The team of analysts for the UFC on Fox Sports 1 and Fox broadcasts have been providing the most in-depth coverage mixed martial arts has seen in its 20 years of existence.
With a collection of seasoned fight veterans and a handful of well-versed hosts at the helm, the people working the pre- and post-fight shows for the UFC have consistently raised the bar.
For the next installment of "Dropping Knowledge," recently retired fan-favorite Brian Stann jumped out from behind his analyst desk at FS1 and settled into the groove at Bleacher Report MMA to break down the upcoming card at Fight for the Troops 3 on Nov. 6 in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The 33-year-old former Marine is a decorated war hero and the recipient of the Silver Star, which is rewarded for valor in combat. When those accomplishments are stacked alongside the impressive resume he collected over his eight years as a professional mixed martial artist, there is no one better suited to break down the unique experience of competing at FFTT3.
The former WEC light heavyweight champion has quickly become a powerhouse behind the analyst desk. When breaking down fights, Stann takes a cerebral approach where both his calculated eye as an analyst and in the fire experience as a former top-ranked competitor come into play.
In just a short amount of time working on the UFC broadcasts, the former Navy linebacker has risen to become the go-to-guy when explaining the ins and outs of what will take place when the cage door closes.
This is what Stann told Bleacher Report about next Saturday's card at FFTT3 in Fort Campbell.
Let's get things started with the main event between Tim Kennedy and Rafael Natal. The Brazilian was a late replacement when Lyoto Machida was tapped to face Mark Munoz at Fight Night 30, but now he's stepped in to face the former Strikeforce middleweight title challenger. This is a big fight for both men and what are your thoughts on the stylistic matchup?
I think it's very honorable what Natal has done. He stepped into a very disadvantageous position by taking on Tim Kennedy on late notice. Stylistically, this is a very tough matchup for Natal. He is known for his jiu-jitsu, and as everyone saw in his fight with Roger Gracie, Tim is very good down there. And I don't think Tim got the credit he deserved. So many people in MMA wouldn't have survived with Roger Gracie on their back, especially for as long as Roger had that position.
I've trained extensively with Kennedy—and have spent some time with Natal as well—and I think Tim is yet to showcase his best skills inside the cage. In the gym, he's a little bit better than what he has shown in the cage, and I think it has to do with how relaxed he is in there. With Tim's military experience, obviously, to him fighting is not that big of a deal.
When he goes in there he is very relaxed and calm and it takes away from his aggression and his sense of urgency. I think he's worked on that and him and Greg Jackson have worked on some things to change that. I believe we are going to see a more aggressive Tim Kennedy, and I'll tell you right now, that is tough news for anyone he is fighting because he is so good on the ground. In the striking department, he has short arms and doesn't scare people with his striking as much as he could. He stays mobile on his feet, and he's very good at changing angles and coming underneath and covering space when he wants to be.
The key for Natal, in my opinion, is to keep it standing. Natal has a reach advantage and can get a little unpredictable on the feet. He'll get in there and throw down. He'll throw combinations, spinning attacks and mix up the levels his kicks are coming at. As I said, Tim has a tendency to come in too relaxed, and if Natal can keep a high work rate going, he has the chance to steal some rounds. Sometimes you can win rounds against Tim just based on volume. If Natal is throwing that much more than he does, he is the busier fighter and can win a round that way. It would also be really smart of Natal to avoid the takedown. As good as his jiu-jitsu is, he does not want to be on his back with Tim on top of him.
You touched on the issue of respect with Kennedy, and I'd like to get into that a bit more. This fight is a main event, will be a showcase fight and has that "breakout" fight feeling surrounding it. The same can be said for Natal. How crucial do you believe this fight is for both men?
This fight is really crucial for Tim. He is coming a fight against Roger Gracie, who, unless you are an accomplished wrestler with no fear of this guy taking you down; you can't fight him aggressively. That is a fight that is going to be a slower, methodically paced fight. It's a well-known fact the UFC values exciting fighters.
If Tim wants to stay a main event or co-main event guy, he has to put on a show and show his aggressive side. I think this is his chance. Especially since he got off on the wrong foot a little bit with the UFC by speaking his mind. This is a key fight for him to showcase his skill set and what he can do when he's not going against the very best jiu-jitsu practitioner in the world.
