MMA: Stefan Struve

Struve: Overeem knows I'm a better fighter

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
8:19
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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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.'"

I remember thinking, 'This is the last time you'll see the inside of a UFC locker room.'

-- UFC heavyweight Stefan Struve

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.
[+] EnlargeMark Hunt
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesStefan Struve, front, feels the only time he's been hurt was against Mark Hunt -- and that was due to exhaustion.

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."

Belfort's KO of Rockhold best of the year

June, 27, 2013
6/27/13
11:42
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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Six months remain until the 2013 mixed martial arts year officially concludes, but already several knockouts have left lasting impressions.

While some have been more devastating than others, timing and circumstance also are significant factors in determining which knockouts stand out from the pack. And none stands out more than middleweight contender Vitor Belfort’s spinning heel kick on May 18 that finished Strikeforce titleholder Luke Rockhold at UFC on FX 8.
[+] EnlargeVitor Belfort, Luke Rockhold
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesVitor Belfort's concussive power was on full display against Luke Rockhold.

The strike was quick, precise and unexpected. After it connected, Rockhold was on his way to sleep before absorbing a few more of Belfort’s punches, which forced referee Leon Roberts to stop the assault at 2:32 of the first round.

The knockout was so impressive that ESPN.com voted it the best of 2013 thus far.

Rockhold had no chance of defending himself; he didn’t see the head-rattling strike coming. It caught Rockhold just under his left ear. The kick, which likely will be talked about throughout this year and many more to come, was a thing of beauty.

In fact, everything about Belfort that evening was beautiful. His body was chiseled, there was that nostalgic sparkle in his eyes and he exuded an extremely high level of confidence that hadn’t been seen in a long time. Belfort was going to leave to Octagon victorious, and there wasn’t a doubt in his mind about it. The 36-year-old Belfort appeared to have found the fountain of youth: His hand speed and reflexes conjured up images of the 19-year-old “Phenom” who knocked out Tank Abbott in 59 seconds at UFC 13 in May 1997.

These images, however, are the reason this knockout will struggle to retain its top spot at the end of 2013. Heading into the bout, Rockhold repeatedly raised concerns about Belfort’s reliance on testosterone replacement therapy. The topic hovered over this bout like a toxic cloud and fueled hostility between the fighters.

“I don’t necessarily trust him. And I don’t necessarily trust the system,” Rockhold said before the fight. “Do I think he’s cheating? Yes, I do.

“He definitely looks bigger than I’ve normally seen him. If you see the comparisons versus back when he fought Anderson Silva to now, [and] the Jon Jones fight, he put on some serious muscle mass.”

With Belfort’s previous positive test for elevated testosterone levels and the fight taking place in his native Brazil, where questions abound regarding the lack of stringent drug-testing, Rockhold’s concerns seemed reasonable. The outcome only increased suspicion.

But until proven otherwise, Belfort is presumed innocent. And his knockout of Rockhold is the best midway through 2013.

The knockout secured Belfort’s place among the top two 185-pound contenders. He is likely first in line to face the Silva-Chris Weidman winner -- which takes place July 6 in Las Vegas.

But cries have already begun for Belfort’s next fight to be held in the United States. Each fight he has participated in this year has been in Brazil. Belfort won both fights by knockout -- perennial contender Michael Bisping went down in the second round Jan. 19. And yes, Belfort looked physically ripped in that fight.

Belfort didn’t simply beat Bisping and Rockhold; he stopped them with punishing knockouts. It’s hard to imagine any middleweight surviving the strikes Belfort delivered in those two fights.

To begin erasing doubts about the validity of his recent performances, Belfort must prove his resurgence isn’t the result of having a home-field advantage. He must show off his renewed speed, cardio and physical physique under the Association of Boxing Commission’s closely monitored therapeutic-use-exemption guidelines. Otherwise, the doubts will escalate.


Other notable knockouts:

No. 2: Emanuel Newton KO1 Muhammed Lawal: Bellator 90 (Feb. 21). Newton’s spinning back fist that knocked out former Strikeforce light heavyweight titleholder and huge pre-fight favorite “King Mo” Lawal was a thing of beauty.

No. 3: Antonio Silva KO3 Alistair Overeem: UFC 156 (Feb. 2). “Bigfoot” Silva earned a rematch and title shot against Cain Velasquez with an impressive third-round stoppage of top contender Alistair Overeem.

No. 4: Muhammed Lawal KO1 Seth Petruzelli: Bellator 96 (June 19). Lawal makes his second appearance on the KO list, but as the winner this time. His first-round knockout of Seth Petruzelli was about as brutal as they come.

No. 5: Mark Hunt KO3 Stefan Struve: UFC on Fuel 8 (March 2). Stefan Struve suffered a broken jaw and a hit to his title contendership at the heavy hands of Mark Hunt.

Fight of the midyear: Grice-Bermudez

June, 24, 2013
6/24/13
12:43
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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The first adjective Matt Grice uses to describe that grueling, split-decision loss to Dennis Bermudez on Feb. 23 at UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif., is “fun.” Awesome time.

“One of the most fun fights I’ve ever been in,” Grice said. “Just competing with a person of that caliber. We’re all there to test ourselves, and I feel that fight tested me a lot -- my willingness to continue and keep going. To me, that’s fun.”

