The team of analysts for the UFC on Fox Sports 1 and Fox broadcasts has been providing the most in-depth coverage that 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," the current front-runner for MVP in the analyst game in 2013, Brian Stann, paid another visit to our column. The "All-American" has stopped by on several occasions in the past and with each visit has brought us closer to renaming his installments "Dropping Science" for the alchemy-like wizardry he brings to the table.
Since Stann's recent retirement from settling the opposition inside the Octagon, he has been busy working with the Fox broadcast teams in both MMA and college football. The former Navy linebacker did a knockout job covering ACC football during the regular season and has hit the phone booth just in time to get his cape back on to hit the action for this weekend's card at UFC on Fox 9 in Sacramento, Calif.
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.
Here is what he had to say about the action set to go down on Saturday night at UFC on Fox 9.
Bleacher Report: We have a title fight at the top of the card, and what better place to start than a scrap with some championship gold on the line? Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez have already put in a five-round dance, and “Mighty Mouse” emerged victorious from their bout at UFC 152 last September. It is just north of a year since their first fight, and Benavidez has picked up three solid wins since. What will be different about this fight, and what are your thoughts about such a quick turnaround between title shots?
Brian Stann: I think in this particular case a quick turnaround is justified. The first fight was so close between Benavidez and Johnson, and Benavidez has been on a tear since. If he was winning close decisions against the guys he's faced, it would be different, but he's knocking people out and winning in definitive fashion. I think that makes a statement and showcases he's the guy who is next in line and ready for another shot. That being said, the UFC is not a huge fan of giving someone three shots at the title when the same champion is holding the belt. So there is a lot of pressure on Joseph Benavidez coming into this fight, and I think a big part of what determines the outcome is how he handles that when the fight starts.
This sport is so mental it's incredible, and fighters succeed in different parts of their careers depending on how they do mentally. Look at Cub Swanson. It wasn't that he went out and learned all of these new skills. It was 90 percent north of his neck. What took place in his career now has made him most likely a title challenger now at 145 pounds. I think another big question in this fight is whether Demetrious Johnson is still hungry, or has he become complacent? We know he's still getting better because we've seen it in every title defense so far, and if that progress is continuing, then he's going to be very difficult to beat.
At the same token, how hungry is Benavidez? He has a new coach with Duane "Bang" Ludwig who has been instrumental in the development of his striking and has him to where he's knocking people out now. There were a lot of punches in the first fight that did land on Johnson that, hey...if you move those punches a couple centimeters left or right (then) maybe it ends the fight for him. Who knows what could take place in this main event, but it's going to be exciting.
B/R: Benavidez has shown an improved striking game and an increase in punching power, and Johnson has shown he can be rocked. That said, D.J. is making a career out of turning up the intensity from the third round out, and no one, including Benavidez, has been able to keep up. How much of a factor does Johnson’s ability to push and keep a pace affect this fight?
BS: I think his ability to push the pace certainly affects the fight. But more importantly than that, what I see when I break down D.J.'s fights is his ability to make subtle adjustments midstream in a fight to change the course of the fight. A lot of that comes from his coach Matt Hume who really sees the big picture when he's cornering fighters.
Besides the fight between Benavidez and Johnson, people are going to see an epic duel between coaches in this fight that is going to be uncanny. Here you have Duane Ludwig who is this fast-rising coach who has done an amazing job and is most likely going to win Coach of the Year against one of the all-time greatest coaches in the game in Matt Hume. That is going to be really fun to listen in on that corner cam and hear what kind of adjustments these coaches are telling their fighters to make. It's going to be exciting to see their initial game plans unfold and to watch that coaching battle as the fight plays out.
I think Johnson's ability to make adjustments during the fight is incredible. I think he's the best of all the champions in the UFC at making the changes he needs to make in order to win the fight. In the first fight it was his footwork, his takedowns and his pace that won the fight for him. He made some adjustments though between the first and second round and you can hear Matt Hume tell him that he was using such great footwork and great angles, but when he was making his cuts to hit an angle, he was creating too much distance between himself and Joseph, which didn't allow him to counterpunch effectively.
He had to tighten down those angles and he did that in the second round. He also did it later in the fight where he would hit an angle and still be able to reach out and counterpunch Benavidez effectively. He could hit an angle and kick or hit it and take Benavidez's back and eventually land the takedown, which helped him win a couple of rounds. Benavidez didn't score any takedowns in that first fight and I believe Demetrious Johnson landed three, which could be the determining factor when you have such fast, highly skilled guys who are very good everywhere.