As for Natal, he's been a guy who hit a rough patch earlier in his career, but he's been able to put some wins together as of late. There was a time when you wondered if he was going to be able to make it in the UFC, but he's erased those thoughts and has looked great in his last couple fights.
This is a fight where he can become relevant as a prospect in the middleweight division with a win over Kennedy. A win over Tim Kennedy is huge for him. We are talking about a guy who fought close fights with Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Luke Rockhold—two top-tier middleweight fighters in Strikeforce. You beat Tim Kennedy, and that means something. It means you are ready to compete with top 10, maybe top 5 guys.
Let's move on to the women fighting on the card at FFTT3. We all know what Liz Carmouche and Alexis Davis can do, but what seems interesting in this fight is they both kind of do the same thing. They both fight behind a similar style and do so very well. What do you believe are the keys to victory for each fighter in this tilt?
Alexis Davis has to get out there and set the pace. She has to get off first. Whether it is in her striking or setting up her takedowns, Davis has to get there first. The one thing Liz has over her, other than pure physical strength, is "big fight" experience. That experience Liz got against Ronda [Rousey], in a main event with all that media attention was huge. That focus takes a factor in fights. There are times when a guy will not perform so well and we have no idea why, and the real reason is because something is going on their personal life.
When you can truly stay focused and only have one thing going on in your mind in that fight, you can honestly perform that much better. Part of that is being able to deal with the pressure and the media attention. Liz got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in that department when she fought Ronda. It was a huge matchup against Ronda. A historic fight and a huge pay-per-view, and she's going to be used to the spotlight for every fight going forward because of it. She'll be better equipped to deal with all the pressure and allow the best Liz Carmouche to come out and perform.
We are going to see how Davis handles the bright lights and fighting on a military base against a veteran. There are a lot of things working against her in this fight.
With Cat Zingano still injured and Sarah Kaufman losing to Jessica Eye at UFC 166 in Houston, do you believe the winner of this fight jumps right onto the doorstep of the next title shot?
What it really comes down to is how you win. That's a big factor in the UFC. A lot of times people come out and are asking why they didn't get their title shot, and they just don't understand. Look...title shots are for people who deserve them, but at the same time, people who can create a buzz, get people to buy tickets, buy pay-per-views and watch their fights.
If one of these two women can win and do so in impressive fashion, then absolutely. Or, if they can win and were part of an amazing back-and-forth fight, then I can see a title shot coming their way. Especially if Carmouche wins. She put Ronda in the toughest spot yet, and an impressive win would go a long way to her getting another title opportunity. At the same time, with how Liz looked against Ronda, defeating her means something. If Davis can beat Liz in impressive fashion, a title shot could definitely be a possibility.
Throughout your career as a fighter, you were involved in some remarkable battles and you know firsthand what it looks like when two guys enter the cage hungry for the ruckus. In your expert opinion, do you believe there is any possible way the fight between Jorge Masvidal and Rustam Khabilov doesn't deliver absolute fireworks at FFTT3?
In my opinion, there is no way this isn't an exciting fight. I think the fact Masvidal has come out and said the things he's said about Russian fighters and about Khabilov are going to make this an exciting fight. I've trained with Rustam, and I remember the first time he came into Greg Jackson's gym. He didn't speak any English, nobody could communicate with him, and we were trying to get him to realize when you are supposed to stop. He wouldn't stop. He would take you down and keep going.
His wrestling and physical mobility is so impressive. He can put his body in such crazy positions to finish a takedown...even when you are bigger than him. He can also put a pace on you and is better on his feet than people realize. This will be an exciting fight. I said on Twitter, in regard to Rustam's UFC debut, he has the potential to shake up that weight class. He's that good.
I know the focus for every event always goes on the main card—as it should—but FFTT3 has some fights on the undercard that are very exciting matchups and just aren't getting any attention. I wanted to get your thoughts on a few of them starting with the clash between James Krause and Bobby Green. Both came out and had awesome showings in their promotional debuts, but 155-pounds is a shark tank of a division and every chance to move up the divisional ladder is crucial. What are your thoughts on this matchup?
I think the biggest thing is that this is a breakout fight for both guys. They've already put on impressive performances, but let's face it: When you get to the UFC, you are in the NFL of the sport. The fighters are only getting better, and if you are going to be a main card fighter, you have to show consistency. You have to show them you are going to come out and deliver every time.
