. It's also a lesson to the rest of the fighters on the roster to capitalize on the opportunities that come your way when you're in the spotlight.
Stann's time was short. His pro career lasted a little over seven years, and his UFC tenure lasted less than four. But he parlayed that fame into something that will last long after his days in the cage. He executed a plan.
His time as a spokesman was invaluable. Every battle is won one move at a time. And winning over the media was a battle for the UFC. Stann may not have captured UFC gold, but in some ways, his contributions were more important than wins and losses. He educated about MMA; he helped humanize its athletes. He changed minds, or at least opened them. Now as he says good-bye to his pro fight career and hello to his new one, the reluctant speaker deserves an enthusiastic thank you for his work on the sport's front line.
(Editor's note: Watch complete Brian Stann announcement below).