Stann will have an army of support vs. Billington
Posted: Monday September 3, 2007 4:32PM; Updated: Tuesday September 4, 2007 11:21AM
What does go through a man's mind when the cage door closes behind him and he prepares to fight another man? If you are First Lieutenant Brian Stann, maybe you think about Operation Matador and about that bridge in Iraq. The one near Karabilah that you and your Marines were charged with securing, so that insurgents could not flee north.
Maybe you think about that night in May 2005, a third of the way around the world, with the platoon you were leading rolling along in tanks and humvees as casually as if you were caravanning to the movies back in Scranton, Pa. You cannot forget how dozens of rockets streaked in front of your night vision goggles, piercing the desert calm, lighting up the bottoms of the clouds. "Really, it was beautiful," you say even now. A beautiful ambush. As suddenly as that, you found a surfeit of destruction laid out before you: not just machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades, but roadside bombs and kamikaze vehicles. "Adverse conditions," you call it in your clinical battle-speak.
Maybe that's how Miguel Cosio thinks of the ambush of fists you sprung on him in the first round of your second pro mixed martial arts fight last summer. The TKO came in 16 seconds. "I think they let the clock run a little long," you joke. Just a few extra seconds. Like the ones your men could not afford when the enemy rammed cars into one of your humvees, hoping to seize it. But you got all the men out and recovered the humvee before U.S. choppers bailed you out. "It's amazing to watch Marines in that situation," you say. "Instead of getting scared, they get pretty pissed off." All of your more than 60 Marines got out alive, though some with injuries.
Maybe you want to leave Operation Matador, and Karabilah, and RPGs and humvees and IEDs behind when the cage door closes. Maybe you don't want to dwell on everything you saw over there, because if you saw too much and you dwell too much you might end up like one of your martial arts students at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, with things that no one should see seared into your brain, lingering on the insides of your eyelids when you try to fall asleep. Like that Marine who came back from Iraq, but his buddies did not. He has regained his confidence, though, training at your side, with you helping "facilitate discussion among warriors," as you call it. All of the sudden he's going home at night fit, and calm, and not angry.
Calm. Maybe that's how you'll step into the World Extreme Cagefighting ring on Wednesday to make your second appearance on national TV, with Marines across the nation hooting and hollering and sending their semper fi's for one of their own. You have to stay calm, because that's what Marines do in adverse conditions, and you know your guys will be watching. You know the people at the military supply store near Camp Lejeune that hung a sign to let everybody know you'd be fighting will be tuned in. You know your training buddy. Staff Sergeant Trevor Wargo, will be watching.
Trevor will have a smile on his face while he watches you stalk toward your opponent, because he knows what the guy is in for, because Trevor lifted weights with you in Iraq and he swears you can bench 400 pounds. And because he got a taste of the power in your legs last month when you two were sparring and he ducked a punch and you kicked him in the forehead. An hour later, Trevor's head was in such shape that he forgot his ID card and locked his keys in his car.
Maybe it's love you'll take into the ring. You only get to spend about an hour or so a night with Teressa, your biggest fan, and you're always apologizing to her for not being there when, after a long day at the base, you spend hours working on your muay thai. But this is for you, you tell her, and for Alexandra when she's born later this month, so that you both can have the life you dream of.
And she understands. She can't be mad at you. Not when she can still see you in her head strutting across the 20-yard-line at Lincoln Financial Field on Jan. 1, 2006. Teressa, then an Eagles cheerleader, had always pictured the perfect marriage proposal happening in one of two entirely opposite settings: on a serene bridge in Italy, or at the 50-yard-line of the Eagles' stadium. One of her friends tipped you off to the latter wish. Because you were leaving for Iraq, you had only days to plan the proposal, get the ring and "go ahead and execute."
Following the Eagles 20-31 loss to the Redskins, you acquired the target. All the cheerleaders were assembled at midfield to take a picture with a lucky, promotional contest-winning fan. Teressa did not know that you had commandeered her cell phone to do a little strategic reconnaissance. You got the number of the cheerleaders director and rigged this particular contest.
'That can't be Brian!' Teressa thought, incredulous at the prospect that her sweetheart had won the contest. "What are you doing?" she mouthed silently as you crossed the 40. Then you called her out of the group, and got down on your knee. Think being locked in a cage with a man trying to smash your face is scary? Try being on one knee on the Jumbotron at Lincoln Financial. A few cheerleaders screamed, a few laughed, and at least one or two started crying. Objective accomplished.
But she's too pregnant to be ringside this time, for the biggest mixed martial arts bout of your career. Your 5-foot-3 cheerleader had to settle for exhorting you to "kick his ass" on your MySpace page. And you can't take your Marines in the cage with you either.
And Jeremiah Billington, who's 10-1 as a pro fighter, doesn't care about that silver star you won in Iraq, or about your perfect 4-0 record -- that's more wins than you notched in your final three years as a linebacker at Navy. The last time Billington lost was 2001, and he needs this win in his WEC debut. He doesn't even know that the exposure you're getting knocking people out allowed you to become a spokesman for Hire Heroes, a non-profit that helps wounded veterans find jobs.
So what will you take into the cage with you? You really aren't worried about it, because, as you know "the worst thing that can happen is I get beat up." That cage hardly even qualifies as adverse conditions.