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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 115’s Stefan Struve resident fighter analyst -- and aspiring professional fighter -- Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC Fight Night 115 headliner Stefan Struve, who looks to break into the title mix this Saturday night (Sept. 2, 2017) inside Ahoy Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Gigantic kickboxer, Stefan Struve, will face off with fellow lanky striker, Alexander Volkov, this Saturday (Sept. 2, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 115 inside Ahoy Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

About four years ago now, health issues in the form of an enlarged heart and leaking aortic valve forced Struve out of competition. He made a surprisingly quick return to the cage, but there were some hang ups. At one point prior to his return fight, he feinted in the back stage and saw his return delayed further. Overall, his first three performances featured a fighter clearly holding himself back, causing him to experience mixed results. Thankfully, it seems Struve found his groove afterward. In his last two appearances, Struve landed an immediate knockout of “Bigfoot” Silva — admittedly telling us little — but really showcased his full game opposite Daniel Omielanczuk, landing big blows and going on the aggressive to get the Pole out of there.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


Struve may be just 29 years old, but he’s approaching a decade of UFC competition. Growing pains are expected in this kind of situation -- particularly when the average Heavyweight is in his mid-30s — but the book written on Struve has remained the same for many years.

He’s the tallest Heavyweight kickboxer who cannot fight tall.

There’s a large element of truth to that narrative, but there are also serious signs of improvement. Since his return, Struve has done a much better job of interrupting his opponent’s path with strikes up the middle. Most notably, he knocked out Antonio Silva almost effortlessly by simple stepping backwards and shooting a right hand out as the Brazilian advanced. A few follow up uppercuts as Silva stumbled forward, and Struve had scored a 16-second knockout.

Against Omielanczuk, Struve did great work with his kicks. His round kicks — whether to the head (GIF), body or legs — but he used a lot more straight kicks in that bout. Against his far shorter foe, Struve attacked with long teeps from both the lead and back leg. Not only did these kicks do damage, but Struve is so damn big that most of them knocked him way back out of range.

Furthermore, Struve interrupted Omielanczuk’s bursts with knees. Rather than give ground and back away from the combinations, Struve just stepped into the opposite stance of his foe and waited for him to run into a knee. In that fight, however, Struve’s most problematic habit still made an appearance. The two biggest issues in Struve’s kickboxing — which explain why he struggles so much to fight tall — are his habit of backing straight up while standing tall, then hitting the fence and staying there.

On the positive side, Struve did not cover up along the fence and wait to die; he clinched. Sadly, he still managed to eat a few looping hooks by backing straight up and leaning at the waist, which just leaves him in a terrible position to absorb punches.

In the pocket, Struve is more competent that a great deal of the Heavyweight division. He leans into his long jab a bit too much, but it’s nevertheless an effective weapon that should be used more. Struve does most of his work with the cross, and he has a nice habit of feinting it before actually attacking with the right. On the whole, however, Struve’s hand speed is a bit below average, making straight up exchanges in the pocket a poor idea until his opponent has tired.

At his best, Struve is sticking a lead leg steep kick into his opponent’s mid-section, slamming the lead leg, and firing a cross or jab as they pressure. He is finally on the correct path to fight that way consistently, even if it hasn’t happened just yet.


Up until his return, it was quite rare for Struve to pursue the takedown. If really forced into a wrestling exchange, Struve mostly tried to stall and disengage or was thrown to his back without much effort. Between his increased strength and more active pursuit of the takedown, Struve has been far more successful as of late at throwing his opponent to the mat.

In Struve’s most recent fight, he used the same leg hook takedown twice opposite Omielanczuk. More impressively, he used the trip to takedown Jared Rosholt, a three-time All-American wrestler, and it’s part of the subject of this week’s technique highlight.

Defensively, Struve has come a long way as well. For a long time, he had literally zero issue with being put on his back, confident enough in his guard game that he would be able to submit his opponent. Perhaps motivated from the Alistair Overeem knockout loss — in which Overeem battered Struve from within the guard — Struve has since done a much better job of stuffing shots and fighting off the clinch. His height still makes him vulnerable to level changes, but once in the clinch Struve is a very difficult man to out-wrestle.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Struve's best and most developed area is his Brazilian jiu-jitsu. A brown belt, “The Skyscraper” has out-grappled most of his opponents and submitted 18 of them. Interestingly, he hasn’t been as active with submission attempts since his return compared to previous fights, though some of that may be because of style match ups. The exception to this is his most recent fight. I talked about it in the above video, but Struve fell to his back and sank in a very deep d’arce choke opposite Omielanczuk (GIF).

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 and never really stops working. 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, grappling far faster than he moves while punching.

One great example of Stefan's jiu-jitsu is his fight against heavy-handed brawler Lavar Johnson. Lavar had been on a tear in the UFC, violently knocking out Pat Barry and Joey Beltran. He’s since falled off, but many at the time felt he would crash through Struve’s poor defense. When Lavar trapped Struve against the cage, it looked to be the beginning of the end. Instead, Stefan grabbed an over hook and jumped guard. An unusual strategy, but it worked, as 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 (GIF).

Another nice transition from Struve came in his triangle choke of Pat Barry. From side control, Struve hip escaped back into full guard. As he spun into guard, he trapped one of Barry’s arms, causing him to spin into a locked up triangle choke instead (GIF).


Heavyweight is old. Outside of the champion, Stipe Miocic — a man whom Struve actually knocked out in his last main event — most of the top fighters will be retired before long. A two-fight win streak has pushed Struve into the Top 10, and he has an opportunity here to secure another victory. At this point, that’s enough to finally put him in the title mix.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.

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