ESPN.com’s fight of the midyear was a landslide win for Grice and Bermudez. It’s a funny thing, “Fight of the nights.” Sometimes, stylistically, you can predict them. Oftentimes, however, they appear totally random -- as was the case with Grice and Bermudez.
[+] EnlargeDennis Bermudez
Ed Mulholland for ESPNDennis Bermudez, right, and Matt Grice took turns testing each other's chin for three full rounds.

Grice, for one, has no idea how to describe exactly what happens between two fighters that can turn a technical martial arts contest into a spirited brawl. He does know, however, that physical and mental endurance are involved.

“That definitely wasn’t in the game plan, you know?” Grice said. “Take a bunch of punches and give a bunch of punches. You just get in the zone."

Bermudez got full mount on Grice in the first minute of the fight. The two exhausted one another against the fence throughout, fighting for underhooks and throwing knees and punches to the body. It continued like that for the next 14 minutes.

One of the most incredible things about the fight was that both had enough left to stand and trade punches in the final minute. The pace of this featherweight bout was insane from the beginning.

Grice dropped Bermudez with a perfect left hook in the first round.

Bermudez’s corner told him, “We need this round, you’ve got to go for it,” as he came off his stool for the final round. Across the Octagon, Grice’s corner’s last words were, “Don’t stop. Don’t relax.”

“I think more than anything in that third round, it was survival tactic, Grice said. He hurt me right off the bat in that third round. Every time I would recover a little bit, he’d hit me with another one that would put me out. He was in great shape, too, because he threw a lot of punches in that last round.”

Grice appeared out on his feet at least three times in the final round.

“I looked up at the clock with 47 seconds left and thought, ‘Man, where did the rest of this round go?’” Grice said. “I came off the cage and hit him with a left hand and for the last 30 seconds or so we flurried.”

According to FightMetric.com, Bermudez landed 120 total strikes to Grice’s 82. It was, by far, the most times either had been hit in a UFC bout.

No. 2: Johny Hendricks UD3 Carlos Condit, UFC 158 (March 16). This was an angry Hendricks. The kind of Hendricks you get when you give away his title shot to a recently suspended welterweight, coming off a loss. Condit wasn’t backing down, though. Amazing fight.

No. 3: Wanderlei Silva KO2 Brian Stann, UFC on Fuel 8 (March 2). Stann may have been able to play this safe and gone after Silva late -- but we’ll never know because he chose to do the opposite. One would have thought Stann’s chin would have held up better than Silva’s, but that wasn’t the case, as it was the Axe Murderer left standing after a firefight.

No. 4: Cat Zingano vs. Miesha Tate, TUF 16 Finale (April 13). Tate will give you a fight. She’s relentless and for two rounds, it worked against Cat Zingano. In the third, with a reality show and title shot on the line, Zingano delivered a highlight TKO.

No. 5: Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Struve, UFC on Fuel 8 (March 2). The weigh-in photo of these two ranks among the most comical in UFC history. The actual fight ranks among the best of the year. For Hunt to get inside that reach, chances were he’d have to absorb a little punishment along the way. That’s pretty much what happened, until Hunt delivered the walk-off home run shot.
Mark Hunt is looking to build on his stoppage of Stefan Struve at the weekend with a crack at the heavyweight title in his sights -- but he's ruled out the possibility of fighting teammate Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva. More »

Struve taking aim at top contender status

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
7:33
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Strefan StruveJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesBy taking advantage of his 7-foot frame, Stefan Struve has reeled off a five-fight win streak.
For the record, when Stefan Struve looks in the mirror, he sees the same thing everyone else sees when they first look at him: a really, really tall guy.

The 7-foot Struve is well aware of the physical advantage he holds in the UFC heavyweight division. He also knows he hasn’t always used that advantage as well as he should. That's the one focus the 25-year-old has right now in his career.

You know your size is unique. Now use it to your advantage.

"When I first got into the UFC, I tried to get the win a little too hard," Struve told ESPN.com. "Sometimes I would fight at their distance and on their terms. That shouldn't be the case with my size. Everybody should be fighting on my terms -- my distance. [In previous fights] I've put myself in position for guys to tee off on me. That shouldn't happen."

Struve (25-5) has been one of the most consistent heavyweights in the UFC in the past three years, winning nine of 12 fights in the Octagon. The three losses, however, have all come in devastating, first-round knockout fashion.

That outcome is certainly a possibility in Struve's upcoming fight against Mark Hunt (8-7), which will serve as the co-main event in this weekend's UFC on Fuel event in Japan. Of Hunt's eight professional wins, five have come via knockout.

Since his last appearance -- a TKO win over Stipe Miocic in September -- Struve says he's added between 15 and 20 pounds of muscle to his frame. On Friday, he plans to actually cut five pounds of water weight to make the 265-pound limit.

The weight gain apparently came somewhat naturally, as Struve says he must have hit a second "growth spurt." He also said he added another daily meal to his diet.

So, does that means he's eating four meals per day?

"Instead of six meals and two shakes, I eat seven meals a day," Struve said. "I'm on a really healthy diet. I lift two to three times per week. I've been working with the same strength coach for four years and the plan was not to gain too fast."

Struve has a similar plan when it comes to the UFC title -- nothing too fast. He quickly accepted Saturday's matchup against Hunt, despite the fact the same fight was scheduled last May, and he's posted two wins since then.

He passes on the opportunity to criticize No. 1 heavyweight contender Antonio Silva, who is set to face Cain Velasquez at UFC 160 despite being dominated by Velasquez less than one year ago. Struve calls the fight, "the most logical choice."

