Time is on Stefan Struve's side

October, 3, 2012
10/03/12
1:39
PM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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StruveJosh Hedges/ Getty ImagesQuick learner: It didn't take long for Stefan Struve to figure out and eventually dissect Stipe Miocic.

AMSTERDAM -- By the time Stefan Struve sat in the lobby of my hotel in Rembrandt Square to rewatch his second round stoppage of Stipe Miocic, he's clear about what’s next.

This marks his third viewing of a fight that, at least among punditry and fans, planted the 24-year-old Dutchman among the 10 best heavyweights in mixed martial arts. Struve had already diagnosed the events leading to Miocic's first loss, and he happily recounts them.

The seven-foot-tall fighter credits Miocic with good footwork through much of the opening stanza. He also dissects his own start; it's not slow, just measured -- a "warming up round,” he states.

"You see pretty much the entire first round, he's moving back with me putting pressure on him because I saw he was having trouble with pressure," Struve said.

During the few hours I spent with Struve on Tuesday in the wake of his definitive victory in Nottingham, England, he spoke often of his growth in the cage. Of taking his time, because he has plenty. Of being utterly comfortable with his progression in a division that is increasingly laden with talent and, therefore, parity.

As an example, he points to an attempted knee after cracking Miocic midway through the first. A couple years ago, he might have attacked Miocic to force a finish. Not now. Not when he sees an opponent moving less like a fencer and more like a tourist in the Red Light District.

"He starts walking instead of moving," Struve points out. "That's experience -- seeing someone slow down."

To a fighter coming into his own, the realization that his opponent is fatiguing; that movement is forsaken for breathing, essentially signals he's not focused like he should be and that the end will come.

"I knew he won the first round. I knew he scored a little more but to be honest with you I don't care about a 10-9 round in his favor,”
Struve said. “I knew I did some damage. I saw his face getting more red and swollen when I hit him with a jab or whatever. I knew the second round was coming up and I know for myself that I can do a good second round. I had two or three more gears to step on, add pressure and keep going."
Stefan Struve
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesFinding jeans that fit is proving a tough task for the 7-foot Struve.

Struve is on a mission today, one not so difficult as winning a UFC championship, but nonetheless challenging. He needs new jeans. Or, at least, he wants a pair or two, length 36 or 38. He was nice enough to join me in Amsterdam, where he rarely visits despite living 20 kilometers away in the seaside town of Beverwijk, and some of Saturday's $65,000 bonus for fight of the night is burning a hole in his pocket.

As we drove through the city he pointed to places where he worked over the years. He spent weekends at Schiphol Airport around a time most American kids get their driver’s license. (This, by the way, is also when he started fighting.) At 18, at the Apollo Museum Hotel, he first became a bouncer -- tall and skinny, he was, yet easily recognizable as someone not to mess with. There was Escape, a club situated in Rembrandt Square where he bounced with fellow fighter
Antoni Hardonk. (Struve spoke glowingly of the club's newest peacemaker, apparently a mountain of a man, and wouldn't be surprised to see the guy end up in the UFC.)

Fighting, of course, has been Struve’s focus (save family and friends) since he was 14. It’s also why he can drive into the ritziest part of Amsterdam and not feel entirely out of place walking into a store that sells 1,000 euro Dolce & Gabbana shoes. He wouldn’t purchase anything here because he’s frugal, but he can still admire and, hey, maybe someday there’s a size 12.5 waiting for him.

The first time he was awarded a bonus in the UFC, a triangle finish of Chase Gormley in 2009, he used the money to buy a house five minutes from his parents, whom he visits daily. Other bonuses (three performance-based) have been tucked away, same with fight purses.

Struve echoes a friend that tagged along with us, sounding not too fond of fighters that choose to burn through their cash. It’s a stupid thing to do, they agreed.

Struve is enjoying this short spell after his latest win. On Sunday he and his girlfriend gorged themselves on McDonald’s. Struve admitted he ate way too much (he’s been known to order 10 or more cheeseburgers at one time) and awoke several times that night, parched. He blows up to 280 pounds between fights, but he’ll return to the gym soon enough.
[+] EnlargeStruve
Josh Hedges/Getty Images There's not much time for Stefan Struve to celebrate his latest victory. He'll return to the gym soon with a new goal in mind.

Working with fighter turned trainer Bob Schreiber, who threw Struve into the deep end from the beginning, as well as a new group of trainers, has helped mold the young heavyweight into a potential force.

Struve had no luck with jeans, so it’s off to a mall, which, more importantly he said, is near the best ice cream place in the city. It’s excellent, a rich yet light mix of vanilla and whip cream. This is all Banketbakkerij serves. When he can, which is to say when he’s not in training camp, Struve always gets three scoops. He finishes in less than five minutes. It takes me about 30, but I manage to will my way through. In two hours' time, Struve said, he’ll make another trip to McDonald’s.

It took some doing, thousands of additional calories notwithstanding, and Struve found two pairs of jeans. He won’t go shopping again for months if he has anything to say about it.

Right now, these simple pleasures are enough for a young man whose life the next few weeks will be a reminder of things not so joyous. His father, a longtime smoker, is battling throat, tongue and mouth cancer -- which Struve compared to the plague -- and the fighter’s energy will be devoted here. The second round of chemotherapy really took a toll.

Sitting with his fellow fighters in Nottingham, Struve listened to UFC president Dana White offer an impassioned speech about what the night meant for all of them. The aptly dubbed “Skypscraper” appreciated White’s comments, but dismissed them as unnecessary. Motivation has never been a problem, he said, especially not since he followed his older brother Nick and encountered martial arts.

Following one round with Miocic, Struve’s corner, which always includes his brother and and Schreiber, told him to kick more. He appeased them early, but soon enough Struve went head hunting.

"It's cool to outbox a Golden Gloves boxer,” he said.

Jabs landed with increased frequency as Struve’s footwork and movement settled down. He was in rhythm -- “in my game,” he called it -- and the fatigue that betrayed Miocic in the first was more pronounced.

"I wanted to keep my reach but also, when I got closer, he didn't really like pressure,” said Struve, leaning forward while watching the closing sequence. “I really start chasing him. I have him hurt. From this moment on I really put the pressure on him. See that I come in closer. I abandoned my reach a little bit but the only reason I did was because in my opinion he was starting to slow down and I was really starting to hit with the hooks and uppercuts.

"I knew I had to get him up against the fence because he was slowing down. He was moving away every single time I got him hurt. I had to get him there so he couldn't move away."

To the fence went Miocic. Struve unloaded. Referee Herb Dean moved in.

"I was really calm. As calm as I've been on the ground my entire career,” he said. “I'm starting to get that on the feet now too. I felt that I was really dragging the fight to me. I saw him with every shot I hit him with; he didn't like that."

Struve’s increased confidence is warranted. He knows his game. He’s fine with a stronger grappler taking him down, yet at the same time felt Miocic wanted no part of him on the floor. Thus the knockout. He’s aware of the advantages (and potential limitations) of his reach and height. But, he made clear, length will never betray him.

“I'm 24. All the time in the world,” Struve said. “Look at all the other guys in the top 10. Can I say that I'm in the top 10 in the world? All the other guys are in their late 20s, 30s or late 30s. All the time in the world.”

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