The ongoing trouble with Stefan Struve

Esther Lin / MMA Fighting

Stefan Struve has the joint longest reach in UFC history but continues to get out jabbed by men several inches shorter than him. Here we look at the problems in Stefan Struve's striking game and how he can patch them up.

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It's hard not to like Stefan Struve; he's humble, classy, a great finisher and he often comes back from adversity. He is also one of the few heavyweights who routinely comes into his fights in the kind of physical shape to fight more than two rounds; something which is admirable in a sport where heavyweights gassing is somehow an acceptable occurrence. With his knockout of Stipe Miocic, Struve has finished four opponents in a row and Dana White speculated that the winner of the fight would be the number 5 or 6 heavyweight in the world. Unfortunately Stefan Struve, despite picking up several impressive finishes in his recent run, has shown very little improvement in the skills that have been letting him down his entire career. Despite having an 84 inch reach Stefan Struve still fights as if he believes he is a foot shorter.

In February I wrote an article at Head Kick Legend called "The Trouble with Stefan Struve", outlining the difficulties that Struve had utilizing his reach. The powers that be at SBNation have opted to delete said article so I have no scruples over repeating myself in today's article.

Here is what I had to say about Struve in February:

"The true hole in Struve's game and what is stopping him from achieving greatness is his refusing to fight as tall on the feet as he does on the ground. Stefan Struve is not a small target, and while he possesses the joint longest reach in the UFC, he consistently fails to use it. A drought of strong jabs is not the only ailment in Struve's striking though; he over-commits when he gets any attack going..."

"Struve's desire to constantly walk in is not the way a man with an 84 inch reach should fight, he smothers his punches and exposes himself."

"Against better punchers, Struve's inability to use his reach has proven more costly to his career and his cognitive faculties. Now heavyweight champion, Junior dos Santos is a puncher who does not typically use his jab all that well (excluding his match with Carwin) and prefers to throw thudding straight rights, left hooks and right uppercuts. He should have found a nightmare in Struve's reach and ground wizardry, but instead was allowed to walk in on the big Dutchman and throw his hands comfortably. It is one thing to excuse this loss as Junior Dos Santos is now the heavyweight champion - but there is nothing magical about Dos Santos that allows him to wade through the gulf of distance in which Struve can hit him but he cannot hit Struve. Struggling under pressure in the stand up as he often does, rather than attempt to tie up, Struve made the mistake of attempting to cover up. In 4oz gloves covering up is not a great move anyway, but Struve's long arms work against him as he covers up, it is almost impossible or a man of Struve's length to put his gloves on his head without bowing his elbows out a foot in front of him and allowing punches looping around behind them."

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The main flaws that I indentified in Stefan Struve's striking were that:

  • He lacks a jab that earns the respect of his opponent.
  • Rather than moving, he covers up in defence.
  • He routinely attempts techniques that put well in range of his opponent and are easy to catch, counter or avoid.
All of these flaws were on display amply last night despite Struve's eventual stoppage of Miocic.

Lack of a respectable jab

It is hard to pinpoint a specific image or gif to illustrate Struve's lack of a jab but it is certainly true that if Struve had a respectable jab the entire dynamic of his fights would change. Excellent examples of Struve's lack of a competent jab are his inability to outstrike men such as Dave Herman and Roy Nelson. These men are not good strikers but they were allowed to look great because they could stand in their range and do whatever they want with Struve doing little to answer them. Roy Nelson is an excellent example as he simply ran at Struve while Struve did nothing to stop him. Even competent strikers such as Junior Dos Santos and Pat Barry should never have been able to trouble Struve as much as they did without at least being punished while walking through the gulf of distance between the end of their reach and the end of Struve's.

Every single one of Struve's UFC losses can be attributed entirely to him allowing opponents to get in almost on top of him on the feet, where his long limbs are ineffectual. When Struve does jab, he rarely puts much force behind it because he is either tentative or hasn't invested the time in building a powerful jab with his considerable bodyweight behind it. Notice here, against Stipe Miocic, on one of the few ocassions Struve throws his jab, it doesn't even concern Miocic who simply fires at Struve as he pulls the jab back.

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1. Struve throws a backhand jab, flicking it out and leaning with his upper body, rather than stepping into it with his weight. Struve's range is off and he fails to commit so the punch simply glances off Miocic's face.

2. Miocic follows Struve's hand as it comes back low (this is where Roy Nelson caught Struve with an overhand and put him to sleep).

