Lavar Johnson to face Stefan Struve

Updated: May 17, 2012, 7:01 PM ET
By Franklin McNeil | ESPN.com

Hard-punching heavyweight Lavar Johnson has agreed to replace injured Mark Hunt and will face Stefan Struve on May 26 at UFC 146 in Las Vegas, the promotion announced Thursday.

Johnson (17-5) enters the bout off an impressive first-round knockout of Pat Barry on May 5 in East Rutherford, N.J. It was the second straight win for Johnson in UFC competition.

He came into UFC on a two-fight losing skid with Strikeforce. Despite his Octagon success, Johnson pondered the offer from UFC officials to face Struve on short notice.

"There was a little bit of hesitation," the 6-foot-4 Johnson told ESPN.com. "This is a big opportunity but if you don't gamble, you can't win.

"After my last fight, I took a week off, but I didn't barbecue and drink beer like I usually do. After a week off I was back at it.

"I'm at the UFC level now. I wanted to stay sharp. I knew something would come up quick. I didn't know this quick."

Johnson had a height and reach advantage against the 5-foot-11 Barry. But he will be on the short end of both those categories against Struve.

At 6-foot-11, Struve is UFC's tallest competitor. He has a reach of 84 inches to Johnson's 81.

"He's tough. He's good on the ground. He's durable," Johnson said of Struve. "I've watched a lot of his fights. He takes a beating and he comes back to win.

"But I'm going to push the pace. He leaves himself open a lot, and I only need a few punches to land."

In his most recent bout on Feb. 15, Struve knocked out Dave Herman in the second round. He has a pro mark of 23-5 and has won two straight.

A knee injury suffered during training camp forced Hunt out of the fight.

Information from ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto contributed to this report.

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