That said, Struve needs no reminder that a win over Hunt would extend his win streak to five. That's tops in the UFC, not counting Strikeforce newcomer Daniel Cormier.

"Anything can happen, so first I want to get my win [on Saturday]," Struve said. "Then we'll see what happens. If I win this fight, I'll be a on a five-fight win streak. I'm the only guy on a five-fight win streak, so I think I have a pretty strong bid to be the top contender."

UFC on Fuel 8 by the numbers

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
6:35
AM ET
By Andrew R. Davis
ESPN Stats & Information
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Wanderlei SilvaJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesWanderlei Silva has struggled against American opponents since 2007.

UFC on Fuel TV 8 takes place from the Saitama Super Arena in Japan this Saturday, the sixth time the UFC has traveled to the “Land of the Rising Sun.” The main event sees Wanderlei Silva battle Brian Stann at light heavyweight while Stefan Struve takes on Mark Hunt in a heavyweight bout. Here are the numbers you need to know for Saturday’s fights:

6: Fights Silva has had against an American fighter since his return to the UFC in 2007. He is 1-5 in those bouts, losing his past four (Rich Franklin twice, Chris Leben and Quinton Jackson). “The All-American” has fought just one Brazilian fighter in his career, defeating Jorge Santiago at UFC 130.

Wanderlei Silva, UFC Career vs. American Fighters:
UFC 147 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 132 Chris Leben L, KO
UFC 99 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 92 Quinton Jackson L, KO
UFC 84 Keith Jardine W, KO
UFC 79 Chuck Liddell L, UD

6: Times Silva has been defeated by KO or TKO in his 48-fight career. Four of those knockouts have come inside the UFC Octagon, while the other two were his last two PRIDE fights against Dan Henderson and Mirko Filipovic. The "Cro-Cop" fight was the last time Silva fought in Japan, which served as the home for PRIDE organization. Stann has nine KO/TKO wins in 17 career fights.

75: Percent of wins by "The Axe Murderer" that have come by KO or TKO (24 of 32). When Silva defeated Michael Bisping at UFC 110 by unanimous decision, it marked his first win not by KO or TKO since November 2003 at PRIDE: Final Conflict.

3: The combined takedowns by both fighters in their UFC careers (Silva 2, Stann 1). Each fighter attempts less than one takedown and one submission attempt per 15 minutes. In other words, it would be shocking to see this fight go to the ground unless one of the fighters gets knocked down.

2010: The last time former WEC light heavyweight champion Stann fought at 205 pounds, where he is 8-3 in his career. Stann will be dropping back to middleweight after this fight with Silva, where he holds a 4-2 record.

9: The reach advantage for 7-footer Stefan Struve in his co-main event bout against 5-foot-10 Mark Hunt. Struve’s reach is 83 inches while Hunt has a 74-inch reach. The 83-inch reach for Struve is second behind Jon Jones (84.5 inches) for longest reach in the UFC.

9: Wins for Struve inside the UFC Octagon, tied with Junior dos Santos, Gabriel Gonzaga and heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez for third among active heavyweights. With a win, he would join Frank Mir, Cheick Kongo, Andrei Arlovski and Randy Couture as the only UFC fighters with double-digit wins in the division.

Most UFC Wins, Active Heavyweight Fighters:
Frank Mir 14
Cheick Kongo 11
Cain Velasquez 9
Junior dos Santos 9
Gabriel Gonzaga 9
Stefan Struve 9*
*Four-fight win streak

3.9: Submissions attempted per 15 minutes for "The Skyscraper," fifth highest in UFC history and first among heavyweights. "The Super Samoan" has six submission defeats in seven career losses, all arm-related (three by armbar, two by kimura, one by keylock). Of Struve’s 16 submission victories, only three are by armbar (13 submissions by choke).

2: The main and co-main events are the only fights on the card not to feature a fighter from Japan or South Korea. There are nine Asia versus The World contests on the card. Japan is represented by Takanori Gomi, Yushin Okami, Mizuto Hirota, Riki Fukuda, Takeya Mizugaki, and Kazuki Tokudome. The South Koreans are represented in three matchups by Dong Hyun Kim, Kyung Ho Kang and Hyun Gyu Lim.

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.”

Stefan Struve: A monster in the making?

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
6:31
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Strefan StruveJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesWas Saturday's display a sign of things to come from Stefan Struve or merely a one-off thing?


A funny thing happened to Stefan Struve on Saturday en route to his second-round TKO victory over Stipe Miocic at UFC on Fuel TV.

After an uneasy first round where Struve ate a succession of overhand rights and hard body shots while looking poised to do what he seemingly always does -- fight small -- he suddenly started acting like a genuine 7-foot giant.

Struve’s first really good jab snapped Miocic’s head back with 3:48 left in the second and it appeared to burst whatever psychological block had been inhibiting his offense in the early going. He landed another, then another, lashing his much smaller opponent with exactly the kind of go-go-Gadget strikes that ought to be the calling card of the tallest fighter in UFC history.

It was as if each long-distance punch further convinced him of what we’d all been thinking (and in some cases shouting at our televisions) during the first three-plus years of his career in the big show: that if he ever learned how to properly use his height, he could be a monster.

