By his own estimation, Brian Stann has three or four years left competing at a high level and chasing a UFC title.
Stann already sees the future, though, and knows his time is running out. He believes the quality of the athletes and the level of competition in the sport is about to increase exponentially.
A lot of that, said Stann, who meets the legendary striker Wanderlei Silva on Saturday in Tokyo in the main event of UFC on Fuel 8, is because of dramatically improved coaching.
MMA is an amalgamation of many combat sports and, until recently, full-time coaches who are qualified to teach the sport had yet to emerge.
"I don't think we've found the best training methods yet," Stann said. "You have to understand, most of the coaches who are coaching UFC fighters did not grow up fighting in the UFC. This sport wasn't around for them. And so, I think you're going to see this next generation of coaches who come into the game, and they're going to have a significant impact.
"You already have a guy like Duane Ludwig, who's fought in the UFC and knows what it takes, [he] coaches guys already. Guys who have grown up in the sport and know it so well, I think they'll change the dynamics in training."
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Boxing has had legendary coaches such as Ray Arcel, Chappy Blackburn, Eddie Futch, Cus D'Amato, Angelo Dundee, Gil Clancy and Freddie Roach, among others, over the years who have been able to develop prospects from amateurs into elite champions.
In MMA, though, the fighters often train themselves and it's not uncommon to see elite fighters working the corners of their training partners. Though the fighters have more knowledge than most, they're busy in their own careers and haven't developed coaching skills or techniques to become good teachers and developers of talent.
But as many in the current generation of fighters opt to retire and start sharing their knowledge with others, the quality of the training figures to increase dramatically.
"These guys in the UFC now, they're making money, and when they're making money, they can afford to pay coaches," Stann said. "That's going to allow guys to say, 'OK, this is my career. There's money in it and I can make a living doing it, so I'm going to be a coach. My time in the Octagon is done, but I want to transition into being a coach.'
"Take a guy like [ex-UFC fighter] Kenny Florian. He's got a great television career ahead of him, so he's probably not going to bother doing much coaching. But knowing Kenny as I do, if he wanted to, he could be one of the top MMA coaches in the world overnight because of the amount of knowledge he has and the time he spent learning and studying. We don't see that kind of guy out there yet coaching guys, because the sport is so young. It's coming, though."
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The Stann-Silva fight, though, will pit two of the sport's veterans against each other. Silva, in particular, has been an iconic figure since back in the early days of MMA.
Stann calls it "a great privilege, and an honor," to fight Silva, but he's also aware that he badly needs to win himself.
"I want to go out and dominate and finish this fight, without a doubt," Stann said. "I think I'm better than he is everywhere now, and I don't mean that as an insult. I'm just being honest. I've trained very, very hard for this fight, but I always train hard. I don't know many guys who train as hard and with as much detail as I do. This is an important stretch for me and I've been razor-focused on this fight.
"I'm looking to take the fight wherever it needs to go to finish it. I'm not looking for a decision; I'm looking to finish the fight."
He had a difficult year in 2012 primarily because of family issues. His brother-in-law died and other things crept up in his personal life that split his attention.
Stann split his two fights in 2012, stopping Alessio Sakara and dropping a decision to Michael Bisping. That put him far back in the pecking order at middleweight, and he knows he's got to string together some wins to begin the climb back.
He plans to start that by defeating Silva.
"I feel a great sense of urgency to go out there and get it done," Stann said. "I think I have three, four more good years in this sport before I call it a day, and so I've dedicated myself to making myself the best I can be for those years, however many are left.
"I believe I'm making the kinds of improvement and the progress I need to make [in training] and I have to translate that to [wins] in the cage."
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