Once considered a tremendous liability, Stefan Struve is beginning to truly believe in his striking.
"The Skyscraper" has slowly been packing on some bulk to his lanky 6'11" frame and on top of that, he's been perfecting his technique. Most notably, he's been working with top kickboxer and trainer Mousid Akamrane, which began to pay some dividends in his last fight against talented striker Pat Barry.
In that fight, the giant Dutchman did a terrific job of keeping the powerful puncher at bay with his lengthy reach, and he's now brimming with confidence.
Poised to put together a nice streak in the UFC heavyweight division, Struve will be battling fellow top prospect Dave Herman in the co-main event of UFC on Fuel TV tomorrow night (February 15, 2012) in Omaha, Nebraska.
The towering 24 year-old spoke with MMAmania.com during an appearance on The Verbal Submission this past weekend about avoiding being suckered into a brawl, developing proper technique and why he thinks his jiu-jitsu will work against Herman tomorrow night.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been working in Holland for a long time and I'm interested in the evolution of the use of your reach. You've started to use it well for most of the Travis Browne fight and especially against Pat Barry. He wasn't able to get inside on you. Can you talk about how you've been able to better utilize your 84 inch reach.
Stefan Struve: I'm maturing and I'm adding some weight to my frame so it's getting a lot easier to keep these guys at distance with a lot more weight behind your punches and kicks. It was good at the fight with Travis Browne and it was great against Pat Barry. I just made a stupid mistake against Browne. Nothing really happened in the Pat Barry fight that was a danger to me. I've been working with my coach for eight years now and I've been working with some new coaches as well lately. I think I've improved a lot with my balance and with using my reach. Let's go fight on Wednesday and show my improvement and do some work.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of those new coaches is Mousid Akamrane. How has he been able to pinpoint things for you to work on to better utilize your reach because that was something that was an issue before where you were letting guys get inside.
Stefan Struve: Mousid is one of the best training coaches in the world in my opinion. He's so good with working technique with guys and he's working a lot on my reach and really getting my balance and stuff together. I've been working with him a ton. I worked with him for my Pat Barry fight for a couple weeks and I'm working my kicks a lot with him for this fight and I can't wait for Wednesday to use it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You talked about putting on more weight and you've been in the UFC for a couple years. You've slowly added more bulk to your frame, not putting it all on right away like Frank Mir did after the Brock Lesnar fight. You entered the UFC at 240 and you're slowly adding bulk. Is that better for you physically than to do it all at once?
Stefan Struve: Yeah of course. You don't want to do it too fast because if you do it too fast, you get slow and you can get injured. If you can't fight and train then you can't get adjusted to it and I'm adding about 10-12 pounds a year and it feels really good for me. I was 21 when I came in under 240 pounds in the UFC and my goal is to eventually get up to 290 or even 300 pounds and have to cut down and destroy everyone.
Ben Thapa: Does adding this bulk affect your agility at all?
Stefan Struve: To be honest with you, not really because the way I'm adding muscle to my frame, I'm lifting weights and I'm actually getting more agile. I'm kicking now way better than I was 2-3 years ago when I was kicking. It's the way I'm stretching my muscles, the way I'm lifting weights and I've got a really good strength and conditioning coach that's working really good for me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is more about your upcoming fight with Dave Herman. He's a guy that's really good at brawling. That's a fight that he specializes in, getting his opponents to lose their composure, scraping, smiling. You're moving away from that at least in terms of being reckless so is it difficult at all, trying to keep your composure and be more technical when he's trying to brawl with you?
Stefan Struve: Let's hope not. That's a thing I want to do, when he comes in and starts brawling, I want to step back, take a breath and look at the whole thing. If someone's coming in swinging away, he's gonna leave a lot of things that I can take advantage of. That's gonna be the game for me. Inch by inch with my kicks and my punches, keeping him at bay and when he wants to throw heavy and leave openings, he's in my world.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): He's got a tremendous chin and I've seen him take some huge shots throughout his career. He was getting lit up pretty bad and just came back, hardly seeming affected. Do you think if you land something real clean that you can knock him out?
Stefan Struve: Yeah for sure, man. You don't want to have my first on your chin. I weigh 265 pounds and I now know how to punch and kick. The thing is, the punches he was taking in his last fight, he saw them all coming because he was brawling. He knew he was gonna take some punches and the punches that knock you out are the ones that you don't see coming. The way I've been training and the way I throw punches from angles and stuff, that's gonna be difficult for him to deal with. I think for sure that when I hit him, it's good night, you know?
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is more about going to the ground and you've probably been asked about this already, but Herman said that he doesn't think jiu-jitsu works on him. Do you see that as a challenge, considering your background, you've got a ton of submissions on your record?
Stefan Struve: Yeah, man. The best guys he's fought, the best jiu-jitsu guy was Einemo and Einemo came in not in shape if you ask me. He was pretty much destroyed after the first round, he had nothing left and you saw that when he came out for the second round, he really didn't know what to do and when he hit him on the ground, he was just laying on him instead of putting pressure on him and working and doing whatever. I think I'm the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter he's faced and I don't care if he says it's not working or whatever, I've caught Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts in chokes before and I'm working with some really good Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters so I think if this fight hits the ground, he's gonna have serious problems.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So there's no concern at all about how he was so easily able to avoid Einemo's sub game because you think that Einemo was kinda gassed in that second round?
Stefan Struve: Einemo was a completely different type of Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter. Einemo's a guy who's got a good top game but my guard is way better than his, if you ask me. I'm more agile on the ground, I'm way faster, I'm leaner and I've got enough gas to go three rounds, which is something he couldn't do in his last fight.
Stefan Struve: We've been training with each other for about three years now but only now and then. It doesn't always happen, he's about one hour away from me but we should be training more together. When we train together, we have a really good connection. We train together about 3-4 times a month and that's always really good. It's a good experience to train with him and in my opinion, he's one of the best light heavyweights in the world.
Ben Thapa: You've had multiple comebacks throughout your career, notably Denis Stojnic and Christian Morecraft. How would you rank your mental toughness in the heavyweight division?
Stefan Struve: I don't know if you can rank it. I know I'm really tough and there's no quit in me no matter what happens and no matter if half my face is letting loose, I'll keep fighting no matter what. I want to win and my heart won't let me down. If for some reason, something happens in the fight that we don't expect, I need to really start working for a comeback again. I've got all the trust with the heart I have that I'll pull it out again.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is more of a question based on the rest of the heavyweight division, but what do you think of your fellow countryman Alistair Overeem? How do you like his chances against Junior dos Santos for the UFC heavyweight title?
Stefan Struve: It's gonna be a really interesting fight to see and I think that hopefully Alistair will be able to take the belt home to Holland. It will be a huge boost to the level of MMA in Holland and the way people look at it but it's gonna be really tough. I think highly of Junior dos Santos. I think he's got the best hands in the division of MMA and it's gonna be really interesting to see that fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What needs to go right for you to be victorious on Wednesday night?
Stefan Struve: I've just got to fight my own fight the way I do in training. If I can apply my will and keep my distance, pick him apart, there's nothing in my way to the win.
Stefan would like to thank his training team. You can see all his sponsors posted on his banner so take a look at it. He'd like to thank the fans and especially the UFC for giving him another co-main event slot. You can follow him on Twitter @StefanStruve.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Struve be able to remain composed and utilize proper form while Herman tries to hammer away? Can he put together a string of solid wins against some of the best the heavyweight division has to offer?
To listen to the complete audio of our interview with Struve, click here (62 minute mark).