You have to show them you are going to come out, be in shape and you are going to put on the type of performances fans get excited about. This fight is that opportunity for these guys, and it could possibly work out where both of their stocks go up. They both are making names for themselves as fighters that bring it, and if they do that again in this fight, win, lose or draw their stocks could go up.
Another fight that is flying way under the radar is between Steven Siler and Dennis Bermudez. This fight has the potential to sneak in, steal the show and get Fight of the Night honors. Agree or disagree?
Oh man, no doubt. These two are tough. Steven Siler is one of these guys that for some reason people continue to underestimate him. He is a very well-prepared fighter. He maintains composure and sees openings in fights that are honestly above his level of experience. He's a very good fighter.
Bermudez, on the other hand, is a guy who is going to go balls to the wall for 15 straight minutes. He's a very good wrestler, and the kid has an everlasting battery. He can throw, and that has shown in his last couple of fights. He can brawl and can put combinations together to get inside for his takedowns as well. The thing I want to see now is how Bermudez's chin holds up. He's been buzzed a few times in recent fights. We've seen him rocked, and it has cost him a few fights. I'm interested to see if he can maintain his composure and put together a full game plan without taking as much damage, because a lot of guys don't realize that it takes time off their career.
In addition to everything we've covered thus far, is there anything you've come across in your preparation for the card you feel fans need to be paying attention to?
I'm interested to see how Ronny Markes comes in. I saw his fight against Aaron Simpson in Omaha. It was one of the first Fox shows I did, and he immediately caught my eye. He is a tough matchup, very good at Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but he's actually a very tough wrestler. He is training out of Nova Uniao, which we all know is a fantastic camp and is huge for the weight class.
He is still gaining experience, but he is one of those guys I saw right away and thought he could potentially cause some problems for high-level middleweights because of his size and wrestling skills. He has some power in his hands as well, but where he's struggled is with consistency. He's had some trouble in that department, but I'm interested to see how he comes out and showcases in this fight with it being on the main card.
Another fight I'm very interested in is between Chris Camozzi and Lorenz Larkin. You want to talk about a guy with a chip on his shoulder, Lorenz Larkin is one of them. He has won some key fights but then wanted some big fights and didn't get them. He campaigned to get a shot at the Strikeforce middleweight title, but the bout never materialized. He lost to Francis Carmont, but Carmont is a difficult matchup for anyone. I'm excited to watch Larkin vs. Camozzi because I'm very interested to see how that fight plays out. I really think it has potential to be a good fight on the undercard.
While you have done this column in the past, the reason I reached out to you specifically for this installment is because it is a Fight for the Troops event and you have a truly unique perspective of the situation. You are a decorated war hero. Your company, Hire Heroes works tirelessly to provide jobs for war veterans, and you are still very much active in the military community. What does it mean for you to see the UFC giving back to the troops, and what does it mean for the fighters involved who have military experience going back and putting on a show for our service men and women?
For the UFC to continue to do this and shed light on the sacrifices the men and women in uniform continue to make is tremendous. It means an awful lot to the military. And with my experience running my organization, you see people getting "cause fatigue." When people hear about something so often they kind of become numb to it. They hear about it every six months, and they just get tired of hearing about that cause. It is sad, but it's true. I think because we've been involved with wars and conflicts for so long, it does happen sometimes. People start to forget the sacrifices these men and women go through.
With the Fight for the Troops card specifically, it benefits an organization that helps troops with traumatic brain injuries. We hear about it a lot in the NFL with concussions, and we are starting to hear about it more and more in fighting. Well, when you get blown up, you are talking about some real concussed people. I work with these veterans all the time, and they have some major short-term memory issues, and they have to find a job and provide for their families. They have to find a way to fit into society.
It's great to see an organization like the UFC that is consistently hot on people's radars, always in the news and in current affairs; it's awesome to see them continue to stay the course on this rather than try to shine light on something else that may be the new flavor of the week.
To go out there in front of your fellow veterans and showcase what you have done is a special feeling because a major thing people forget is that these veterans had a large portion of their lives dedicated to something else. It takes a different level of discipline, diligence and sacrifice to make up the ground in such a short period of time. People like Tim Kennedy and Liz Carmouche are training three or four times a day. They are back in the gym a week after their last fight, trying to catch up with the people who have been doing it longer than them. I know that is what it took for me.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.