Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen and light heavyweight Brian Stann have more in common than their presence on the UFC 109 fight card. They’re both smart (Sonnen’s degree is in sociology; Stann’s in economics), well-spoken, accomplished athletes. Both have served their country – Sonnen as an elected official; Stann in the US Marines. And if you look closer into their MMA resumes, they share something else – a pro career in the WEC.
Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen and light heavyweight Brian Stann have more in common than their presence on the UFC 109 fight card. (Click to see 109 weigh-in.) They’re both smart (Sonnen’s degree is in sociology; Stann’s in economics), well-spoken, accomplished athletes. Both have served their country – Sonnen as an elected official; Stann in the US Marines. And if you look closer into their MMA resumes, they share something else – a pro career in the WEC.
The WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) started in 2001. The legacy of standout fighters like Sonnen and Stann (not to mention guys like Brandon Vera, Mike Swick, Nate Diaz and Kurt Pellegrino) has helped propel the WEC into an A-List promotion. In April, the WEC will hold its first PPV with a stacked card and two title fights featuring stars like Urijah Faber, Ben Henderson and 2009 Fighter of the Year Jose Aldo.
Power Under Pressure
Stann won five fights and the light heavyweight belt in the WEC before debuting in the UFC last spring. “Brian is what this sport is all about,” says Reed Harris, WEC founder and general manager. “When he was in WEC, he was just starting to realize his potential. You could tell that the military taught him the meaning of perseverance. He’s got a fire that is just hard to teach.”
Stann evolved as a fighter during right as WEC burst onto the mainstream mixed martial arts scene – an experience that shaped him. “It was a new organization and we took a lot of pride in it blowing up so fast,” he says. “In the WEC, I learned how to fight in big fights, how to prepare at a high level and how to deal with pressure.”
Sonnen’s first fight with the WEC was in 2004, and he fought in both promotions for the next several years. In his last WEC fight, Sonnen decisioned middleweight champ Paulo Filho – but didn’t get the belt since Filho failed to make weight for the bout. Sonnen’s steady title march continues this weekend in his fight against Nate Marquardt – one that Dana White has said will determine the next man to compete for the middleweight championship.
“Chael personifies the type of athletes we have in the WEC and UFC,” says Harris. “He’s a gifted fighter with the desire to fight the best. Chael doesn’t want easy fights, it’s just not in his makeup.”
In 2006, Zuffa bought the brand, eventually absorbing the 185 and 205 weight classes. The promotion now exclusively features bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight fights, and its athletes stand out for their style as much as their mass.
“The lighter weights are so much fun to watch,” says Sonnen. “The bigger you go, the less athletic it gets. The smaller guys are the real athletes who can get their bodies into different positions that guys further up the ladder can’t.”
Stann agrees: “The fights that have been taking place in the WEC are among the most exciting fights I have ever seen. I have never watched a card that didn’t leave me thinking, ‘Wow, that was incredible!’”
So this weekend, when you catch yourself asking “How did he do that?” while Stann, Sonnen or Swick are inside the Octagon, you’ll know… Maybe it’s all that hard work and training, or maybe it’s just that WEC blood.