UFC 146 fight card: Stefan Struve vs Lavar Johnson preview

Stefan Struve Lavar Johnson

Two of the most physically imposing men in the UFC will meet this Saturday night (May 26, 2012) as 6'11 Dutch fighter Stephan Struve takes on "Big" Lavar Johnson in the opening bout of the UFC 146 main card in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Stefan Struve is still one of the youngest and most exciting heavyweights in the UFC. He's had 10 bouts in the promotion now despite just being 24 years old and is coming off two straight finishes. He's come up short whenever the thought of him as a potential contender begins to grow, but he's hoping to get past that against Johnson.

Lavar Johnson has been a terrific story for the UFC. After dropping his last two Strikeforce bouts, he's won his first two UFC fights via first round knockout, most notably putting away Pat Barry on the main card of UFC on FOX 3 earlier this month. He's stepping up on very short notice and is hoping to create some incredible momentum against Struve.

Will Struve be able to bring Johnson back down to size? Can "Big" Johnson possible topple "The Skyscraper" with his powerful fists? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?

Let's find out:

Stefan Struve

Record: 23-5 overall, 7-3 in the UFC

Key Wins: Dave Herman (UFC on Fuel TV), Pat Barry (UFC on Versus 6), Sean McCorkle (UFC 124)

Key Losses: Junior dos Santos (UFC 95), Travis Browne (UFC 130), Roy Nelson (UFC Fight Night 21)

How he got here: Stefan Struve cut his teeth on the local European circuit, testing himself against many of the toughest guys in circulation at the time. Due to his ridiculous height, he had to develop a strong ground game as his opponents were rather easily able to put him on his back.

He made his UFC debut in early 2009, but was completely unprepared for the wrecking machine that was Junior dos Santos, losing via first round technical knockout.

Since the loss in his promotional debut, Struve has gone 6-2 in the promotion. The young Dutchman has steadily progressed and added some bulk to his frame. He's still still relatively wet behind the ears, but has tons of time to develop his craft as long as he can protect his chin.

Of Struve's 21 career victories, only one has been a decision. His two fights against Christian Morecraft and Sean McCorkle both underscored what he's all about as a mixed martial artist: Absorbing punishment or being in bad positions and then roaring back in crowd-pleasing fashion. Of course this backfired against Travis Browne at UFC 130 when "The Skyscraper" got toppled after an ill-advised flying knee attempt directly into the big right hand of his opponent.

He bounced back in his last fight against Pat Barry, locking in a triangle choke and surviving a huge powerbomb attempt before forcing the tap and winning "Submission of the Night" honors. He followed up that performance by flustering Dave Herman with his range and then finishing him via ground and pound on the canvas.

He was originally slated to face Mark Hunt at this event, but an injury opened the door for Lavar Johnson.

How he gets it done: Struve has slowly showcased an improved use of his lengthy 84 inch reach (the second longest in the UFC) throughout his MMA career. While he's improved his tendencies to allow brawlers to get inside and crack him on the jaw, he needs to avoid standing and trading with Lavar Johnson at all costs.

Johnson simply hits too hard and is too weak on the ground for this to even be up for debate.

Struve doesn't have the build to shoot for the traditional takedowns, but he capable of scoring trip takedowns if he can close the distance and enter the clinch. He's going to have to be mindful of Johnson's power while getting inside, but if he can do it without eating a huge shot, then he'll be fine.

If "The Skyscraper" can drag Johnson to the canvas, this fight will be all but over. Johnson has perhaps the worst ground game of any UFC heavyweight. Struve will need to either pass to mount and try to ground and pound his way to victory or go for a submission, whichever is easier.

Lavar Johnson

Record: 17-5 overall, 2-0 in the UFC

Key Wins: Pat Barry (UFC on FOX 3), Joey Beltran (UFC on FOX 2), Virgil Zwicker (Strikeforce Challengers 11)

Key Losses: Shawn Jordan (Strikeforce Challenges 20), Shane del Rosario (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva)

How he got here: A big, powerful athlete, Lavar Johnson was a former standout football player, getting into MMA at 26 years old. Despite an early setback in his debut against Doug Marshall, "Big" Johnson would bounce back in a huge way, winning his next eight fights, all by stoppage and all but one being ended in the first round.

After an injury suffered mid-fight took away over two years of his career, Johnson finally returned, blasting five straight opponents with five first round knockouts. He would be sidelined in 2009 after getting shot in the abdomen at a family reunion, but surprisingly returned to action just nine months later, scoring a second round knockout against Lolohea Mahe.

Johnson crushed Virgil Zwicker in just over two minutes, but he would have issues dealing with the wrestling and submission games of his next two opponents, who both took advantage of his lack of ground game by scoring submissions against him.

Despite a two fight losing streak, Johnson made his UFC debut this past January where he did the impossible, stopping Joey Beltran via strikes for the first time in "The Mexicutioner's" career and sending him down to 205 pounds. With that victory, he earned a shot on the big stage against Pat Barry and he delivered, knocking out "HD" in the first round.

He was uninjured so he stepped up again on short notice to face Struve this weekend, just three weeks after his last fight.

How he gets it done: Johnson doesn't have the best technique, but he is one of the most powerful men in the entire division! He's never gone to a decision in his career and that's for good reason. All it takes is a one big shot and no one can stand in his way, not even the infamous iron chin of Joey Beltran.

The key for Johnson is to stay in the pocket, don't let Struve get to close on the inside to work for a takedown and keep trying to plaster the Dutchman on the chin with his fists. Struve does not have the greatest chin and when he gets hit hard, he drops into a heap and that's a long fall.

The uglier and less technical that Johnson can make this fight, the better odds he has of winning it. If he can force Struve to ignore his strengths on the ground and try to turn this fight into a slugfest, there's almost no chance he can lose.

Johnson has to ignore the ground at all costs, or he's a goner

Fight X-Factor: I hate to use this X-Factor, but this may be the most obvious fight X-Factor in MMA history. Lavar Johnson wants this fight to go to its feet. He does not want it to go to the ground. If the fight goes to the canvas, Johnson will be submitted or TKO'd very quickly in my opinion.

Struve has a better chance of standing with Johnson that Johnson has of going to the ground with Struve, but Struve shouldn't mess around. If he eats a heavy shot from "Big" then he's going to be in serious trouble. Johnson almost got submitted by Pat Barry, that should be enough of a testament to his ground game.

Bottom Line: Someone is going down in this fight. Struve has one decision in his MMA career while Johnson has never gone to decision. Both men have a "finish or be finished" mentality. Not only is this fight not going to the scorecards, it's probably not going to the second round. Someone is going to get put away in a hurry whether it's from a Johnson fist or from a Struve TKO or submission. Expect something wild.

Who will come out on top at UFC 146? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!

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