3. Struve realises what is happening as Miocic connects a strong right hook to the body.

4. Struve assumes his covering up posture as Miocic gets into close quarters punching range.

There is nothing to say that Struve cannot develop a hard, jolting jab - any healthy person can - and it would put him head and shoulders above the majority of the competition who are now giving him trouble. If Struve learned to use his jab as ruthlessly and consistently as the Klitschko brothers or even to kick his opponent's legs as well as Jon Jones, he would easily dispatch many of the men he has lost to, and he would certainly give Junior Dos Santos more than a handful.

Covering Up

Another of Struve's technical choices which doesn't suit his frame is his decision to cover up whenever he is under fire. Watch a Jon Jones fight and even in the moments when his opponents manage to rush him (such as Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans), Jones doesn't cover up. He runs right back out to range and starts punishing his opponent as they attempt to close it again. We've already covered Struve's inability to punish opponents as they close the range, but once they do close the range Struve essentially allows them to stay there by covering up.

Covering up suits stockier men such as Quinton Jackson because they like to get their opponents on top of them before they start swinging back counters (just watch Jackson versus Wanderlei Silva 3 to see that in action). Struve, however, has no meaningful attacks from the range at which his opponents can throw hooks. As such a great many of his losses have come while he was covering up. Junior Dos Santos is an excellent example of a fighter who noticed Struve's one-note defence and simply poured on the offence until Struve toppled. (G)

To the casual observer Miocic seemed to be boxing well last night - working the body and getting in and out. In fact there was absolutely no need for him to do either action because Struve's go to defence looked like this:

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Notice how Struve's long limbs leave enormous openings behind his gloves where his neck and jaw may be struck. This is exactly what Junior dos Santos did so brilliantly against Struve. It looked ugly but it made sense - Dos Santos was already in his range, Struve was doing nothing to stop Dos Santos staying there, so Dos Santos just poured on violence until the fight was over. Miocic could easily have done exactly the same thing if he weren't convinced that he needed to work the body at get out. Miocic is a good puncher but his insistance on trying to be a boxer arguably cost him this match. It is only necessary to get in and get out if the opponent s doing something to stop you staying there - Struve did very little to force Miocic to step out every time. If Struve does not learn how to get back to his own range, he will continue to be highlight reel fodder for men such as Dos Santos and Alistair Overeem who excel at destroying covering opponents.

Choosing Short Techniques

Stefan Struve's cardinal sin is that he actively chooses to run into a range where is opponent can hit him. Instead of sitting behind a jab or a teep Struve charges his opponents with stepping knees and swinging right hooks. Here is an excellent example of what happens when Struve rushes his opponents Struve_fail_1_medium

1. Struve has hurt Sean McCorkle with a hard right straight and chases him to the cage.


2. Rather than use his lead hand to keep McCorkle along the fence then use his right when he is safe to, Struve runs in swinging a right hook.


3. McCorkle ducks.


4. McCorkle hoists Struve aloft and slams him to the mat.

Another choice example of Struve using techniqes that are not range appropriate is his stepping knee. (G) Yet another is his flying knee which is still a common feature in Struve's game despite having never been used effectively in a major fight. (G) Even though these techniques have rarely proved worth the high risk that Struve takes in attempting them, he continues to use them in his fights - gifting his opponents the range that they want to be at or a takedown.

Here is an example of Struve willingly giving up his reach to a hard punching wrestler in Miocic last night.

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Notice that Struve runs in with his right knee, hands down (which is exactly how he got knocked out against Travis Browne's superman punch) then immediately gets his leg caught and is thrown to his back. As a great guard player it is admirable that Struve is willing to try dangerous techniques that put his balance at risk. As a middling striker with a history of being knocked out by men who crowd him however, it is not especially smart for Struve to be running in to deliver short range techniques instead of staying at range and learning to strike there.

Conclusions

Struve's right hand and particularly his right uppercut have always been powerful, and his guard has always been exciting to watch, but his recent streak of wins has been more to do with being one of the few heavyweights in the world who can recover from mistakes and who doesn't tire after two rounds. Dave Herman, Pat Barry and Stipe Miocic were all giving Struve fits in the early going of their fights with him, but all faded late. Against truly top flight competition it is doubtful whether the improvements pundits keep touting in Struve's striking game will actually be evident.

Jack Slack breaks down over 70 striking tactics employed by 20 elite strikers in his ebook, Advanced Striking.

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Look out for news on Jack Slack's new kindle book, Elementary Striking which will teach the basic techniques and strategies of striking in detail.

Jack can be found on Twitter, Facebook and at his blog; Fights Gone By.

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