With the jab finally working, Struve opened up with a series of uppercuts, one of which sent Miocic stumbling and slipping into the laser right hand that signaled his demise. Roughly two minutes after the “Skyscraper” began living up to his nickname, he was jogging across the cage in celebration, leaving Miocic to do a weird zombie tango in the arms of Herb Dean.

This made it an even dozen fights in the Octagon for the 24-year-old Dutchman, an almost unthinkable number for someone so young and still such a work in progress. The win over Miocic was Struve’s fourth in a row, pushed him to 9-3 in the UFC and should comfortably ensconce him in the lower half of the heavyweight top 10.

Whether it signals some greater epiphany for him very much remains to be seen.

The popular narrative on Struve has always been one of untapped potential. He has been good, but not great so far in the UFC, struggling at times to cash in on the obvious advantage of his outlandish stature. Too often, he gets suckered into playing the shorter man’s game and the first round of this latest outing was no different.

[+] EnlargeStipe Miocic
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesWhen Stefan Struve got going, Stipe Miocic lacked the experience and skills to deal with the stronger, taller fighter.


The second round? That was more like it.

After oddsmakers saw fit to install him as an underdog to the undefeated but inexperienced Miocic -- a talented prospect who fits the mold of the smallish, athletic heavyweights who’ve thus far ruled the post-Lesnar era -- this was probably the defining victory of Struve’s career to date.

Then again, it’s only one win. It could be a sign of things to come or it could just be the high watermark for a fighter who will continue to be one of the sport’s most frustrating projects. Doubly frustrating because we won’t know anything definitive for some time to come.

After it was all over, Struve said his slow start here was by design, that he wanted to pace himself during the first five-round fight of his life. If that’s true, it was a dangerous strategy and one that only forced him to reaffirm his reputation as an exciting fighter who can take a beating and still battle back to win.

Fact is though, Struve knows that’s not the kind of fighter he should ultimately be. His mix of solid striking, submissions, fitness and heart make for a potent skill set in a division that hasn’t exactly been synonymous with well-rounded cardio machines in the past. Couple all that with his size and reach and it’s clear he shouldn’t have to play the role of comeback kid.

This is something both he and his team have talked about at length (no pun intended) throughout his UFC stint: that he ought to be dominating people, smothering them from a mile away. That when he reaches out and touches someone, they shouldn’t be able to touch him back. That when he leaves the cage, the only scratches on him ought to be on his knuckles.

Saturday’s win was a good start, but Struve’s not quite there yet. Luckily for him, at his age he’s still got time to grow.

Struve sure chin, smarts will pass Stipe test

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
8:54
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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Stefan StruveEd Mulholland for ESPN.comIt's official: Stefan Struve has declared he's out of the unnecessary slugfest business.
As UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has proven numerous times, having an 84˝-inch reach can be very beneficial inside the Octagon -- but only when used properly.

Heavyweight contender Stefan Struve also has an 84˝-inch reach, but he has yet to fully use it to his advantage. And that can’t continue if Struve is to have any shot at becoming a serious title challenger. No one knows this better than Struve.

With a height of 6-foot-11˝ to go along with that exceptionally long reach, Struve should be a difficult target for any opponent. Too often, however, Struve finds himself in a slugfest. Regular participation in slugfests might make one popular with fans, but it isn’t a good recipe if the ultimate goal is to have an extended fighting career.

The 24-year-old Struve wants to compete in mixed martial arts for a long time. He also envisions himself one day claiming the title. In an effort to improve his chances of attaining both, Struve has worked diligently in recent training camps on better utilizing his reach advantage.

There is more pop in his jab, his lateral movement has advanced and he’s much better at catching guys coming in. On offense and defense Struve, who has strong submission skills off of his back, has taken his standup game to a higher level.

“I’m evolving as a fighter with every fight,” Struve told ESPN.com. “I’m starting to use my reach; I’m starting to fight from a distance. But it’s my distance and not their distance.

“They have to step in now to throw something. But when they step in, I can throw something to keep them from stepping in again.”

Improved striking and defensive elusiveness is the area of Struve’s standup game that he expects will be most noticeable Saturday night when he faces undefeated Stipe Miocic in Nottingham, England.

Miocic is a dangerous striker who has knocked out seven of the nine mixed martial artists he has faced in his professional career.

None of Miocic’s opponents had the technical skills or experience that Struve will carry into the Octagon. Knowing he represents a step up in competition for Miocic provides Struve with a little extra boost of confidence.

Struve (24-5) is riding a three-fight win streak and is in a rhythm unlike any he has felt in the past. It’s a rhythm that Struve believes, if maintained against Miocic, will put him squarely in the title picture.

“Stipe is a great opponent,” Struve said. “He’s 9-0; he’s a great wrestler and he’s got a lot of hype around him. He’s undefeated but I really don’t care about that. I’m definitely good enough to beat him.

“The winner of this fight will be between the top 5 and top 10 of the UFC heavyweight division.”

When talking about this fight, Struve makes it a point to include the importance of how he must look winning it. Getting into another slugfest and eking out a difficult victory isn’t part of the plan. Struve wants to be taken seriously as a contender and the best way to do that is to win impressively. He plans to deliver a dominant performance Saturday night.

“With all the new things I’m learning, the fights are getting easier. It’s a lot easier to defend; it’s a lot easier to attack,” Struve said. “Fighting itself is becoming a lot easier.

“Taking a shot, I’ve already shown I can do that, but with all the improved techniques controlling the fight is beginning to get a lot easier. If you don’t have to take punishment it’s a lot easier to give punishment. I didn’t have to tear up my face in my last three fights and I’d like to keep that streak going.

