Fighter images via UFC.com
In a much needed spin in fight format, UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir will be an all-heavyweight extravaganza with a subtle "UFC vs. " undertone.
Heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos defends the strap against renowned submissionist Frank Mir in the headliner, former title-holder Cain Velasquez confronts recent Strikeforce crossover Antonio Silva, Roy Nelson draws perpetual goofball Dave Herman, undefeated prospects Stipe Miocic and Shane del Rosario will duel and, in the show's opener, Stefan Struve is matched with Lavar Johnson.
Stefan "Skyscraper" Struve (23-5) is the UFC's tallest heavyweight at 6'11". He took his first pro-fight at age 17 and accrued 18 fights (16-2) by the time he made his Octagon debut in 2009. In the UFC, he's put together a hard-earned 7-3 record with losses to some of the division's most feared power-punchers in Junior dos Santos, Roy Nelson and Travis Browne with wins over Pat Barry (submission), Dave Herman, Christian Morecraft and Sean McCorkle (all by TKO). Struve is a gangly kickboxer under fellow Dutchman "Dirty" Bob Schreiber but seems to be much more complete and fluid with his submission grappling despite his pedestrian purple-belt ranking.
Other UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir Dissections
"Big" Lavar Johnson (17-5) made his MMA debut in the WEC against future promotional light-heavyweight champion Doug Marshall, losing by 1st-round TKO. Johnson responded with 8-consecutive finishes (7 via strikes, 1 submission), 7 of which were closed out in 5 minutes or less. He then incurred back-to-back defeats (Brian Olsen, TKO via injury; Alijah Reni, submission) before mounting another spirited sequence in which Johnson TKOd 7 foes in a row, again decimating all but one in the 1st-round. The last trio of contests in that streak took place in Strikeforce, and Johnson's competition was elevated and his momentum was halted again with back-to-back losses (Shane del Rosario and Shawn Jordan, both by submission).
Johnson, a hulking behemoth (6'3", 253-pounds) and former college linebacker, has sledgehammer hands, winning 15 of 17 by earth-rending TKO. After his consecutive submission losses in Strikeforce, he seemed to be written off as a one-dimensional banger -- but he's proven that to be quite untrue by unveiling some new tricks in his Octagon performances.
Continued in the full entry.
When scrutinizing Johnson's remorseless beat-down of Beltran, the American Kickboxing Academy product made a subtle change to his striking style that paid huge dividends. In the past, Johnson, being a righty, utilized an open stance and was much more squared off, often leading with wide, sweeping left hooks to center his opponent in front of him and set up his outrageous straight right.
Against Beltran, Johnson assumed more of a closed stance with his feet staggered and his left shoulder farther in front of his right. Instead of barging straight forward to unload all haymakers, Johnson extended his already-stretchy reach advantage with this closed stance and keyed all of his follow-ups off of a busy jab. Additionally, the big fella was much more patient and calculating than the fairly primitive brawler he was in Strikeforce. He methodically steered Beltran back against the cage with his long, active jab and waited until Beltran was cornered and covering up before unleashing the big thunder shots.
This minor alteration is particularly effective when Johnson has the height and reach advantage and I was intrigued to see if he'd stick with this style against Barry. The results turned out to be inconclusive, as Barry's lack of busy footwork and movement allowed Johnson to bypass all the probing from the fringe and shortcut directly to unloading cannons on a curiously stationary Barry.
Another impressive trait I noticed in the Barry fight is how surprisingly quick Johnson is with his strikes, especially for being such a wide-bodied ogre. Addtionally, just before he went beast-mode with (my count of) 21 fight-finishing strikes, Johnson thwacked Barry with a pair of high kicks that dropped him and also interrupted his punching flurries with a horizontal elbow and a monstrous knee. None of these reviews are groundbreaking; just a noteworthy assortment of small enhancements to his already established size, athleticism and punching power.
At first glance, height and reach would seem to be a critical factor, yet -- despite an 8" differential in height -- Johnson's reach (81") is just a hair shy of Struve's (83"). And if there is a unanimous critique of Struve, it's that he hasn't learned how to effectively capitalize on his length. Really, Struve's kickboxing fundamentals have a long way to go. Even though he's only been TKOd by tremendous power punchers, his defense is thoroughly porous and he just doesn't keep his guard up religiously, making his chin all too easy to find on too many occasions. Rather than stick to the basics of a tight form with straight, linear punches, Struve is a little bit wide on everything but his straight right and, therefore, his hands have to travel farther to get back in front of his chin.
His grappling, on the other hand, is deceivingly threatening and smooth. While his elongated frame hasn't translated to efficient distance striking, it has opened up the door for takedowns because opponents are forced to take an extra step when charging into range. The leverage he gets when he's deep inside on the hips or around the waist makes up for his lack of a wrestling pedigree, and Struve has been a killer on the mat. His sweeps are beautiful, his defense and ground-and-pound are rock-solid and his submission attempts and transitions are more like that of a middleweight.
Overall, Struve's submission grappling should be just as poisonous as Johnson's brick fists. Struve is much more complete and matches Johnson standing better than Johnson can match him on the ground, but that element is balanced out by Struve being burdened to take Johnson down in order to exploit his advantage. So, to me, this fight is 50/50. Johnson's surging momentum inspires me to give him the nod, but I don't think Struve will make the rookie mistake of standing still and covering up against the fence and I expect him to rifle for an unexpected double leg when Johnson is planted and throwing heaters.
My Prediction: Stefan Struve by submission.
Stefan Struve vs. Lavar Johnson
Struve (525 votes)
Johnson (521 votes)
1046 total votes