Stefan Struve vs. Alexander Volkov headlines UFC Fight Night 115 this September 2, 2017 at the Ahoy Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
One sentence summary:
David: The ultimate stiltfighting championship.
Phil: They're tall fighters who are fighting, and are also tall.
Record: Stefan Struve +105 Alexander Volkov -115
Odds: Stefan Struve +105 Alexander Volkov -115
History / Introduction to Both Fighters
David: After a weird, winding career in Bellator, Volkov came to the UFC, and has since experienced a decent amount of success. It’s tough to gauge what he’s capable of offering the UFC heavyweight division. Now it’s Roy Nelson trying to check for a pulse in Bellator. Volkov is a good fighter. At the levels of heavyweight, sometimes that’s all you need to hear whispers of ‘title contender’.
Phil: Alexander Volkov did not cover himself in glory in Bellator, leaving after a weird split decision loss to Tony Johnson and a very Cheick Kongo decision loss to Cheick Kongo. After some time in the European circuit, he made his way to the UFC, where he got his revenge on the Johnson name, and beat up the fading Roy Nelson. After fighting Big Country, it's time to take the next step on through the heavyweight hall of mirrors.
David: For years, Struve has been the link to my constant underestimating of Miocic. Even if you can’t understand what Struve is trying to say after a fight, you know his message to fellow heavyweights - ‘I’ll fight you on your own terms, consequences be damned.’ Struve continues to ride the babbling roller coaster that is his career. He’s had more ups than downs recently, and I don’t know that this is the matchup to keep him on his upward trajectory.
Phil: Stefan Struve once knocked out Stipe Miocic! That is still so weird. When Struve first started out in the UFC, there were a number of people pointing to his relative inexperience and youth, who predicted that he'd go on to big things. Surely he'd clean up his defense at some point. Imagine how good he'd be when he got some muscle on his frame. And so on.
As it turned out: no. None of that was going to happen. At 29 years old, I'd be hard pressed to tell you that Struve is dramatically different than he was in 2009. Maybe he punches a bit better, but he's also been brutally knocked out multiple times and has had his confidence badly shaken.
What's at stake?
David: This fight is basically heavyweight’s shot of morphine. The winner could keep people’s attention on heavyweight, now that Jon Jones is no longer an option to make history, opting for random drugs he found on craigslist instead.
Phil: Uhhhhh. I think the UFC probably wants Volkov to win this. He slots into the bland European slot which Ruslan Magomedov seems to have vacated. It is notable that Struve has been getting less dangerous opponents since he had his panic attack, and I'm honestly kind of glad to see that. It's just a coincidence and no thanks to the UFC, of course. They attempted to book him in a Junior Dos Santos rematch, for God's sake.
Where do they want it?
Phil: From far away? Volkov is more of a traditional outfighter. He moves better, taking smaller and more compact steps, and does a better job of taking his head off the center line when he throws. He actually reminds me of Stipe a reasonable amount, albeit without the wrestling game or the crushing power which Stipe would develop. His primary improvement has been in his clinch game, which he approaches as you might think that he would: the double collar and knees, single collar and elbows. His takedown defense is only OK, but Struve is not much of an offensive wrestler.
David: Volkov fights nothing like his nickname. In place of tall, surgical chingasos thrown with Soviet manliness, he fights like an underfed Taiwanese kickboxer. He keeps his distance with a plodding but piercing jab, opening up for heavier overhand rights or hooks, but only ever as Plan B. He prefers instead to let his knees dictate his opponent’s health bar, flurrying inside the clinch when provoked. There’s not much to his approach, but he follows an efficient linear path to prizefighting.
Phil: Struve is... he's a mess. He does things which sometimes make sense. He can jab. Occasionally he works front and round kicks to the body, which he can usefully land from approximately a continent away. He can counterpunch, as when he knocked out Bigfoot Silva. All this tends to surface in fits and starts. You'll see something pop out of his game, and think "whoa, that's pretty nice", then it'll sink back into the morass of poor footwork and bad defensive habits.
Partially it's not Struve's fault. He is just not terribly well coordinated, and he needs to be extremely well coordinated in order to move his tree trunk limbs around. The small MMA gloves are a nightmare for him, because there are just so many places to hit him, and it is so hard for him to defend himself. On the plus side, he remains a pretty stellar scrambling grappler, although basic physics prevent him from being able to get out from under determined top control artists.
David: Struve’s style of fighting has more in common with a Family Guy sketch than combat theory - securing punchlines to success in intervals, but doing so without much grace or wit. His identity crisis, against all odds, suits him at times. With his length, the outright brawling will work in situations where urgency is paramount (like against Miocic). With his tenacity, having tested the limits of his courage allows him to switch his fight or flight twitch (like against Nog). I don’t believe he’s magically plumbing for techniques he secretly harbors so much as it’s a case of his body willing itself through obstacles. His grappling is a great example of this. How does his grappling prowess suddenly disappear against the drunken momentum of Jared Rosholt? I’m not saying Struve is a blank slate of volition (or that Rosholt is terrible, though possibly one of the two) - just that his lack of athleticism disrupts his tactics, and thus, his execution. Struve just happens to be a dramatic example of this; a modern fighter informed by an unstable network of interlocking instincts.
Insight from past fights?
David: Volkov is still fairly prone to an overhand right. Even a Roy Nelson with day old biscuits and gravy in his arteries found a home at times. Struve’s right hand still has pop, and I could see Volkov having trouble closing the distance as a result.
Phil: Volkov doesn't really resemble most of the guys that have actually beaten Struve, which have tended to be dynamic offensive threats, or powerful wrestlers, or both. As mentioned, he's closer to Stipe, who Struve actually managed to beat, even if Stipe accidentally slipped into an uppercut for it to happen. Basically, I could see Volkov piecing up Struve but then just losing out on raw offense.
David: Gravity? Despite Struve’s struggles, I don’t see where Volkov has some overwhelming physical advantage he can capitalize on.
Phil: I'm still not sure Struve is quite recovered, mentally, and I'm not sure he ever will be. A lot of his early UFC career was losing early, then coming back late, but his latest fights have been much more notable for being pretty one-sided. He starts losing, then just... loses. Ever since Hunt broke his jaw.
Phil: Struve has a decent chance to win this, simply because he hits harder and is a far better and more dynamic grappler than Volkov. However, his defense is terrible, his chin has always been bad, and he's not the kind of offensive wrestler who can take this fight to the place where he really holds significant advantages. Alexander Volkov by TKO, round 2.
David: Volkov’s game is just modest enough to allow Struve to feel comfortable. If Struve can begin the fight feeling comfortable, I think he can find a rhythm that allows him to stay ahead on the scorecards. It’s not like Volkov offsets his attacks with sheer volume. Volkov is the more technical fighter obviously, but I don’t feel like that’s enough here. Stefan Struve by Decision.