“I want to show that I can dominate a fight from the first minute until the last.”

Heavyweight UFC 146 to be feast or famine

March, 19, 2012
3/19/12
1:53
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Overeem/WerdumRic Fogel for ESPN.comAlistair Overeem's three-round snoozefest with Fabricio Werdum was one to forget.
A couple of months from now, the UFC will go high concept.

Or at least, heavy concept.

Last week’s confirmation that a bout between Stefan Struve and Mark Hunt will open the main card of UFC 146 on May 26 means that the show will be an all-heavyweight affair. For the first time in the company’s modern history, it will put nothing but 265-pound fights on the pay-per-view portion of a broadcast.

It’s the kind of thing that’ll look great on a poster -- Five Exciting Heavyweight Fights! -- and the cherry on top will be Junior dos Santos defending his UFC title for the first time against the mountainous Alistair Overeem.

The public’s fascination with heavyweights is well-documented, so this particular promotional gambit can’t possibly hurt in the lead-up to UFC 146. Whether or not it significantly moves the needle while a slew of equally promotable, but lighter fighters are left on the undercard, though, remains to be seen.

Either way, it could be fairly instructive for the future.

Here’s the problem, though: Our preoccupation with heavyweights, aside from the sheer spectacle of it all, is rooted in boxing, where conventional wisdom dictates that the bigger the dude, the better the chance of fireworks. In MMA however, this doesn’t always translate. Sure, heavyweights can produce crowd-pleasing knockouts, but with four-ounce gloves, so too can flyweights. For the practical application of this, see: Benavidez, Joseph.

Though certainly in the running for most popular, MMA’s heavyweight division is also arguably the one most likely to let you down. Heavyweights get tired. Heavyweights are often inexperienced. Heavyweight bouts can be over before you know it, or they can slog to 15-minute decisions that seem to take an hour. In other words, in this sport, 265-pound fights are typically either great or terrible, with very little gray area in between.
[+] EnlargeKongo/Barry
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesCome-from-behind wins like Cheick Kongo's are few and far between in MMA.

That makes UFC 146 a fairly significant risk for those who shell out the dough to watch it.

The heavyweight division has produced some marvelous entertainment in recent months -- stunning comeback wins from Cheick Kongo and Frank Mir both come to mind -- but those stellar outcomes feel more like the exception than the rule.

More often than not, heavyweight MMA fights go one of two ways: They become a boat race to see who can be first to stick one in the other guy’s ear, ala dos Santos’ 64 second title victory over Cain Velasquez last November, or then they run the risk of becoming tepid and exasperating letdowns like Overeem’s decision win over Fabricio Werdum in the opening round of the Strikeforce grand prix last June.

When they're great, they're great. Worst case scenario? Well, when a heavyweight fight goes bad, there's nothing worse in all of MMA.

They can be so dreadful that fights like Gabriel Gonzaga’s epic staring contest with Kevin Jordan still haunt our dreams, even though it happened at UFC 56, a little more than six years ago. That bout was so painful that not even Gonzaga’s third round knockout victory via Superman punch could save it ... and that’s bad.

Perhaps the best testament to the reliably unreliable nature of the heavyweight division is the overall history of the UFC 265-pound title, where inconsistency, short championship reigns and freak accidents have always been the natural order of things. Stays at the top are fleeting, and they are just as likely to end with a whimper as a bang.

It’s likely there will be some great heavyweight fights at UFC 146. There is also a good chance some of the fights end up limping to the finish line. Those are the breaks when it comes to the heavies.

Personally, give me a card full of welterweights (and lighter) any day. They might not look quite as good on the poster, but they typically bring more action from bell to bell.

Heavies gun for spots in rebooted division

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
5:56
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Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Stephen StruveEd Mulholland for ESPN.com For heavyweights like Stefan Struve, getting a leg up on the competition has been a tall order.
If it’s hard to gauge exactly where supporting characters like Stefan Struve and Dave "Pee Wee" Herman currently stand in the UFC heavyweight division, it’s because -- even by its own chaotic standards -- the entire weight class has experienced an unprecedented amount of flux lately.

Long the fight company’s most problematic problem child -- for years typified by injury, a mélange of delays and a revolving door of champions -- it’s almost as if someone decided to hit the reboot button on the entire 265-pound class during the last few months.

When Struve and Herman meet on Wednesday in the co-main event of the UFC on Fuel, it’ll be amid a heavyweight division that has arguably never been more interesting or more vibrant.

Or, frankly, more foggy.

Cain Velasquez had been hailed among the UFC’s new vanguard of “dominant champions” until Junior dos Santos toppled him last November, within one minute, four seconds of Velasquez's first title defense. In addition, the division saw the sudden departure of its biggest draw when Alistair Overeem sent Brock Lesnar backpedaling into retirement at UFC 141 a bit more than a month later.

Add to that the arrival of other Strikeforce big men like Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva and Chad Griggs (not to mention the likes of Lavar Johnson and Shane del Rosario) as well as the impending emergence of the smaller organization’s grand prix winner (Josh Barnett or Daniel Cormier) and the immediate future of this predictably unpredictable division starts to look even more volatile than normal.

