Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight prospect and the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion's tallest fighter (6'11"), Stefan Struve, faces power puncher Stipe Miocic this Saturday (Sept. 29, 2012) at UFC on Fuel TV 5 in Nottingham, England.
The UFC likely chose "Skyscraper" to headline its upcoming FUEL TV fight card for one very good reason: He's exciting. Out of his 24 professional wins, only one has come by decision. Struve is on a three-fight win streak, finishing all of his opponents. However, a disturbing pattern has merged for Struve throughout his young MMA career -- win two or three fights and then lose a fight when he's on the verge of cracking into contender discussions.
This Saturday, Struve will look to finally fulfill his potential and take his career to the next level once and for all with an upset victory over Miocic.
Let's find out if he has the skills to do so with a head-to-toe fighter breakdown.
The first thing to talk about when discussing Stefan is his insane height. An inch away from being seven feet tall, Stefan is the tallest fighter in the UFC. Training under kickboxing legend Bob Schreiber, Struve attempts to fight tall, but it is still a work in progress that improves with every fight.
Stefan's favored approach to striking is to stand at range while pestering his opponents with jabs and long leg, teep and head kicks. After frustrating an opponent, he cuts an angle while he presses forward and tries to throw a hard, looping hook. In addition to his basic kicks, Struve has recently included a nasty oblique kick, similar to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
Struve is perhaps most dangerous from the clinch. Because of his extraordinary height, Struve can throw knees to the face with relative ease. His height also allows him to get great leverage on his opponents and make it difficult for them to escape his grasp.
Struve has two horrible striking habits. The first is that he doesn't keep his hands up nor his chin down properly. Stefan relies far too much on his height to protect him from danger, instead of having solid defensive skills. Against power strikers like Roy Nelson, Travis Browne, and heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos, these flaws have led to early first round knockout losses.
Stefan's second error is that he gets into brawls against more powerful strikers. Despite his extensive kickboxing training and large frame, Struve is not a one punch knockout artist. The problem is that the heavyweight division is full of knockout artists and they can sucker Stefan into a brawl. While this occasionally works out for him as it did in the Christian Morecraft fight, it also has caused his him to take unnecessary damage.
Stefan's wrestling is based almost entirely off of the clinch. Once he latches onto an opponent from the clinch, he tries to get double under hooks. From there he drives forward and attempts to trip his opponent. He also is willing to latch onto the neck, drop down and roll his opponent onto his back.
In the image below, Stefan reverses college wrestler Dave Herman's clinch attempt to get his own trip:
Struve's takedown defense is not very good. According to UFC.com, he has a zero percent takedown defense percentage. This is likely because of the fact that Struve is not afraid of being on his back because of his dangerous submissions.
By far Stefan's best and most developed area is his Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Despite only being ranked a purple belt, Stefan has out grappled most of his opponents. Though he prefers to strike, his grappling has led to most of his victories, whether they be submissions or ground and pound.
Stefan has one of the most dangerous guards in the heavyweight division. Attacking with arm bars, triangles and sweeps, Struve keeps his opponent off balance before finally succeeding with one of those attacks. Using his long legs, Stefan gets a ton of extra torque on triangles and arm bars. He also moves with surprising speed and fluidity from his back and seems to be attacking at a different speed than his opponent on the ground.
One great example of Stefan's jiu-jitsu is his most recent fight against heavy-handed brawler Lavar Johnson. Lavar had been on a tear in the UFC, violently knocking out Pat Barry and Joey Beltran. Many felt Stefan would be his next victim. When Lavar trapped Struve against the cage, it looked to be the beginning of the end of the fight as Johnson had finished his last two opponents from that position. Instead, Stefan grabbed an over hook and jumped guard. From his guard, Struve threw his legs over Lavar's head, went belly down, and started to crank. By the time Johnson figured out he was in trouble, the fight was over.
A few more examples of Struve's jiu-jitsu leading to an exciting finish:
"Submission of the Week:" Stefan Struve vs. Chase Gormley (via UFC)
Out of Stefan's eight UFC wins, five of them were comeback victories. Struve starts slow and often loses the first round badly, getting roughed up and cut to shreds. As Struve warms up in the second, his opponent also begins to slow down. His fights with Herman, Barry, Morecraft and Denis Stojnic all followed that pattern.
Despite his last three losses coming by knockout, Stefan has showed a solid chin and has proven he can take punishment. Against Christian Morecraft, Stefan was brutalized by ground and pound from side control and mount. To open the second round, Christian aggressively charged forward and brawled with Stefan. Struve landed a pair of hard hooks that floored Morecraft and then landed brutal ground and pound that finished him. The fight between Struve and Stojnic went almost the same way, except Struve ended it with a rear naked choke.
The other key to Stefan's durability is his cardio. Stefan has never slowed down in the UFC and keeps a pace that his opponents cannot match. After they slow down, Struve capitalizes on their first mistake and finishes the fight.
Will Stefan be able to survive the early onslaught this Saturday night and realize his full potential, or will he be pushed back down the ladder once again?