B/R: In the fight business, someone always has to lose, and there is a lot at stake here for Benavidez. Since his WEC days in the bantamweight division, he’s always worked to become a champion but found himself in limbo after falling to Dominick Cruz two times in relatively quick turnarounds. I believe he’s facing the same situation here where if he loses, it will be hard to justify another title shot anytime soon if Johnson is holding the title. What is your take on Benavidez’s current situation and the aftermath if he doesn’t get the job done Saturday night?
BS: If he doesn't get the job done, we certainly aren't going to see him clean out the division and challenge for the title again any time soon. And I'm sure he understands that. At the same time, Benavidez is all class. He's a very well-spoken individual, he's a great representative for the sport and he's extremely entertaining to watch fight. I think he's still going to find himself in top-level fights if he loses to Johnson on Saturday night because he's a finisher. If you can win fights definitively and in brutal fashion, you are going to find people who want to see you fight for the title again. He's also young and still getting better.
While I think a loss in this rematch would be difficult for him and put him in a tough position, he is certainly the caliber of fighter similar to Urijah Faber, where he can go out and get wins and still hold a high-ranking position in the division. It may take him one, two or three years, be he has all the tools necessary to earn another shot at the title down the line. He can work himself back to the title again because he's only going to continue to get better.
B/R: Moving on to the co-main event in a fight that is big enough to be the main event on almost any other card between Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald. There is a lot at stake in this fight because there are title shot implications on the line and a bigger dialogue about the established fighter versus the next wave. I’m by no means saying Faber is “old school” or “the past,” but how do you see that aspect of the fight, and do you agree this bout represents a current star against what could be a future star?
BS: I think that is an accurate assessment. And I don't blame Urijah for saying he's part of the future as well because he has a lot left in his tank. There aren't too many guys who are as established as Urijah is and have won all the titles and done the things he's done—that are as hungry as he is. I don't know if I've ever seen a veteran like him continue to improve after so many years in the game. He is still adding new things to his game, but it is a case of what you were asking about.
What people are talking about when they say that is a guy like Michael McDonald, who came into this sport at an extremely young age and (is) already polished in every facet of his game. And that is the future. The future isn't going to be title fights between a couple of 40-year-olds like it used to be, who took years and years to gain all the skills necessary to be successful inside the Octagon because you have young kids who are learning wrestling, striking and jiu-jitsu now, and they are breaking down each discipline separately and learning how to integrate them.
They are coming into the UFC at 18 or 19 years old, similar to the sport of boxing. In the sport of boxing, if you aren't in your early 20s, you're struggling if you aren't already hitting your prime by then.
B/R: In terms of a stylistic matchup, this fight is a guaranteed barn burner. Faber brings his nonstop pace and wrestling, while McDonald has that unique one-shot, put-away power for a bantamweight. What are your thoughts on how this fight plays out?
BS: It is really difficult to beat Urijah Faber on points. He only loses title fights and you have to be a very accomplished wrestler to beat him. More than that, you have to be able to fight well in the transitions to beat him. While a takedown occurs, getting back to your feet and in the clinch game...the places I call the "in-between parts" of MMA. He's so good in those areas and mixing things up. He fakes takedowns and goes for kicks, knees and punches. He fakes punches and goes for takedowns. He fakes a guard pass and then drops an elbow on you. He really has some unique subtleties to his game that are so difficult to prepare for.
Where Michael McDonald is certainly the one fighter in this matchup on a moment's notice, it's going to be difficult to do in this fight. While I think he has the ability to do it, his ability to stay off his back and out of the clinch with Urijah is really important in this fight. He needs space to do what he does best, and that is to put people unconscious. Urijah is really good at closing the distance by using all kinds of feints and switching stances from lefty to righty. He uses a lot of deception to get you on the ground, and then when you try to get up or try to sweep him, that's where Urijah takes your back, sinks in a choke and finishes the fight. I think that's where Michael McDonald has to be extremely prepared, and it is going to be fun to watch.
B/R: You touched on an interesting fact earlier, which shows you've come across it in your research, and that is Urijah Faber has never been defeated in a fight where there wasn’t a title on the line. The Team Alpha Male leader is 20-0 in bouts under these circumstances. Do you think there is a bigger story there or is it just happenstance (that) things have played out this way?
BS: I think it's happenstance...especially when you look at the guys he's fought and lost to. He fought a Mike Brown who was at the top of his game. Mike Brown has been in the game for a long time and he was the world's best featherweight at the time he beat Urijah Faber. Urijah made a lot of changes in his game and then dropped down a weight class. He lost to Dominick Cruz, who is a fantastic fighter. He lost to Renan Barao who is phenomenal. It's not like he's lost to chumps and he always shows up for big fights.