We know matchmakers are hoping dos Santos and Overeem will meet at UFC 146 in May, in a heavyweight title match that couldn’t have been much more than a fantasy as recently as a year ago. Divisional stalwart Frank Mir will reportedly welcome Velasquez back from injury this summer, but after that (to quote one of MMA’s most tired axioms) anything can happen.

While all of that makes it hard to define the stakes this week between guys like Struve and Herman, it also perhaps affords them an unusual opportunity. If the 265-pound class is truly as wide open as we think it is right now, then that presents a unique opportunity for mid-carders like these two to vault up the ranks.
[+] EnlargeHerman
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDave Herman, left, can punch his way up the heavyweight ladder with a win on Wednesday.

Struve is still just 23 years old; amazing when you consider that his nine previous Octagon appearances give him more UFC experience than anyone on Wednesday’s card besides Diego Sanchez. The 6-foot-11 striker has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his stay in the big leagues, but now 3-1 in his last four fights, Struve could certainly crack the top 10 this year if he can keep the ball rolling. His never-say-die style makes him exactly the kind of fighter UFC brass likes to promote, so it’s not impossible to imagine him becoming a contender with a few more wins.

Herman, meanwhile, saw a proposed bout at UFC 136 scuttled last year when he tested positive for marijuana long before testing positive for marijuana became the rage. He arrived in the UFC with a 20-2 record and fair amount of buzz in mid-2011, but after a fairly lackluster performance during a win over John Olav Einemo in his Octagon debut at UFC 131 (and then the weed thing), Herman is still looking for some much-needed traction in the division.

Naturally, nothing is going to happen for either of these two overnight. The winner of Struve-Herman will assumedly come out of their fight with a little momentum and the possibility of a future bout with someone a little further ahead in the pecking order. That’s about all they can hope for in this world.

If we’ve learned anything from the recent history of the division, though, it’s that forecasting where the heavyweight class will be a year, or even six months from now, is a fool’s errand.

Given its penchant for tectonic shifts, there’s just no telling where a couple of nice-looking wins might leave a young, up-and-coming fighter at this point.

Heavyweight contenders hard to come by

October, 31, 2011
10/31/11
1:03
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Cheick KongoMark J. Rebilas for ESPN.comOff the mark: Matt Mitrione failed to hit his target of breaking into the heavyweight upper-echelon.
Before Matt Mitrione fought Cheick Kongo, there were directional advisories. Mitrione said he was going to come forward and put Kongo on his heels, even though Kongo is traditionally the one doing the advancing. Kongo warned that he would not be made to back peddle.

Storm clouds.

What we had was a potentially explosive impasse, where the two would collide in the middle of the cage and one would drop trailing a line of zzz’s. If only things had worked out that way.

It ended up being an anticlimactic co-main event -- instead of a coming-out party for Mitrione -- where both guys struggled to open up. It was the previously unbeaten Mitrione who ultimately went backwards with the loss, while Kongo came forward with the usual smoke and mirror suspicions. The thing that refused to budge in all of this was the UFC’s heavyweight division. It remains exactly as it was -- that is, bottom heavy.

This has been the way things go of late. Prospects like Mitrione can’t get over the last hurdles to heavyweight contention, and the gulf widens between the rarified top -- Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos, Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem -- and the rock-paper-scissors middle, which is everybody else. The everybody else boils down to the round robin being played between Roy Nelson, Frank Mir and the now-retired Mirko Filipovic. Shane Carwin was there, but he’s now shelved until 2012 after another surgery (and he’ll be 37 when he does come back, riding a two-fight losing streak).

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira needs a time machine. Stefan Struve and Pat Barry, the technology to morph.
[+] EnlargeMiocic
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesIs Stipe Miocic a promising heavyweight, or just other pretender waiting to flop?

That’s why we’re raising our eyebrows at what Travis Browne might do and building Stipe Miocic into a Cleveland State chimera. There aren’t a lot of threats waiting in the wings behind those big four on Zuffa’s varsity roster. Strikeforce’s Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier are out there, but they are off-limits currently (mostly), with Dana White now on fraternity terms with Showtime to negotiate a deal. Had Mitrione walked right through Kongo, we’d have at least that guy bleeping on the radar beneath the others, a sort of Donald Cerrone for the heavyweight class. An undeniable.

But Mitrione was the latest to lose his bearings, and there isn’t really another someone right now behind him.

As the heavyweight division showcases on network TV in a couple of weeks, with a huge bout between Dos Santos and Velasquez, we’ll be watching the undisputed best in the class. Then there’s Overeem and Lesnar, each of whom have their question marks. They are the definitive next best. After that, it’s a little murky. If Mir loses to Big Nog at UFC 140, it gets a little more murky. Whatever’s compelling beyond that is hard to find.

And it might stay that way until the Strikeforce guys are brought in, or Jon Jones cleans out the light heavyweight division, both of which could happen -- or be made to happen -- sooner than we think.

Lighter-weight pugs deliver in big way

October, 2, 2011
10/02/11
12:59
AM ET
By Beau Dure
Special to ESPN.com
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WASHINGTON -- A few blocks in a couple of different directions, the talk is all about class warfare.

In the Verizon Center on Saturday, it was weight-class warfare.

"When featherweights and bantamweights are fighting, it's always a fantastic fight," bantamweight challenger Demetrious Johnson said a few days before his title bout against Dominick Cruz. "We push the pace. From now on, I think all the UFC cards should be headlined by bantamweights and featherweights. If the lower card's dull, we'll be able to finish off with a bang."

