- Brett Okamoto
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The mind can move at the speed of a lifetime under the right circumstances. Just ask UFC heavyweight Stefan Struve.
At UFC 175 on July 5, Struve, 26, was pulled from his fight against Matt Mitrione after he nearly fainted in his locker room during warm-ups. In a matter of seconds, Struve says his brain started to process a life without professional mixed martial arts.
Surely, the UFC would never allow him to compete again, he thought. That canceled fight was to be his first in more than a year, due to a rare heart disorder that can disrupt blood flow.
"I immediately thought it was over," Struve told ESPN.com. "After all I'd been through, they put me on one of the biggest pay-per-view cards of the year, and then the fight doesn't go through. People pay good money and the fight falls off. I remember thinking, 'This is the last time you'll see the inside of a UFC locker room.'"
Struve (25-6) is scheduled to return to the Octagon again Saturday, to face Alistair Overeem at a UFC on Fox card in Phoenix.
Struve's return may stir up mixed feelings for some. On one hand, Struve's return to the sport he loves is a feel-good story. On the other hand, one might start to wonder if this profession really is the best thing for an athlete with his medical history.
Struve, however, has no concerns going into this fight against Overeem (37-14). Physicians have tied the prefight fainting spell to medications he was taking in July, and he is no longer taking them.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission essentially issued Struve a perpetual suspension, which is lifted as long as he passes a series of cardiology exams every six months.
The Dutch heavyweight was cleared by a cardiologist in November. He will be placed on medical suspension in May 2015 until he passes another series of tests.
In Struve's mind, his career choice has never been safer than it is today -- because he is aware of his condition. In prior fights, Struve says the bicuspid valve in his heart likely contributed to fatigue, even though he thinks he's always been one of the best-conditioned heavyweights in the sport.
Now under medications to treat the disorder, his cardio should be that much better. He says the new prescription he's on has had an even more positive effect than the previous one, minus the side effects.
"I don't think I'm going to get hurt," Struve said. "The one time I got hurt was in my last fight [Struve suffered a broken jaw against Mark Hunt in March 2013]. And that's because I couldn't raise my arms anymore out of exhaustion. I was just standing in front of him.
"I really do believe I'm one of the best heavyweights in the world and I have a long future ahead of me. I'm the only ranked heavyweight under 30 years old. That says a lot."
Both Struve and Overeem hail from the Netherlands, but they aren't close. In a UFC promotional video, Overeem predicted he would finish Struve in "the first 30 seconds" of the bout. Overeem is trying to rebound from a 1-3 skid.
Struve was not particularly taken by Overeem's statement.
"I don't know what this guy is thinking," Struve said. "He's always [winning in] the first minute, but the first minute won't win you the fight. If he starts better than me, which I don't think he will because I'm more focused than ever, he won't take me out. I don't see him having what it takes to take me out.
"He's not as big as he used to be, and I think we all know the reason for that. I'm not intimidated by muscle. I think he's going to be imposed by me. I'm bigger, taller, and he knows I'm a better fighter than he is. He doesn't have the heart and willpower I have -- nowhere near that. There's nothing, really, that scares me about him."
The mind can move at the speed of a lifetime under the right circumstances. Just ask UFC heavyweight Stefan Struve.At UFC 175 on July 5, Struve, 26, was pulled from his fight against Matt Mitrione after he nearly fainted in his locker room during warm-ups.