It's not the type of situation where anyone could claim that he chokes in big fights. He's losing to some amazing fighters, like Jose Aldo and Renan Barao. What I've seen from him—especially in the last year-and-a-half—is a guy who has accomplished so much in the sport but is still improving. He's good everywhere but still pushing to become better, and 90 percent of the time, a guy who is making good money and is a star will become complacent. They like to train the way they like to train with the coaches they like to train with. They surround themselves with a bunch of "yes" men and women who do what they want them to do. Urijah hasn't done that.
He has consistently built one of the best camps in the sport. He sought out Duane Ludwig, a guy he knew could add value to his team and increase his skill set to make him that much better, which isn't easy to do after so many years in the sport. But he went out and found himself a new coach who was going to make him break out of some molds and make him do things differently than he's ever done them before. Mind you, those things he was doing before had made him very successful, but he still pressed on with the changes and learned how to do things differently.
That shows me a guy who is still hungry and still capable of wearing gold one day. That shows me a guy who is willing to go those extra lengths to get better and isn't locked in the mindset that he knows it all. That shows a lot of humility, so it would not surprise me at all to see Urijah Faber in another title fight. He's continuously improved his skills and we've seen the type of impact Duane Ludwig has had on Team Alpha Male.
B/R: We’ll stay in the Alpha Male ranks for another big fight on the card between Chad Mendes and Nik Lentz. Mendes has been a perennial contender in the featherweight division, and Lentz is the new kid on the block in those regards. I spoke to both this week, and I’m truly pumped up for the way Lentz is talking heading into this fight. He says Mendes has zero advantages over him physically or otherwise and he’s going to win this fight. How do you see this action going down?
BS: I applaud what Nik Lentz is saying. You should exude confidence and make sure you're ready when you walk into that cage. Chad Mendes is a phenomenal athlete and he has the total package. He's incredibly strong and now we've seen the type of knockout power he has, which is very good for 145 pounds. For Nik Lentz, at least for me and what I've broken down, his best chance of winning this fight is to really make it a grind.
He's going to struggle to get Chad Mendes down to the mat but he can put him up against the cage. He has to turn it into the type of fight where people may boo him, but he has to wear out Mendes' arms to reduce his power in the second half of this fight. He has to tie him up and wear him down with short knees, foot stomps and elbows from the clinch. He has to grind him down in order to beat him because if he creates too much space—even though Lentz has a slight reach advantage—he's going to be dealing with dynamite.
Chad Mendes is putting together combinations now. He has good head movement, powerful punches and he can knock anyone out on the planet. It's going to be a struggle for Lentz to strike him with space. He's going to struggle to put Mendes on his back, and if he gives him too much space, Mendes could put him on his back, and no one wants to be underneath Mendes at 145 pounds. I think Lentz is going to have to grind him down against the cage and wear Mendes' arms out so in that second and third round, he won't have that knockout power and it will give Lentz a better chance of out-striking him on the feet and controlling him.
B/R: The featherweight upper tier is more crowded than it’s ever been in the past, with a handful of stars all vying for a title opportunity. While Lentz isn’t necessarily an established contender at this point, could you see a victory over Mendes earning him the next shot at the 145-pound belt?
BS: Man, I'll tell you what. Is it me or is the featherweight division not one of the most exciting—if not the most exciting—divisions in the UFC right now? It's crazy right now and who gets the next title shot is so hard to say. Chad Mendes is an absolute monster. Cub Swanson is a beast. You throw in Frankie Edgar who is one of the most well-rounded and toughest fighters on the planet. And then you have the champion Jose Aldo who is just phenomenal. It's incredible, to be honest. In order for Chad to finally get another shot at the title, he has to make the most of being on a Fox card, which is a big deal, and he has to get another dominate victory in brutal fashion, which will put a ton of hype behind his name and make it where people want to see him fight Jose Aldo again.
He was a puppy when he fought Aldo the first time. I don't know how long he had been in the sport, but it wasn't all that long. And there aren't many guys—unless they come from an All-American wrestling background—who can shoot up the rankings the way Mendes did. But he is a completely different fighter now. He's added so many new skills and his game is so much more complete. I know I personally would love to see him fight Jose Aldo again, but there is so much talent in this division that it is hard to say who deserves the next shot between Mendes, Swanson and Edgar. But I think Mendes can bypass all of them with another knockout or submission victory.
B/R: A few other fights I want to touch on really quickly, and we’ll start with Joe Lauzon vs. Mac Danzig. Both fighters have faced some tough luck as of late, but both are regarded for their ability to battle back from difficult circumstances. Both have lost back-to-back showings and three of their last four. Is it “winner stays, loser goes” in this fight?
