Stefan "Skyscraper" Struve (22-5) has crammed the experience of a crusty veteran into his gangly, noodle-like frame. Just an inch shy of being a seven-footer, the Dutch mixed martial artist is a veritable tower in the cage who's accrued a guffawing twenty-seven fights at just twenty-three years of age, and this event will mark his tenth foray in the Octagon.
In his promotional debut at UFC 95, Struve was unfortunate to draw eventual heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos and was relegated to the Brazilian boxer's highlight reel. He rebounded from the first-round TKO loss with two rousing submission wins (Dennis Stojnic, Chase Gormley) and a hard-fought decision victory over savvy scrapper Paul Buentello. Roy Nelson and his Christmas-ham of a right hand would snap that three-piece streak but, undeterred, Struve trudged onward and finished two more in a row, this time by TKO (Christian Morecraft, Sean McCorkle).
The pendulum would continue to swing as Struve incurred his third defeat to Travis Browne, but this one was particularly deflating in that all three losses had been crushing, first-round knockouts. He developed a rep for being "chinny" and unable to capitalize on his condor-like wingspan. The kid deserves credit for keeping his nose to the grindstone and exuding an admirable fighting spirit, which was on full display in his last outing against Pat Barry at the UFC Live 6 card. After being lifted up to the rafters and slammed on his back, Struve unfurled his spidery limbs and latched a second-round triangle choke to get back in the win column.
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Formerly known as "Pee Wee", the newly flocculent Dave Herman (21-2) now goes by the moniker "Sasquatch." Herman is a choice blend of barbarian in the cage and charmingly aloof quipster outside of it. For example, here are a few eclectic gems from his official Twitter page: "Took my first hot shower in a couple months today. It was everything I thought it would be." "I don't know how many more days of laying on the couch and not doing anything I can take. I think 2 more." "Have you ever had Doritos with honey on them? That way when you finish your Doritos you don't have to have any honey." Herman recently took a moment at the Fuel TV open workouts to reflect on his dapper pink scarf with MMA Junkie.
"I actually made this scarf on Friday. I stayed up late and only got three hours of sleep before I got on the plane just to make sure I got it done. I knew it was going to be chilly, and I figured I should probably have a scarf. … I weaved it on a loom."
Personally, I still shudder at the dark memories of finding myself in the filthy clutches of a spontaneous all-nighter on the loom. Alas, that's Herman's style and it works just fine when accompanied by electric wins like his UFC debut against Jon Olav Einemo. In his interview before facing the decorated sport grappler, Herman gave his technical outlook on Jiu Jitsu, confessing, "I don't really think it works."
His face plastered with an inopportune perma-grin, Herman took more than he gave in the first and seemed genuinely preoccupied with some humorous distraction, as if each punch to the noggin was a joy inducing reminder he'd made it to the big leagues. He got a bead on Einemo in the second and unbolted a thunderous knee that triggered a rousing TKO, acquiring the Fight of the Night bonus in the process. A positive drug test for marijuana has sidelined him since UFC 131 last June though Herman refuted the charge.
Pre-UFC, Herman was a virtual slaughterhouse, finishing fifteen straight opponents, fourteen of which were in the first round and thirteen via strikes. He then crossed the pond and incurred his first (and only legit) career loss to Mu Bae Choi in the Sengoku promotion. It was about this time he deduced that he should start training seriously. In his last six before signing with the UFC, Herman won five and ended four in the first frame, two of which were extremely rare finishing methods (TKO by axe kicks and an omoplata submission). His sole blemish was a DQ for firing illegal knees to the head of Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou.
The hardcore fan base took note of his gathering dominance but were increasingly mystified by Herman's in-cage lunacy. Though Herman never wrestled in high school, he was red-shirted by Indiana University and qualified for the NCAA championships his sophomore year after placing seventh at the Big Tens. He did not, however, embody your typical 6'5" Division 1 wrestler: Herman fought like a hyperactive kid who'd willfully neglected his Ritalin during a Bruce Lee movie binge, ricocheting around the cage in a whirlwind of flashy kicks with effectiveness that ranged from total failure to flawless execution.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
After such a gushing build up, it's only appropriate to begin with this animation of Herman, because it perfectly captures the true essence of his insanity, athleticism and creativity.
Leading with one of his favorites, the jumping front kick, Herman tacks on a spinning roundhouse kick and not only misses the mark entirely, but flails to the canvas in a heap of limbs. Finding himself flat on his back and thoroughly vulnerable before the bewildered Sokoudjou, Herman immediately snatches his leg and transitions to the kneebar.
Herman employed his wrestling to stay standing against Einemo and excellent scrambling to get back to his feet. Though there was a clear ebb and flow in the first, Herman's sketchy head movement and straight-line retreats got him in trouble. He loves to wander back while being pressed with strikes and then bounce off the cage with an unorthodox flurry. When trading in the pocket, Herman shrinks his head back and keeps it upright rather than bobbing and weaving, which is a flaw that Struve shares.
Herman's kicks and knees are his best weapons and have fostered most of his TKO stoppages.
Struve trains under old school kickboxing legend "Dirty" Bob Schreiber and won his first amateur fight by head-kick KO at age sixteen. He reminds me a little of Martin Kampmann in that, though a kickboxing-based fighter at heart who prefers to stand, he's not a big power puncher and his submission grappling seems to be noticeably smoother and much more effective.
He shows that aspect and his steely composure to the right. When Pat Barry hoists him up Rampage vs. Arona style, Struve keeps the triangle tight but loosens up just enough to brace his fall, then constricts it tight to elicit the tap.
While he takes flak for not applying his length to the fullest on the feet, Struve uses his frame well on the mat. He creates a continent of space with technical use of his hips and also has strong wrist control. His sweeps are fundamentally sound and lightning fast; his base from the top is overbearing and his power is quite sufficient in the form of ground and pound. Struve's takedown defense is also burdened by his height, as the lower center of gravity and superior agility of his foes allows them to get deep on his hips.
This is a total toss-up in the striking department. Both fighters have porous defense, lax head movement and substandard footwork, making them very hittable. However, they both have huge hearts and a knack for absorbing punishment only to persevere through an outpouring of their own offense. Struve has been wise to cut back on the kicks and flying knees and whittle his offering down to a straight one-two and basic, crisp punches. Herman will toy around with a litany of jumping front, spinning and axe kicks on the fringe and look to bury knees to the head and body at close range.
I'd give Herman the edge in the clinch and he clearly holds the wrestling advantage, while Struve gets just a slight nod in submissions as Herman is deceivingly adept in that facet. It's worth mentioning that Struve has now filled out his frame and is tipping the scales at over 260-pounds, giving him some girth to match to his length.
The betting lines favor Herman slightly. This is a tough call because each competitor has their fair share of weaknesses and both rely on rhythm and emotion. I think Struve will be a handful on the ground and I'd shoot takedowns if I were him just to keep the threat fresh in the D1 wrestler's mind. Struve's tremendous reach will also be a salient factor because of Herman's dangerous defensive tactics -- if he moves straight back and rests on the cage with his head stationary, Struve will tag him. Herman might also struggle to close the vast distance even more due to his odd head position while attacking. I'd consider this match about even but will side with a sentimental favorite.
My Prediction: Dave Herman by TKO.
Herman vs. Sokoudjou gif via "Caposa"
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com