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UFC Fight Night 115 fight card: Stefan Struve vs Alexander Volkov preview

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Volkov vs Nelson Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight kickboxers Stefan Struve and Alexander Volkov will clash TONIGHT (Sept. 2, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 115 inside Ahoy Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Health issues kept Struve away from the Octagon for close to two years, and things just weren’t the same upon his return. Struve is definitely known for his unhealthy willingness to throw down, but he was hesitant and lost two of three bouts as a result. Luckily, he’s rebounded in a pair of strong performances that resulted in stoppage victories.

While Struve entered the UFC young and cut his teeth opposite a plethora of UFC heavyweights who have since come and gone, Volkov made his name in a number of different shows. The former Bellator and M-1 Global Heavyweight champ is undefeated in a pair of UFC fights, and this is his chance to really introduce himself to the UFC fan base.

Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man.

Stefan Struve

Record: 28-8

Key Wins: Stipe Miocic (UFC on FUEL TV 5), Daniel Omielanczuk (UFC 204), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (UFC 190), Antonio Silva (UFC Fight Night 87)

Key Losses: Jared Rosholt (UFC 193), Alistair Overeem (UFC on FOX 13), Mark Hunt (UFC on Fuel TV 8), Travis Browne (UFC 130)

Keys to Victory: It’s somewhat surprising to learn that Struve is approaching 20 fights and ten years inside the UFC, milestones that only a select few fighters achieve. In that time, Struve’s game has become well-established: he’s a very tricky grappler with legitimate finishing skills, dangerous on the feet, but hittable as well.

In this fight, Struve has one distinct advantage that many people are overlooking. On the whole, the two fighters are similar enough: the lanky kickboxers do most of their damage with long kicks, while their boxing is flawed but still a threat. Though Volkov is 6’7”, that’s still five inches of height and four more of reach on Struve’s side.

Volkov is used to fighting tall, being the longer man and forcing his opponent to work through his range. Against most everyone besides Struve, that’s a viable strategy. In this match, however, Struve is the one who doesn’t have to change up his approach. If he wants to stay at his distance and throw kicks up the middle, he’ll be at advantage.

Volkov has to switch things up and rely on his “B game,” Struve does not.

Lastly, I’d like to see Struve pursue some clinch trips in this fight. Volkov will likely be punching more than usual, and he sometimes winds up in the clinch after his combinations. Struve should capitalize, as a single takedown could result in a tapout for the jiu-jitsu brown belt.

Alexander Volkov

Record: 28-6

Key Wins: Blagoy Ivanov (Bellator 120), Tim Johnson (UFC Fight Night 99), Roy Nelson (UFC on FOX 24), Richard Hale (Bellator 84)

Keys Losses: Vitaly Minakov (Bellator 108), Cheick Kongo (Bellator 139), Tony Johnson (Bellator 136)

Keys to Victory: Volkov made a splash immediately back in 2012 in Bellator, winning three straight and capturing a vacant title in the process. Relying on his rangy, high-output kickboxing, Volkov was able to pick foes apart and break them down repeatedly. Though he’s improved quite a bit since then, the fundamentals of his game remain the same.

As mentioned, Volkov has to switch it up a bit to win this fight. If he tries to stalk and kick at range — his usual approach — with Struve, he’s going to eat a lot of kicks up the middle. Both men throw at a high output, but eating body kicks will sap energy quickly.

Instead, Volkov needs to really on perhaps his biggest advantage: hand speed. When Volkov throws in combination, he may be a bit stiff, but he’s still miles quicker than his opponent. Even with the size disadvantage, Volkov won’t have to close nearly as much distance as someone like Daniel Omielanczuk to hit Struve.

If Volkov can start fast and land early, those extra two rounds won’t matter.

Bottom Line: All bets are off.

The Heavyweight division is a disaster right now. Stipe Miocic is a great champion, but he’s knocked out the No.1 and 2 contenders within the last 18 months. Meanwhile, Cain Velasquez is in a seemingly permanent cycle of injury and rehab. Then, Junior dos Santos recently was popped for a potentially banned substance by USADA, which messed up his bout with the horrifying-but-still-unproven Francis Ngannou. That leaves Mark Hunt (nearing retirement and actively suing the UFC) and Derrick Lewis (recently knocked out by Hunt) left as the two ranked above our main event athletes.

It’s not impossible for the winner of this bout to receive a title shot, or at the very least a title eliminator match up. In Struve’s case, he’s also aided by having an old win over Miocic. Is it relevant to Miocic’s abilities in 2017? Not at all. Would the UFC happily sell that story line? Duh!

It may not appear that way on the surface, but this Fight Pass event may just have a big impact on the Heavyweight division.

TONIGHT at UFC Fight Night 115, Stefan Struve and Alexander Volkov will duel in the main event. Which man will have his hand raised?

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