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UFC Fight Night 115: Stefan Struve has the tools, but not the know how

Why did the immensely talented Stefan Struve never become a true contender?

At only 29-years-old, Stefan Struve has 18 UFC fights under his belt. During that tenure, he has won six post-fight bonuses, knocked out the current heavyweight champion and accumulated 12 wins with the company. But despite being ranked eighth, most people will agree that Struve is not currently or ever has been title contender material.

Struve came into the UFC highly touted; he was 16-2 and the tallest fighter on the roster. His debut was a bit of a doozy, however, as he met Junior Dos Santos and was crumpled in one round by the Brazilian phenom. Considering that Junior had just crushed Fabricio Werdum in the opening round of his UFC debut, this was an understandable loss.

But then came a TKO loss against Roy Nelson. Despite looking like a short order cook in a coal mining state, Nelson had just won The Ultimate Fighter: Season 10, so he technically qualified as elite competition at the time. But that doesn’t erase the fact that Struve was KO’d in 39 seconds. In fact, out of his five losses by knockout in the UFC, four of them came in the first round. It begs the question of how the largest fighter on the UFC roster, who has finished opponents 25 times, is getting repeatedly crushed in the opening frame.

Length is a blessing and a curse

As Roy Nelson has proven time and time again, size is a potent weapon on top. Struve’s enormous frame lets him pin opponents down like a spider/fire blanket hybrid. He’s not a death sentence on the ground like Antonio Nogueira or Fabricio Werdum, but his long limbs can ensnare inexperienced grapplers.

On his feet, Struve’s offence is surprisingly efficient.

Most lengthy fighters have slow hand speed; it’s more difficult to accelerate longer arms and legs. Instead of “muscling” his strikes to give them speed, Struve throws loose strikes that “snap” through his wheelhouse like Nate Diaz. It’s why fighters that are caught on the end of his punches stagger as though they were clipped by a haymaker. His frame naturally lengthens his uppercut, to a degree that more than one opponent seemed to be shocked that they were getting hit by it. His knees need work though; he gets countered more than he lands.

The skill of out fighting

The crazy thing about Struve is that despite being the largest fighter on the roster, he can’t outfight. Every out fighter has to be able to do at least one of the following two things:

  1. Repeatedly catch an opponent on the edge of their range to dissuade them from coming in
  2. Bait an opponent into whiffing and then countering

Struve can do neither.

His jab is long but very noncommittal; he doesn’t throw the “tapping” jab of the Diaz brothers to build combinations, he doesn’t have a push jab to maintain distance and he doesn’t have the ramrod to punish fighters coming in. His flying knee and intercepting knee lack explosiveness, meaning they space the opponent instead of punishing them. His far-reaching uppercut is great on offence, but he doesn’t have the timing to use it as a reliable counter.

Dos Santos, Nelson, and Mark Hunt knocked Struve out by getting inside and throwing overhand punches. Alistair Overeem got inside, ripped him to the ground and beat a hole in his head. His jumping knee was so slow and telegraphed that Travis Browne was able to superman punch him out of the air. The loss to Jared Rosholt was embarrassing, as a far lesser opponent managed to get Struve to the ground and simply ride him out while avoiding submissions.

The fact that Struve can’t outfight but still has a successful career is a marker of his prodigious talent, but it also caps what he can achieve in the UFC. A time will come when he must show his opponent that there is a price to pay for closing the distance on him.

Considering Alexander Volkov is 6′ 7″ with an 81″ reach, that time won’t be Saturday.

What’s next for Stefan Struve after this weekend? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sirius Brown

A dental student in his mid-twenties who never wants to grow up but doesn't have the musical talent to get to Neverland. Approaches the fight game as a scientist, makes predictions as a pragmatist and eats like a masochist.

UFC Fight Night 115: Stefan Struve has the tools, but not the know how

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