Two days before Christmas my wife lost her little brother, Louie, in a very violent death. He was only 26 years old and it was horribly unexpected. Her mother lives with us and, in order to get them both through this tragedy, I decided to rearrange my whole training camp for my next fight — against Alessio Sakara on April 14 on UFC on FUEL TV — and do things differently. I relocated my camp from Albuquerque and trained from home in Scranton, Pa.
I’m still very much a part of Team Jackson, and both Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn have been coaching me through this camp from afar. They’ve been watching tape, passing on advice and will definitely be out in Sweden with me during fight week and on the night of the fight itself. I missed seeing the guys in Albuquerque, but, for the sake of my family, knew I’d made the right decision in staying home.
People lose sight of the fact that life continues when us guys are caught up in the isolation of training camp. Try as we might to focus purely on the fight, you can’t ignore what life is going to throw at you along the way. My wife and I never expected such a tragedy to unfold just before Christmas, but it just goes to show that mixed martial arts is a sport, nothing more, and that family will always conquer all, as far as I’m concerned.
It goes without saying that this has been an incredibly difficult time for my wife and our family. Rather than allow it to beat us up and question my role as a fighter, however, I’ve tried to approach it a different way. I’ve used this horrible situation to regain some perspective, both on my fighting career and life itself.
Something like this only helps to remind me just why I fight. I am responsible for supporting my family, both emotionally and financially, and mixed martial arts is the way in which I am able to do this. They need my help at a time like this and, thankfully, the UFC has given me an opportunity to provide for them.
It also really put the notion of loss into perspective for me. My last professional loss, to Chael Sonnen in October, wasn’t a testing time at all, in retrospect. That was just a defeat. I lost a fight. What could have gone wrong, did go wrong. That was all. Nobody got hurt and there was no irreparable damage.
Through all the trials and tribulations of my life, mixed martial arts has always been my release, my form of escapism. I’ve used it as my sanctuary from the genuinely harrowing events that have taken place in my life, both during my time in the military and in regular home life.
Ask any fighter and they’ll tell you the same thing: The opportunity to go away and train two or three times a day and prepare for a fight is a wonderful distraction from the tougher challenges in life. After you’re done from a really tough workout, and you’re tired, hurt and broken down, you get these strange moments of true clarity and perspective, moments that allow you to focus on what life means to you.
Unlike the Sonnen loss, the death of my brother-in-law was a genuinely trying situation. I remember the moment I heard the news like it was only yesterday. We were in baggage claim when I got the call. It was our first time home in Pennsylvania, where we planned to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with our families. I had to tell my wife the news as we landed in Pennsylvania. There is nothing worse than watching the woman you love be completely devastated and heartbroken by a piece of news you’ve delivered to her. It was one of the lowest points of my life.
A lot of people would use an tragedy like this as a potential excuse if they were then unable to perform to their best come fight night. But I can assure everybody reading this, as well as my opponent, Alessio Sakara, that I will be more than ready come April 14. There will be nothing else in the world that I would rather do on that night than step into the octagon and fight.
In fact, after the tragedy I spoke to my family and all the guys at the gym, and everybody came to me with the same advice — they all said I needed to get back in there and compete as soon as possible. No good would come from contacting the UFC and asking for some time off. This is what I do, and this is what I do to provide for my family. Also, my brother-in-law was a big supporter of my career and would have hated for me to either just give up or put the whole thing on hold.
As we’ve moved closer to this April 14 date, my wife has made a conscious effort to use my fight as a necessary distraction for herself as well. She’s helping me prepare and has invested emotionally into this fight. She’s also turning the whole episode into a positive and is opening up a foundation in her brother’s name. That really shows the strength of my wife.
Adversity is always what truly defines people, and last Christmas was the most testing time for my family — for me, my wife, my kids and everybody else. It was as tough a situation as any of us have experienced. In my mind, this fight on April 14 will go some way to memorializing Louie and showing once again that adversity can be overcome with a strong family and positive outlook. In light of everything that’s happened, I’ve never in my life been more determined and motivated to win a fight. This is the absolute worst time to fight me right now.
How do you think I should go about winning the fight? Tweet me your thoughts @BrianStann.
Middleweight contender Brian Stann battles Italian striker Alessio Sakara in Stockholm, Sweden on April 14 live on FUEL TV.