I like to pretend that because Alexander Volkov and Stefan Struve are the two tallest fighters in the UFC they share a special bond.
That despite being divisional rivals, they can call each other for support whenever a heckler asks them, “How’s the weather up there?” That they both subscribe to a database that tells people which department stores can help them find clothes that fit with the least snark. That one time they both were part of a class action lawsuit because a chain restaurant lowered their doorways without informing them.
All of that is false of course, fabricated for my own entertainment.
In reality, this fight is a throw down between two very talented but inconsistent giants.
Alexander “Drago” Volkov (28-6)
Imagine a 6′ 7″ male who is in shape, but not what you would call “athletic.” They’d be great in a pickup game of basketball, but they don’t have the speed or hops or coordination to make it past the collegiate level. Pretend that person sunburns easily. Now look up Volkov and see how close your imaginary man really was.
Volkov is a jack of all trades, master of none.
His punches and kicks carry a good sting, but it’s not the type of instant knockout power that’s often expected of heavyweight fighters. He can wrestle and get takedowns, but he doesn’t have the kind of explosive shot that makes opponents worry about throwing kicks or long punches. With only three submissions to his name, it’s clear that Volkov is an opportunist rather than a specialist on the ground.
If there’s one real advantage he carries, it’s that he can move very well. He’s not on the level of Stipe Miocic or Alistair Overeem, but he has the footwork to keep his opponent at the distance he wants. Roy Nelson may no longer be considered “elite,” but being able to avoid his power shots and taxing grappling game signifies at least some ringman-ship.
Volkov’s biggest issue seems to be that he just isn’t very strong. The loss to Vitaly Minakov is understandable; Minakov is undefeated in MMA and possibly the best non-UFC heavyweight around. But the losses to Cheick Kongo and Tony Johnson both followed the same story; the technically superior Volkov getting muscled to the ground for long periods of time and losing a decision.
Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve (28-8)
Depending on who you ask, Struve is either 6′ 11″ or 7′ 0.” Either way, he is the tallest fighter in the UFC and has an 84″ reach to boot. In 28 career wins, Struve has submitted 17 opponents and knocked out eight. He’s achieved this impressive percentage almost solely by exploiting the advantages of his height and length.
Like the Diaz brothers, Struve isn’t a great wrestler but his grappling is nigh unstoppable in specific scenarios. Those two scenarios for him are when he is on top of a much smaller opponent, or he’s underneath a fighter whose cardio has failed. Luckily he’s the tallest fighter in the heavyweight division, so both scenarios have repeated themselves with remarkable consistency.
Struve may not be much of an infighter, but on the edge of his punches he can snap heads like a bad nightmare. Christian Morecraft beat a hole through his head for the opening round in their fight, but a few long hooks in the second was all it took to put him out for the count.
The problem is that inside of his optimal range, Struve is pretty lost. Out of his six losses in the UFC, he has been knocked out five times. Each time, fighters got inside his long reach to smash him with a haymaker or take him down before pounding him out. Despite having solid knees and a wicked uppercut, he doesn’t seem to understand how to time them to keep elite fighters from closing in on him.
Struve has certainly been improving as his career has gone on, but the fact that he lost to Jared Rosholt raises questions.
This fight could go either way.
Volkov is better at maintaining distance, but he always did so as the longer fighter; a fight against Struve involves getting in, not staying away. Because the reach difference is only 3″, there will be a significant overlap between the two fighters’ effective ranges. Basically, any time a fighter throws a punch or kick they are at a risk of eating a counter.
Struve has been knocked out more than Volkov, but he suffered them against some of the hardest hitters the sport has ever seen. It doesn’t say much about Struve’s defence, but it’s hard to say his chin is “gone” when the only people who could put him down will have their organs harvested for military experiments.
The fight will come down to who gets comfortable first and walks the other man down. Volkov has the footwork to get away from Struve if he’s uncomfortable, while the latter may not. Additionally, Volkov can put some real heat on his punches if he feels the momentum of the fight shift dramatically in his favour; he was able to starch the dangerous Atilla Vegh against the ropes with a brutal salvo.
I’m wary of that Struve uppercut, but Volkov should pull this out.
Volkov via TKO
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