As the sport of mixed martial arts continues to grow, new fighters are coming from some rather unlikely places.
Years ago, who would have predicted a WWE wrestler like Brock Lesnar to reach the top of the UFC heavyweight division, or that retired NFL running back Herschel Walker would step into the cage?
For former Marine and current UFC middleweight (All American) Brian Stann, his journey to the octagon began during one of the darkest moments of his life.
While studying at the United States Naval Academy, Stann's (9-3) future was put in limbo while awaiting a court martial after being accused of sexual assault by a fellow female soldier.
Though Stann's name was cleared after his accuser's story fell apart on the stand, the ordeal held him back for nine months while his friends all graduated and were deployed to the Middle East.
"It was very difficult to deal with, but as long as you know the truth then you're fine and you can always hold your head up high," Stann said in an interview with QMI Agency. "But it's just very difficult to deal with your life when it's in a state of flux at that point. That's very frustrating. Especially when someone's trying to test your character -- that's hurtful. It hurts you when someone's trying to do that. You don't understand why they're trying to do it. You're trying to guess a whole bunch of reasons why and you're just waiting for it to be over."
However, during this time Stann found solace in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. Were it not for the accusations against him, he may have never pursued a career as a professional MMA fighter.
"Looking back on my life after my first deployment to Iraq, I remember discussing the situation with my naval friends and sometimes things happen for a reason. Maybe it was preparing me for what was to come and a much more difficult time."
This incident, as well Stann's fighting career and two tough tours in Iraq that earned him the Silver Star for gallantry, are outlined in his biography "Heart For The Fight: A Marine Captain's Journey from Assault Platoon Leader to Mixed Martial Arts Cagefighting Champion," co-written by John R. Bruning.
Stann said it was tough to open up about some of the worst moments of his life.
"It was very difficult," Stann said. "When you write a book, you have to revisit a lot of difficult times in your life. It wasn't easy for me. It wasn't easy for my wife because I would work on this book from about 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night for almost a year and I would come out of this room where I'm working with (John) and just be in a completely different mood. It was very difficult for her to understand and a lot of the things I talked about in the book I hadn't gone into great detail with her about.
"So it was tough for her, it was tough for my family, but I think there's a purpose behind it. People need to understand certain things about military service, what really happens and what leaders go through."
Following his second deployment to Iraq, Stann returned to civilian life. Although he admits he thinks about rejoining the Marine Corps everyday, that itch is scratched by his desire to be with his wife and two daughters.
He also said he owes it to the Marines he served with to live his life to the fullest.
"You're living with things you're going to think about for the rest of your life," Stann said. "Things that you don't want to talk about and can't talk to other people about because they just won't understand. You're going to live with decisions you've had to make that could have cost so many lives or caused permanent damage.
"But at the same time, the one thing you have to remember every single day is that there were lives that were lost and you owe those who aren't here anymore to live your life. I owe it to them to work hard and be successful because no matter what I do, I'm going to be remembered as a Marine. By mourning my lost friend and lost marines and being negative for the rest of my life, I'm doing them no justice. That's not what they would want."
Stann continues to contribute to the military community through the non-profit organization Hire Heroes, which helps veterans find work after leaving the service.
He said if he wants readers to take away one thing from his book, it's that success is the product of learning from your mistakes.
"A lot of times you read biographies and they're about a bunch of accomplishments and why someone's great," Stann said. "We really wanted to focus on how any success I've had has come from lessons learned from multiple, multiple failures. During those failures there's a way to kind of take something positive and come out the other end better. You just have to dust yourself off and climb the mountain again."