One of the more unique fights in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history will go down this Saturday night (March 2, 2013) as the tallest fighter on the leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion's roster, Stefan Struve, battles its shortest Heavyweight, Mark Hunt, in the UFC on FUEL TV 8 co-main event in Saitama, Japan.
Struve has been on fire lately, winning four straight, which is actually the best current streak in the UFC's competitive heavyweight division. "The Skyscraper" has begun to put it all together and could be positioning himself for a huge fight should he come out no top against Hunt.
Hunt had an unsuccessful campaign to substitute in for a title shot at UFC 146, but the fact that he was even in position to try was amazing. "The Super Samoan" has won three straight, including a crushing knockout the last time he fought in Japan a year ago. He'll be out for blood after recovering from a knee injury.
Will Struve take Hunt's arm back home with him? Can Hunt go up high and topple "The Skyscraper?" What's the key to victory for both men?
Let's find out:
Record: 25-5 overall, 9-3 in the UFC
Key Wins: Stipe Miocic (UFC on Fuel TV 5), Dave Herman (UFC on Fuel TV), Pat Barry (UFC on Versus 6)
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 9-2 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.
Struve has fought smartly in his last few bouts, pulling guard against Lavar Johnson to secure a fight-ending armbar and weathering the storm against Stipe Miocic to hand the Croatian American the first loss of his professional career. Now, he'll be trying to halt Hunt's big winning streak and work towards being in the title mix.
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 in the pocket with Mark Hunt at all costs.
Hunt has some scary power on the inside and he was a professional kickboxer. Standing and trading with "The Super Samoan" is just asking to get put in a bad spot, especially because Hunt can take a shot like a champ while dishing out some serious punishment of his own.
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 or he can pull guard like he did against Johnson. His best chance to win this fight is to utilize his gangly frame on the canvas.
If "The Skyscraper" can drag Hunt to the canvas, he must immediately go on the offensive. We haven't seen much of the former K-1 kickboxers's ground game lately, but even if it has improved, there's no way his defensive abilities have surpassed Struve's offensive submission abilities. Struve should prioritize Hunt's arm and attack it with anything from a Kimura to an armbar and try to crank on it to the point where Hunt will be forced to tap or snap..
Record: 8-7 overall, 3-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Cheick Kongo (UFC 144), Ben Rothwell (UFC 135), Mirko Filipovic (Pride Shockwave 2005)
Key Losses: Sean McCorkle (UFC 119), Gegard Mousasi (Dream 9), Melvin Manhoef (Dynamite!! 2008)
How he got here: Mark Hunt got into fighting after impressing promoters at a night club. "The Super Samoan" didn't get an easy start in kickboxing, forced to fight tough top opponents early in his career when promoters were trying to use him as a stepping stone for their other stars. Instead, Hunt gained valuable experience against top opposition and came through with a respectable 15-4 record.
Hunt got his big break in kickboxing in 2001. He had won the qualifier tournament in both 2000 and 2001 to advance to the K-1 World Grand Prix and he shocked the world by winning three fights in one night to win the K-1 World Grand Prix Championship.
After a few more kickboxing matches, Hunt would transition to mixed martial arts. He would lose his debut in Pride via armbar but would go on an impressive five fight win streak that included wins against Dan Bobish, Mirko "Cro Cop" and Wanderlei Silva which would earn him fights against some of the toughest heavyweights in the world.
He would lose every bout from 2006-2010, stepping into the squared circle against the likes of Josh Barnett, Fedor Emelianenko (for the Pride Heavyweight championship), Alistair Overeem and Gegard Mousasi, losing each fight via submission of the arm.
Due to some leftover contract obligations from Pride after the buyout, Hunt was granted a pair of fights in the UFC. He would lose to Sean McCorkle via Kimura in barely a minute but would rebound against Chris Tuchscherer in one of 2011's most memorable walk-off knockouts. His victory earned him another fight against a top heavyweight in Ben Rothwell and he capitalized on Rothwell's conditioning, earning a unanimous decision and continuing one of MMA's best surprise stories.
Hunt's Cinderella story continued against Cheick Kongo in Japan when he crushed the Frenchman via first round knockout to continue his incredible run. A knee injury sidelined him nearly a year, but he's back and hoping to continue right where he left off against Struve.
How he gets it done: This one is pretty simple. Mark Hunt has a tremendous chin, the ability to check kicks and big time knockout power in his hands. He needs to employ the "K.I.S.S" method of fighting against Struve: Keep It Standing, Stupid!
Hunt showed improved takedown defense and ground game against Rothwell but that doesn't mean he should screw around on the canvas against Struve. What he needs to do is stay on his feet, take control of the center of the cage, avoid getting too close to the fence and clinching and especially avoid letting Struve get so close that he can attempt a trip or even pull guard.
If Struve does flop to his back, Hunt needs to get to his feet immediately and go right back to trying to knock his head off on the feet. He wins this fight if he can pull off exactly what Roy Nelson did, which is catch Struve with that huge right hand of his and then finish him with heavy punches when he's hurt. It's as simple as that. If he deviates and gets cute with anything on the ground, he'll likely get submitted.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight might actually be Mark Hunt's age (38) and the fact that he's coming off a lengthy layoff due to a knee injury. He's going to need every last bit of explosion inside the Octagon if he wants to get inside and pop Struve on the jaw with his fists and we saw last week with Dan Henderson and his knee against Lyoto Machida that if you don't have that explosion to get inside and land your power strike, you're a sitting duck.
If Hunt can't close the distance and come over the top, he's going to have a really rough night against Struve.
Bottom Line: This is the perfect type of fight for Japan. A 38 year old 5'10 fighter taking on a 25 year old 6'11 fighter. It practically screams freak show yet both men are the same weight class and actually deserve to be fighting each other at this point in their careers. This fight will be interesting regardless of who's winning because Hunt possesses those K-1 level striking skills on the feet and has a good chance of knocking Struve for a loop if they stand toe-to-toe while Struve is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has a great shot at submitting "The Super Samoan" should the fight go to the canvas. The only way this fight is boring is if Struve repeats his gameplan of the first round against Pat Barry and just peppers away with shots from the extreme outside on the feet. Hopefully that doesn't happen.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel TV 8? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!