Heavyweight Pat Barry, who fought in the co-main event of the evening, stuck up for his weight class.

"Throughout the history of the rest of the universe, heavyweight bouts are always going to be exciting," Barry said earlier in the week. "That's a fact. If you can have two 135-pound guys and have the exact same fight but make it 600-pound guys, people are going to watch the big guys."

The bantamweights, though, got a better reception than the heavyweights at UFC Live 6. The heavyweights had a fantastic finish, with Barry slamming 6-foot-11 opponent Stefan Struve but failing to get out of a choke, but Cruz's decision win against the frenetic Johnson kept the crowd buzzing.

"I want to prove that the 135-pound weight class is the most exciting class out there," Cruz said after his win. "We never stop moving, we never get tired and we're all ready to kill each other."

At the end of 2010, the UFC absorbed its sibling organization, World Extreme Cagefighting, and added the featherweight (145-pound) and bantamweight (135) classes. The smaller guys are still fighting to establish themselves in the UFC and in the minds of casual MMA fans.
[+] EnlargeWalel Watson
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comWalel Watson helped kick off a high-energy UFC card in Washington, D.C.

Saturday's card featured the fourth WEC/UFC title defense for bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. But unlike most title fights, it was available on free TV rather than on pay-per-view. And even though it was the first UFC card held in the nation's capital (a January 2010 card was held in nearby Fairfax, Va.), the Verizon Center was far from sold out at 9,380 fans, which UFC president Dana White called "very good for a Fight Night [free TV]."

But the featherweights and bantamweights are making the most of some time in the spotlight as the UFC's deals with Versus and Spike wind down. Saturday's card was the last one on Versus, which previously aired WEC bouts. The final Spike season of the reality show “The Ultimate Fighter” features featherweights and bantamweights, who got the season off to an eye-catching start with fast-paced preliminary fights.

Saturday's card opened with one such fight, between bantamweight Walel Watson throwing flurries of punches and kicks to stop fellow UFC debutant Joseph Sandoval in just 1 minute, 17 seconds.

A few fights later came bantamweight Mike Easton, who has already beaten TUF contenders John Dodson and Josh Ferguson and was making his UFC debut in his hometown Saturday night. He bounded into the cage to a rousing roar but calmed down and bided his time in the first round against Byron Bloodworth, who took the fight as a short-notice replacement for injured Jeff Hougland.

"I'm hyped all the time," Easton said. "I'm in the back, hyped. Cutting weight, I'm hyped. That's why I have my coaches in the corner. I calm down and do my business."

Easton pushed the pace in the second round and finished Bloodworth with several knees in the clinch, the last landing hard to the body. Bloodworth crumpled, and referee Kevin Mulhall stopped the action after Easton pounced to land a couple more punches.

"We're always better," Easton said earlier in the week. "I don't care what nobody says. We're the ones that fight harder, our technique is superb; we're faster. We don't get tired. We rumble to the end. We're like the little pit bulls.

"At first, they used to call us little Chihuahuas. [Other fighters] said no one wants to see the little Chihuahuas fight. You know what? Everyone wants to see the pit bulls fight. And that's what we are. We're pit bulls. We've got Napoleon complexes."
[+] EnlargeMike Easton and Byron Bloodworth
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comReason to celebrate: Dominick Cruz's sparring partner, Mike Easton, did his part to keep the focus on the little guys.

While Easton started slowly, the heavyweight bout between Barry and Stefan Struve wore on the patience of the booing crowd. Barry was trying to wear Struve down with leg kicks and wound up taking the fight to the ground. The finish, at least, was highlight-worthy -- Struve sunk in a triangle choke, and Barry (at 5-11, a foot shorter than his opponent) picked up Struve and tried to slam his way out of it. The slam was impressive, but Struve held the choke and forced Barry to tap out in the second round.

Cruz and Johnson then put on a five-round battle in which the bigger Cruz had to call upon all his wrestling prowess to subdue Johnson.

"The kid's got a sick pace," Cruz said in the cage after defending his belt. "I had to outwrestle him."

Twice, Cruz picked up Johnson and threw him over his shoulder for a massive slam. The first time, he nearly finished the fight with a rear-naked choke, but Johnson wriggled his way out.

As the fifth and final round started and the crowd roared its appreciation, Johnson turned up the pace even higher, likely knowing he needed a knockout or submission to win. In the final minute, he unleashed a flurry that backed Cruz into the cage. But Cruz bounced off the fence and took Johnson down one more time.

With 15 seconds left, Johnson looked up at the clock and fired off another lightning-fast combination. But Cruz defended the flurry and his title.

Johnson may get another chance one day at a different belt. He says he's focused on the 135-pound bantamweight class for now, but he's small even for bantamweight, and White said the flyweight (125-pound) class is bound for the Octagon.

"If not by the end of this year, by the first of next year," White said.

Easton, who trains with Cruz, didn't mind that the card seemed lost between major UFC pay-per-views in the midst of a four-week, four-card stretch for the increasingly busy organization.

"I'm pretty sure they're just trying to get Dommo [Cruz] out to the mainstream," Easton said. "Free TV, you get to see him fight, you get to see him fight for the belt, they'll be able to see that and people will watch [him on] pay-per-view.”

UFC VP Reed Harris, who was with WEC from the beginning to the end, thinks the lighter-weight fighters don’t need to do much more to break through.

