Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight veterans Antonio Silva and Stefan Struve will square off this Sunday (May 8, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 87 inside Ahoy Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Silva is currently in the midst of a serious slide. The massive Brazilian has been forced off Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) despite apparently being one of the few who legitimately needed the drug, and he's now looking downright vulnerable.
On the other hand, Struve was nearly forced to retire following an issue with his heart valve. Since his return, Struve has looked rather hesitant, losing two of his three bouts and leaving his fight future unclear.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: "Fedor vs Silva"), Travis Browne (UFC on FX 5), Alistair Overeem (UFC 156)
Key Losses: Cain Velasquez (UFC 160, UFC 146), Frank Mir (UFC Fight Night 61), Andrei Arlovski (UFC Fight Night 51)
Keys to Victory: One of the biggest Heavyweights to ever find success at a high level, Silva is a well-rounded fighter with devastating ground strikes. Even today, Silva can quickly brutalize his opponent if he's able to secure top position.
Regardless of his decline, there isn't a fighter in the world who wants to absorb Silva's hammer fists from the mount.
Silva's gameplan should be abundantly clear in this bout. Both men have been prone to hesitating a bit lately, and it's especially important for "Bigfoot" to shake off his recent losses and get aggressive early.
Silva doesn't want to let his opponent establish his range -- he needs to close the distance. As he's stepping forward with wide punches -- which have a decent chance of clipping Struve -- Silva should have little trouble closing the distance into the clinch.
From there, Silva is a strong and experienced wrestler, whereas Struve has never been particularly good at stopping the shot. Once on top, Silva's own jiu-jitsu prowess and physicality should be enough to prevent the submission and open up opportunities to smash his opponent with ground strikes.
Key Wins: Stipe Miocic (UFC on Fuel 5), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (UFC 190), Pat Barry (UFC on Versus 6)
Key Losses: Jared Rosholt (UFC 193), Alistair Overeem (UFC on FOX 13), Mark Hunt (UFC on Fuel 8), Travis Browne (UFC 130)
Keys to Victory: Struve has always been a more talented grappler than striker, but he's certainly an accomplished finisher in both realms. When he actually throws, Struve is a pretty dangerous fighter that puts out a great deal of effective offense, though his defensive liabilities have been an issue long before his health issues.
In this bout, Struve just needs to connect hard. Silva is simply fragile at this point, and Struve is a kickboxer who has to lose a bit of weight to make the Heavyweight limit.
It's not rocket science. If Struve can land several clean shots to the jaw as Silva looks to work his way inside, the Brazilian is likely to crumble to the mat in short fashion.
He has been knocked out in his last four defeats after all.
To that end, Struve needs to momentarily ignore his kicking game -- which will get him taken down -- lower his stance, and fire off straight punches whenever Silva looks to move forward. If his opponent does get the clinch or takedown, Struve needs to work back to the center of the Octagon and return to punching often.
Bottom Line: Despite their experience and prior success, either fighter could be cut with a loss here.
Heavyweight is a difficult division. Because of the size and power of its combatants, fighters on a skid pick up damage quicker than most. Both Silva and Struve have been knocked out more than a handful of times, so if that trend continues, it's not unlikely that either UFC, their respective teams, or themselves will recognize that it's time to stop competing at this level.
On the other hand, a win buys the victor some time. In Struve's case, perhaps he is young enough to overcome his health and mental issues and really solidify his game. It's unlikely but may still be possible. While Silva seems physically shot, Heavyweight is a division where other fighters have gone on miraculous career revivals.
Again, I wouldn't bet on it, but stranger things have happened in the division of giants.
At UFC Fight Night 87, Antonio Silva and Stefan Struve will struggle to get back into the win column. Which fighter will have his hand raised?