In the main attraction of today's show, which lights off from Nottingham, England at 4:30 p.m. ET, Dutch cage giant 5Stefan Struve takes on undefeated Croatian-American Stipe Miocic. The match caps off the 6-fight lineup on Fuel TV after another 6-piece offering beforehand on the UFC's Facebook page, which begins at 1:30 p.m. ET.
Stefan Struve (24-5) is the UFC's tallest competitor at 7'0" tall, took his first pro-match at age 16 and now has 30 fights to his name. 11 of those contests took place in the UFC, where he's walked a respectable 8-3 path and showed a huge heart along the way. Whereas I fancy a warm hello, a hearty handshake or suggested hiding spots to sneak in a nap on my first day at a new job, Struve was welcomed to the UFC by having an entire fist -- perhaps a good part of the forearm as well -- jammed clear down his throat. Said fist belonged to the scariest knockout artist in the game, the current UFC heavyweight champion and #1 leviathan-sized fighter on earth, Junior dos Santos.
That's why it's so unbelievable that Struve is still just 24-years-old. If some 24-year-old kid were to debut now, even without 11 top-level fights or a 7-foot frame, and have a strong showing, fans would start buzzing about his future potential and considerable room to improve. Struve gets to enjoy that same once in a lifetime opportunity, but does so having a full chapter of his UFC career under his belt.
And the peanut gallery was very helpful in outlining areas Struve needed to work on, as a 1st-round TKO to dos Santos was understandable but subsequent treatment by Roy Nelson and Travis Browne raised some skeptical eyebrows. The wish list included capitalizing on his unfathomable length with more effective striking out on the fringe, moving his head, tucking his chin or at least protecting it better, increasing his coordination and eating a sandwich. Most encouraging is the fact that Struve's done all those things. His almost disproportionally elongated physique has filled out, he's tightened up his stance, defense and the release of his punches and he's throwing straighter (i.e. longer) punches and keeping better balance when uncorking them.
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The voice of Bloody Elbow's all-seeing, all-knowing Scouting Report forewarned us of Stipe Miocic's (9-0) talent by stamping him as the #5 heavyweight prospect in 2011. While Struve premiered 18-fights deep, Miocic, a D1 wrestler and Golden Gloves boxing champion, carried one-third of that experience into his Octagon debut.
But his track record was not devoid of intrigue: Miocic had slaughtered all 6 of his opponents by TKO, the last adding particular panache, especially for a credentialed wrestler, which was a forced submission due to leg kicks. Marco Ruas fans took note and high-fived. Despite a potential glitch in cardio or perhaps succumbing to the accursed Octagon jitters, Miocic lived up to the hype in his Octagon debut with a convincing decision over the hard-headed Joey Beltran; Miocic's first and only contest decided on the score cards.
It seemed as if the virulent Miocic we saw in Round 1 against Beltran was here to stay after the Ohio native cracked Philip De Fries in the jaw and pounded out Shane Del Rosario in the follow up. Having fulfilled the role of a smoldering new prospect on the heavyweight block, Miocic is now expedited to main-event glamor and fitted for battle against the towering sentinel of the division.
Continued in the full entry.
In this appealing match up, both fighters have a very clear area where they should excel against one another and a scenario, that's likely to occur, that's a total toss-up and the overwhelming X-factor.
The unquestionable sweet spot for Struve is lancing away with his 84.5" reach on the farthest perimeter of the striking bubble; for Miocic, the fight-ending power of his crisp boxing is best transmitted at phone-booth range, where he's also in the ideal location to launch his well-timed takedowns. The X-factor-position will come into play should Miocic succeed with those takedowns: Struve has a gracefully venomous guard game and has demonstrated exemplary skill from his back and Miocic's sturdy wrestling background and punching velocity make him a frightening top player.
The latter scenario is ambiguous because Miocic hasn't clocked a lot of time bull-riding a talented grappler, especially a calculating and experienced 7-footer. Struve has been electric from his back in lining up and snapping off technical sweeps and snaking his mile-long limbs around critical arteries or parts of the anatomy integral to breathing. Despite that success and Miocic's inexperience, winning an MMA fight from the guard position is the most ill-advised strategy on the market.
The cardinal elements of the match up all pertain to range. Miocic is expected to thrive at toe-to-toe distance or in the clinch and Struve, who can land punches from the locker room, is an ever-improving nightmare anywhere beyond that range. The question is whether Miocic will also have the edge by pursuing takedowns -- logic and history for top-side wrestlers would indicate yes, but there are some catches. The emphasis on Miocic's past level of competition is warranted, as he hasn't really faced an upper-echelon heavyweight, nor bashed them with his hands or taken them down.
In addition to that, shrinking the gap and lowering levels on a 7-foot-tall kickboxer is not something that comes easy, so Miocic will have to adjust for covering such a vast amount of ground and doing so without taking damage. This will stress the importance of the footwork and angles he employs when charging into Struve's wheelhouse, and Miocic does set up his takedowns well and executes each with polished technique. The same focus on footwork and angles will apply to Struve to keep him in the open space of the center of the cage and out of the confined space of its corners. Struve has struggled in that department and Miocic seems more capable of getting it done.
Of course, getting inside on Struve unharmed is just the beginning. Once he's there, he has start working for a takedown, succeed with it and mount meaningful offense without letting Struve escape or counter-fire every step of the way. Miocic's leg kicks are particularly effective and his go-to weapon from outside, but there's nothing that will make you hesitate to throw low kicks more than a straight punch down the middle; a tactic Struve is surely prepared to enforce from outside. It's worth noting that Miocic commonly sets up his low kicks by distracting with a high punch and, in turn, sets up his takedown attempts by feinting with a leg kick. That type of intelligence might be Miocic's biggest ally in this fight, as Struve is susceptible to fakes and caught off-guard while planting his feet and slinging haymakers.
The bare-bones of it comes down to Miocic's cerebral wrestle-boxing style and ability to get inside versus Struve's length, experience, ability to range-fight and grappling efficacy. Really, Struve has struggled with those characteristics and Miocic, in his short span of exposure, has done quite well with them. That's likely behind his still-extending gap on the betting lines that elicit him as a favorite in the -170 to -200 range. I see this fight a little closer and think it's razor-thin on all sides, but my vote goes to Struve for his matured striking and still-slippery guard skills.
My Prediction: Stefan Struve by decision.