“They've already broken through,” Harris said. “I watch the response they get from the fans and the media. The UFC has the best fighters in the world in every weight division -- doesn't matter whether it's bantamweight or welterweight.”

Unlucky Barry will likely keep UFC job

October, 1, 2011
10/01/11
11:51
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Pat Barry and Stefan StruveEd Mulholland for ESPN.comYou're grounded: Stefan Struve punished Pat Barry for deploying a poor game plan.
Pat Barry has won just two more fights than he’s lost as a mixed martial artist.

Following Saturday’s submission loss to Stefan Struve at UFC Live 6, Barry is 3-4 in the UFC and an unimpressive 1-3 since the start of 2010. He’s been finished in all four of his losses.

On paper, he looks like a man about to lose his job. But my guess is the UFC doesn’t cut him, and it’s a decision I'd agree with.

Living in Las Vegas, I know what it feels like to often feel you have zero luck. Barry must be feeling that way to an extent through seven fights in the UFC. He broke Tim Hague’s nose in the opening moments of UFC 98, but his subsequent aggression led him into a guillotine choke.

He was thoroughly dominating Mirko Filipovic at UFC 115 before he basically lost his two biggest weapons by fracturing his right hand and breaking his right foot.

He received criticism for hugging Filipovic mid-fight, during a spot many felt was an opportunity for him to finish the fight. In reality, it was a special moment between he and a longtime idol of his, which really didn’t affect the outcome.
[+] EnlargeCheick Kongo, Pat Barry
Martin McNeil for ESPN.comDown and out: Pat Barry has experienced a string of back luck since joining the UFC.

What happened next? Oh yeah, he basically knocked out Cheick Kongo twice in one fight, only to have him Frankenstein his way back to his feet and land an uppercut, knocking Barry out cold.

During a recent media conference call, Barry joked about the valuable lesson he learned in that fight. “You can’t count anyone out,” he said. “Even when they’ve been knocked unconscious twice in the first round.”

And then there was Saturday. Barry, the UFC's shortest heavyweight, faced off against the tallest in Struve. In the eyes of many, the only chance Barry had was to suck Struve into a brawl -- something Struve has been known to oblige.

But Struve refused to trade punches with Barry, electing to stay at range instead. He weathered a fair share of leg kicks before eventually setting in a triangle choke after pulling Barry to the ground on a guillotine attempt.

All of this might sound like excuses for Barry, but they aren't. He made simple, critical mistakes in the losses to Hague (leaving his neck out) and Kongo (putting his back to the fence during the final exchange). He failed to come up with an effective game plan against Struve.

But the truth is, Barry could easily be 5-2 in the UFC instead of 3-4. He is, by my count, one of the top five kickboxers in the division and his work with Brock Lesnar at Deatch Clutch suggests he’s committed to the other areas of his game.

There is still a place in the UFC for Barry. He’s likeable, he’s exciting and, let’s be honest, the heavyweight division is still light on talent. So far, he’s been extremely unlucky and his inexperience has cost him. But I don’t think that’s enough reason to cut him and I expect him to still be employed come Sunday.

UFC heavyweights still light on talent

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
1:33
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brendan SchaubAl Bello/Getty ImagesBrendan Schaub was supposed to be the future of the heavyweight division -- then this happened.
The UFC's signing of former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem swelled the total number of ready-made heavyweight contenders to right around three. After Cain Velasquez, there’s Junior dos Santos, Brock Lesnar and The Reem. It doesn’t help that the last two have question marks; one for health reasons, the other for being a smoke and mirrors fighter (allegedly).

After those names? It’s a dark, dark hall. In fact, only Frank Mir’s candle flickers at the end of it, and even that seems dangerously close to blowing out.

That’s why it hurts when guys being groomed like Brendan Schaub fail to get by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, or when Travis Browne registers a yeomen’s decision over Rob Broughton when a statement is needed, or when Dave Herman gets stricken from a card for coming up positive for illegal substances. Contenders are hard to come by in the heavyweight division right now.

Think about who’s out there -- Pat Barry, Cheick Kongo, Stefan Struve, Mike Russow, Shane Carwin, Roy Nelson, Big Nog. None of those guys are realistically close. Heath Herring is the most inactive fighter to ever exist on an active roster. Mark Hunt gets discussed for being salvaged from the garbage heap, but he’s not a threat to contend. Carwin was right there, but he’ll be 37 in January and has suffered two losses in a row. Who knows how much he has left. Ditto Nogueira, who has maybe two fights left in him. And that’s a generous maybe.
[+] EnlargeMatt Mitrione
Al Bello/Getty ImagesMatt Mitrione, right, is one of the few heavyweight hopefuls showing promise in the UFC.

Which brings things around to Matt Mitrione. It points to the state of things that he looks like the lone buzz fighter coming up in the heavyweight division -- but the man has five total fights, with a casualty list that includes names like Kimbo Slice, Tim Hague and Joey Beltran. Besides, he’s the first to downplay himself as an actual contender.

Should he get by Kongo, Mitrione at least enters the picture frame. Should he lose? There’s going to be a major round robin between the top four guys in the division until reinforcements arrive.

Once the UFC begins bringing over more of the Strikeforce lot -- guys like Josh Barnett, Daniel Cormier, Antonio Silva -- it’ll deepen. But at the moment there aren’t a lot of heavyweights in the current pool making a big enough splash. In fact, Stipe Miocic looks a little like company gold right about now, which says it all for the prospects.

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