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War hero Brian Stann won't soon forget his past, but he's ready to move forward

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Most of us have seen dozens of war movies, and have casually referred to a sporting event as a battle.

Brian Stann, who is an honest-to-goodness war hero and a professional fighter on the highest level, would never do such a thing.

Stann understands the vast gulf between true combat and what happens for 15 minutes inside a locked cage.

The ex-Marine Corps captain, who meets Michael Bisping in a three-round middleweight bout on the main card of UFC 152 Saturday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, won a Silver Star in 2006 for extraordinary heroism in Iraq.

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Brian Stann knocked Alessio Sakara out cold in his last fight on April 14. (Getty)

On his official UFC biography, he lists his heroes as Lance Cpl. James Brown, Lance Cpl. William Koprince, Lance Cpl. Rene Martinez and Lance Cpl. Douglas Champlin. All were Marines who died in Iraq while fighting under his command.

Stann became an iconic figure in mixed martial arts almost from the day he signed his first contract with World Extreme Cagefighting. His tales of the atrocities of the war in Iraq were riveting, and could easily be turned into a best-selling book or full-length movie.

But Stann decided earlier this year to end all discussion of active combat during interviews.

"Those are very difficult memories for me and I don't want to keep reliving them," Stann said. "And as time has gone on, reporters have pressed for more and greater detail of things that happened in battle. I would prefer not to bring up those memories all the time."

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He should forever be revered and lauded for his service to his country and his bravery, loyalty and dedication to his men.

But his choice to put that part of his life behind him is the correct one, for a number of reasons.

He's now 31 and 12-4 as a professional fighter, including 6-3 in the UFC. He's had a few quality wins – his knockouts of Chris Leben at UFC 125 and Jorge Santiago at UFC 130 established him as a middleweight contender – but he has yet to beat a guy who is at or near the top of the division.

Both times he got the opportunity, he was badly beaten by a wrestler. He was routed by Phil Davis in a light heavyweight match at UFC 109 in 2010. At UFC 136 last year, he was submitted by Chael Sonnen after being outwrestled for most of the fight.

He's at a crossroads in his career as a fighter. He needs to beat Bisping to send a signal that he's a legitimate contender. Bisping is the highest-rated fighter he's faced, and there's a good chance that the winner of the Bisping-Stann bout would meet the winner of the UFC 155 match between Chris Weidman and Tim Boetsch to determine the division's No. 1 contender.

It's an important bout and Stann knows it. Beating Bisping means something.

"He's a guy ranked ahead of me and that's the kind of fight I've been hoping to get," Stann said.

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An injured shoulder forced Stann to pull out of a scheduled Aug. 4 bout in Los Angeles against Hector Lombard, who at the time had been unbeaten in 25 fights. When he healed, Stann was matched with Bisping, who is coming off a loss in his last outing, yet it's still a more significant fight.

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Brian Stann's punching power and military background has endeared him to UFC fans. (AP)

The colorful Bisping, who has almost carried the promotion of UFC 152 on his back with his clever interviews and frequently outrageous lines, is one of the most underrated fighters in the world.

Sonnen raves about his toughness and regularly refers to Bisping as the toughest man he's met. Bisping is 22-4 and his second-round knockout loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 100 is the only clear-cut defeat of his career. His losses to Rashad Evans at UFC 78 (split decision), Wanderlei Silva at UFC 110 (unanimous decision) and Sonnen at UFC on Fox 2 (unanimous decision) were all razor-thin bouts that could have gone either way.

A win over Bisping would clearly make Stann a leading contender for a middleweight title shot.

Getting to that level would have a further benefit for Stann: It would put more of the focus on his MMA and off his military career.

Stann will be a Marine until the day he dies, but he's only going to be a fighter for a short while.

There will be a time when, perhaps, Stann will choose to share his story with the world. Until he does, though, it's only fair to evaluate him strictly on his MMA.

Stann knows better than pretty much anyone what a real battle is all about.

In the sporting sense, however, Saturday will be a battle. And Stann needs to earn his stripes in this one.

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