BS: It's really hard to say that with fights anymore. Sometimes you get guys who are down on their luck and, like I said earlier, this sport is so mental. Fighters go in and out of different focus phases in the sport. They can possess the same skill set, but their confidence is different. Then all of a sudden they go on incredible streaks and put themselves in the top five or get themselves a title shot. I think what we need to see from one or both of these guys is that they have to get to that phase or that level of focus again.
If one of them was to get knocked out or finished in the first round of this fight and not have a great showing, it could be a possibility. But both of these guys put on such exciting and complete performances before that people are always going to want to buy a ticket or pay-per-view to watch them fight. I have a feeling this could be a very well-rounded, three-round battle where I don't care who loses: Both of these guys are coming back so we can see them do it again.
B/R: One bout that may be flying under the radar is Scott Jorgensen vs. Zach Makovsky. “Young Guns” is making his flyweight debut, and Makovsky is making his promotional debut. How important is this fight for both men, and how do you see it playing out?
BS: It's extremely important...especially for Scott Jorgensen. You are talking about a guy who has climbed to the top of the ladder but has struggled as of late. I talked earlier about fighters getting stale in their training, and I think Scott is primed and ready to get into an upswing where he's focused, learning new things and breaking out of the mold. He's getting into a weight class where he can be more physical, and we'll see how he performs.
On the flip side with Zach, he doesn't have as much pressure. He's fighting a guy with an established name who has been ranked in the top five before. If he can put up a great battle win or lose, I think he really raises his stock in the flyweight division and he can build a home in the UFC. So I think there is less pressure on Zach than there is Scott coming into this fight.
B/R: I know you do a tremendous amount of research as you head into analyst duties, and I wanted to know if there was anything we didn’t cover—a particular fight or specific fighter—you feel fans need to keep their eyes on?
BS: I think the Roger Bowling vs. Abel Trujillo is a fight people aren't giving enough attention to. This thing on the Fox Sports 1 prelims could be absolute fireworks. Their first fight was absolutely entertaining. These guys are two hard-hitting, roughneck guys that when you sign them up for a fight, that's what you are going to get. Period.
It could be really interesting. Bowling is always a tough guy to face. Trujillo is a member of the Blackzilians, and the addition of coach Kenny Monday has been a huge change. We've talked about coaches a couple times today and we are really seeing the importance of good coaches now in this sport. Kenny Monday is a champion in wrestling. He's gone down there and instilled a championship mindset with real training and training cycles.
He's building champions down there and I think he's created a tremendous amount of change in a camp that had a lot of moving parts. They had a lot of different coaches coming in there and that may not have allowed all the talent they have on that team to reach its potential. Kenny is one of those guys who holds people accountable and can get them to their highest level of potential. I'm interested because Trujillo is a very good athlete whose potential could be through the roof. He was starting to fade a little bit in their first fight, so it will be interesting to see how things go this time. But I think this fight is going to start us off on these prelims in the right fashion.
B/R: You pointed out a great fight for fans to focus on, and when talking about this second fight, you have to look at the controversial way that their first fight ended. There seemed to be a little bit of bad blood flowing between these two, and that could add some additional fireworks to what should already be a barn burner.
BS: These guys are violent and they are my brand. They are going to get in there, draw a line and say, "Look buddy, there is the line and I dare you to cross it." That's the type of fighters these two are, and I'm very excited to watch it.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez
If Demetrious Johnson has gotten comfortable and complacent as a champion and Benavidez is focused, hungry and in the zone, I think Benavidez can win this fight by knockout. I don't expect that because D.J. has gotten better with every single defense and I think he does just enough to win another split decision. I think it's his footwork that keeps him away from Benavidez's big shots and a couple well-timed takedowns that narrowly win him the rounds to earn a decision or a split-decision victory.
Stann's pick: Demetrious Johnson
Urijah Faber vs. Michael McDonald
I see this fight the way a lot of others are seeing it. McDonald can put your lights out at any minute but I don't expect Faber to give him the chance to do it. I think Faber is going to pull out some really close rounds, and I think he may even get hurt at a point or two. But he finds a way to get the job done with subtleties. He uses movement, deception, takedowns, transitions and grappling. I think he finds a way to win this fight by decision or if he catches McDonald with a choke.
Stann's pick: Urijah Faber
Chad Mendes vs. Nik Lentz
I think Nik Lentz is a great fighter, but this is a really tough matchup for him. Chad Mendes is such an animal and he's in that zone where his focus and confidence are sky high. I think Chad wins this fight impressively.
Stann's pick: Chad Mendes
Joe Lauzon vs. Mac Danzig
I think this is going to be a really close fight, but I really think Lauzon's ability to pull out those types of fights where you really have to dig deep and find a way is going to make the difference. He has a tendency to win those kinds of fights, and I give him the slight advantage.
Stann's pick: Joe Lauzon
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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