Brian Stann can only laugh when he hears people criticize Greg Jackson.
The UFC middleweight contender was a work in progress when he showed up at Jackson's gym in Albuquerque, N.M. in 2010, better known for his valor in the Iraq War than his accomplishments in the cage.
Stann experienced early success in World Extreme Cagefighting as he trained part-time while maintaining his leadership position in the United States Marine Corps. But his mixed martial arts progress had stalled in the UFC by the time he made the decision to retire from active Marines duty and make a full-time commitment to the sport.
"When I started off my MMA career, I was basically self-taught," Stann told MMAFighting.com in a recent telephone interview. "I knew I wasn't the fighter I could be, but I didn't realize how much I still had to go until I started training with Greg and coach [Mike] Winkeljohn."
So you'll have to forgive the 31-year-old middleweight if he's a bit defensive the Albuquerque crew. Despite the success of the camp -- the roster of which includes UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and interim welterweight champ Carlos Condit -- Jackson has been blamed by MMA fans for everything except maybe the cost of a gallon of gas. Most recently, UFC president Dana White blamed Jackson for the cancellation of UFC 151, as Jackson counseled Jones not to take a short-notice fight against Chael Sonnen.
And while Stann has spent the bulk of this year training in his adopted hometown of Atlanta in order to be closer to his wife, he's still fiercely protective of the team which helped mold him into the fighter he is today.
"Coach Jackson gets a bad rap," said Stann. "You don't get this with any of the other marquee gyms in MMA. If an AKA fighter fights a bad fight, do you hear people rip the gym? Do the coaches get blamed if a fighter from Team Quest or Xtreme Couture doesn't execute? It only happens here. Greg gets blamed if a fighter doesn't perform well, but he doesn't get any of the credit they got out and have an exciting performance."
Once considered a one-dimensional slugger, Stann still boasts his trademark knockout power. But he has emerged as a more complete fighter, one with tremendous upside in the UFC middleweight division.
Stann is 4-1 since dropping down to 185 pounds, with all four wins coming via finish. His UFC 152 bout against veteran Michael Bisping on Sept. 22 in Toronto is an opportunity to move up the ranks and he knows it.
"Michael Bisping is a veteran and a fighter whose style I've admired for a long time," Stann said. "For the UFC to match me up against him tells me the company thinks highly of me. A win over Bisping is a statement to the middleweight division."
The way Stann sees it, the pack at middleweight is akin to where the light heavyweight division stood a couple months back, in which a quartet of fighters vied for a potential shot at the title. Stann vs. Bisping is one of two bouts on the upcoming docket, with the other being Chris Weidman vs. Tim Boetsch on Dec. 29.
While no one has said that the fighter with the most impressive victory among this 185-pound quartet will be guaranteed a shot at Anderson Silva, Stann will approach his match with Bisping as though this was the case.
"I'm looking at it that way," said Stann. "There are a lot of good, solid guys at 185 pounds, I'm not going to name them because I don't want to leave anyone out, but everyone's looking for a leg up on the competition. I want to go out there and win an exciting fight. I don't want to play it safe and lose a decision. I can accept going all out and losing, but I don't want to look back and say I left anything on the table. So the only way to ensure it is to bring it."
Of course, even if Stann shines against Bisping, it could be awhile before anyone gets a shot at the middleweight title. Stann admits he's been following the talk of a potential Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre superfight with as much interest as anyone else.
"I mean, sure, you can't help but notice it," Stann said, in an interview conducted before news of the Oct. 13 Silva-Stephan Bonnar fight broke. "It's a big assumption, because you can't assume that Georges is going to defeat Carlos Condit. But if he does, it affects me and it affects everyone else who is in line for a title shot.
"If Georges wins, he's going to need time off before the fight. Anderson isn't likely to face another middleweight in the meantime. So you're talking, if it happens, it could be a year before the middleweight title is defended again. When your goal is to win a championship you, yeah, its something you pay attention to."