LAS VEGAS -- It surely didn't eclipse the joy and relief of returning home after his arduous tours of duty in Iraq, but winning a legitimate championship in spectacular fashion might have come close for U.S. Marine Brian Stann.
A slight underdog, Stann knocked out WEC light heavyweight champion Doug Marshall on Wednesday to take the 205-pound title.
After spending several months in the Middle East, Stann figured that whatever Marshall threw his way would pale in comparison to what the soldier saw during war. Stann had to wade through a downpour of fistic torment, but after just 95 seconds of fury, he was the new champion.
"This belt represents all my Marines and my friends who couldn't be here right now, who died in combat with me," an emotional Stann said immediately following his conquest of Marshall. "I have to live my life to the fullest for them."
The main event was expected to be a tapestry of fireworks, and the battle more than delivered on those expectations. Stann was able to fend off the typically aggressive Marshall, who charged in with wild punches. A few glancing blows landed, but Stann -- knowing that he couldn't make a mistake against the smaller, yet arguably more powerful champion -- was undaunted.
Marshall then pressed his challenger along the cage and swung for the fences, only to miss badly on a few too many haymakers. Finally, after a loopy right hand had whiffed by mere inches and while Marshall recoiled for a left hook, Stann unfurled a jarring left of his own.
The punch dropped "The Rhino" onto his back, and Stann raised his fists, then dove onto his fallen adversary with a series of punches. Within seconds referee Herb Dean was ripping Stann away, prompting an end to the contest.
Although Marshall wasn't completely out cold while he lay flat on his back, he was clearly out of it and the stoppage was justified. Marshall had been a bit overzealous with his attack and left himself wide open for a perfect counterpunch.
"He's had this belt for a long time," Stann said of Marshall. "He's defended it twice. I can only hope to do as well as he has in representing the WEC and representing this belt."
Stann had altered his training in the weeks leading up to the title fight by preparing with Team Quest. He planned to be more patient and compact with his punches -- a streamlined effort that paid dividends in the end.
Sonnen makes short work of Baker
Chael Sonnen was demoted on the card after opponent Paulo Filho's withdrawal, but that didn't deter the Oregonian from triumph inside the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Fill-in Bryan Baker was in way over his head against the Team Quest fighter; he wound up being pummeled for three full rounds.
Sonnen had Baker tied in knots from the start. He scored several takedowns, defended every submission attempt and lumped up Baker's face with a barrage of punches and elbows. In the end, Sonnen won a hard-fought but lopsided unanimous decision via margins of 30-26 and 30-25 twice.
Hicks takes out Ratcliff
Fireplug Marcus Hicks was simply way too much for the outgunned Ed Ratcliff. He pushed Ratcliff around the cage with punches and takedowns and eventually locked on a fight-ending guillotine for the submission at 1:42.
Steve Cantwell also made quick work of his opponent, submitting Tim McKenzie with a superb rear-naked choke at the 2:13 mark of the first round. He bombarded McKenzie early, dished out a few hard elbows and knees and then secured the finish.
Miura wins in style
Hiromitsu Miura scored the knockout of the night as he blasted out Blas Avena in the first round. Miura dropped Avena seconds into the contest with a left hook, but the Mexican-American recovered quickly.
However, after another punch that sent Avena to the canvas, Miura uncorked two sinister right hands that knocked him out cold and completely limp at 2:35 of the opening stanza.
Mike Sloan is a contributor to Sherdog.com.