When MMA aficionados look back on 2010 it's quite possible it will be remembered as the year of the grudge match. While rivalries have always held a place in combat sports, this year had a personal vendetta waiting around every corner.
Some of the clashes were epic battles that exceeded the pre-fight circus where others fell drastically short. With that being said the card for UFC 124 in Montreal Quebec Canada is a fitting end to the year of the beef.
The card's main event will feature a rematch for the welterweight title between the UFC's golden hero Georges St. Pierre as he takes on the villainous heel in Josh Kocheck. Normally the negative energy surrounding Koscheck would be enough to fill the headlines but the card's co-main event matchup between the 6'11 Stefan Struve and self-proclaimed internet warrior Sean McCorkle has carried its share of the drama wagon. The two heavyweights have been locked in a humorous exchange of pre-fight warfare where the back and forth has played out on instant media formats across the MMA community. Despite McCorkle's reputation for being internet savvy the normally quiet Struve has held his own in McCorkle's realm of online battle. With their fight now just around the corner, I checked in with Struve to discuss his added motivation to face McCorkle and in this Bloody Elbow Exclusive: he wasted zero time addressing their ongoing beef.
"From the moment we signed our contracts...the fight wasn't even announced yet, he decided to go on Twitter and Facebook to trash me," Struve exclaimed. "At first I wondered what it was and didn't really know what to do with it. I wasn't going to respond to him because I normally stick to my training and keep a low profile and nothing else. I got the idea to do a photoshop contest on the underground and people seem to love it because it got thousands of views and received thousands of replies. So it's turned out awesome and the winner of the contest will get my fight gloves after I knock him out."
In his six previous bouts under the UFC banner Struve has avoided the pre-fight hoopla to focus on the task ahead. With McCorkle refusing to let up off the gas Struve has used the repeated attacks as inspiration to train harder in the gym.
"It has been great motivation," Struve stated. "When we were training all my coach would have to do is say something about him and I would be going again. It definitely renewed my energy and kept me focused."
The 23 year old Dutch fighter has shown skills in all aspects of the game as he's claimed both submission and knockout victories inside of the octagon. Despite Struve's promise to knockout McCorkle in Montreal I asked him to break down where he felt he would hold the biggest advantage once the action got under way.
"I believe I am the better fighter both on the feet and on the ground," Struve answered. "I'm going to hurt him when we are on our feet and look for the knockout. If the fight goes to the ground then I am going to finish him with a submission."
A win over McCorkle at UFC 124 would make back to back victories for Struve in a division that continues to take shape. With Cain Velasquez dethroning pay per view monster Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson battling their respective issues the time is right for a fighter on the rise to climb the ladder.
"I don't know for sure," Struve replied when asked where he felt a victory would place him in the divisional rankings. "I look at my career from fight to fight and all I want to do is keep on winning and working my way up. I'm in no rush to get a title shot so we'll look at it one fight at a time and see where that puts me. There are some really good heavyweights in the division right now," Struve continued. "Cain and Dos Santos are fighting for the belt the next time around and they are two of the best in the weight class. Other than that you have Brock, Carwin, Roy Nelson and a ton of guys coming up so the division has never been better."
Of the names Struve mentioned, Junior Dos Santos and Roy Nelson both hold knockout victories over the young Dutch fighter. While Struve has stated he only focuses his career one fight at a time I inquired to see if redemption against Dos Santos and Nelson was something he would seek further down the road.
"I would love to rematch those guys," Struve replied. "I have plenty of time though and there is no rush. I have plenty of career ahead of me. I think I am a part of the next wave of MMA. I believe I have all of the tools to become a contender in the future and I just need to add a lot of strength to my game. Of course I can get better on the ground and on my feet and then I will be a real contender for the title."
In his last outing against Christian Morecraft, Struve was battered with an aggressive attack and the damage resulted in a gruesome split lip that he carried back to his corner between rounds. There was some debate whether or not the fight should continue and Struve knew he would have to make the most of the time he had left and in the process of doing so put his heart and determination on display.
"The first round wasn't very good and he beat me up pretty bad," Struve stated. "I wasn't feeling well before the fight so that is played a big part in why the first round did not go that well. When I came out for the second round I agreed with my trainer that I would give it everything I had on my feet for the first minute and we would see how the fight would go after that. I caught him with a big combination and I finished the fight. It was a test and I always welcome a challenge so it was all very good in the end."
A co-headlining slot on what should be one of the biggest cards of the year and a newly inked contract extension are signs the UFC sees a future for Struve. When a high profile internet beef is sprinkled on top it creates an opportunity for Struve to boost his status in the most successful organization in mixed martial arts. Things can change in an instant in MMA and Struve closed the interview by thanking those who support him in addition to sending a message to the fans who will be tuning in for UFC 124 this Saturday.
"I just want to thank my fans, family, sponsors and my management team and trainers for helping me prepare for this fight. For the fans in Montreal I'm coming in really good shape so I'm ready to give my all. I always give everything I have and I will give my all next week. I will definitely give you guys one hell of an exciting fight."