The landscape of the heavyweight division has taken its fair share of twists and turns over the past year. Whether it was Junior dos Santos’ stunning 64-second KO of Cain Velasquez last fall, Brock Lesnar’s retirement due to an intestinal ailment or Alistair Overeem’s elevated testosterone levels, the division has needed a glimmer of hope.
That’s where rising stars Stipe Miocic and Stefan Struve enter the equation. When they lock horns in the main event of UFC on Fuel TV 5 on Sept. 29 in Nottingham, England, they’ll bring with them 33 victories and just five defeats.
Miocic will step into the Octagon with a perfect 9-0 record, including wins over Joey Beltran and Shane Del Rosario since joining the UFC. The former collegiate baseball player is one of the division’s most promising prospects.
His opponent, Struve, carries with him a UFC record of 8-3 and a three-fight winning streak to go with his towering 6-foot-11 frame. The Dutchman is just 24 years old and already has 16 submission wins on his record.
Let’s take a deeper look at the fight. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills matchup against one another.
Any time that two heavyweights clash with four-ounce gloves, there’s a solid chance that one of them is going to end up unconscious. If that happens in this fight, there’s little doubt that it will be Miocic’s hand being raised in victory. The former Golden Gloves winner has stopped eight of his nine opponents with strikes and his boxing skills are more than enough to overcome the four-inch reach disadvantage he’ll have in this fight.
For Struve, this fight is all about using his length to his advantage and finding a way to keep his fragile chin from harm’s way. His massive build has actually been his downfall against heavy-handed fighters like Miocic in the past because he struggles to tuck his chin. In fact, all three of his UFC defeats have come by first-round TKO against dos Santos, Roy Nelson and Travis Browne. However, Struve has shown power, vanquishing Christian Morecraft with a huge counter right hand. Just don’t bank on that being his path to victory in this fight.
If there is still an area of Miocic’s game that remains a mystery, it’s the submission department. With the only fight of his career to go the distance coming against iron-chined Joey Beltran, he’s yet to be threatened in this aspect of the fight game. Many expected British grappling ace Philip De Fries to give him a test, but Miocic dispatched of him in under a minute with strikes.
Unlike Miocic, Struve’s submission game is basically an open book. His long limbs have proven a huge weapon in the grappling department. Half of his 16 career submission wins have come via triangle choke, and another three have come by armbar. The ability to attack from his back will be a huge asset against an accomplished wrestler of Miocic’s ability. His quick armbar win over Lavar Johnson in his last outing showed that despite his youth, he’s playing to his strengths as a fighter.
As evidenced by his record, Miocic is in love with the striking game. But that doesn’t mean he can’t fall back on wrestling should he need it. The former Cleveland State product has the ability to bring the fight to the ground if he wants to. With Struve’s submission attack being as proficient as it is, Miocic’s offensive wrestling is unlikely to come into play in this fight, but his background should allow him to keep this fight standing throughout.
Struve’s wrestling is almost a moot point in this fight. The likelihood of him putting Miocic on his back is minimal at best and with the success he’s had from his back, he may be best suited to let Miocic take him down. Whether Miocic falls into that trap remains to be seen, but don’t expect “Skyscraper” to be shooting for a double leg during this bout.
Struve will hold a three-to-one experience advantage in this fight. With that advantage comes more Octagon time and tougher competition, despite being six years younger than Miocic. But how much will that matter if Struve can’t implement his submission game? Over the course of a five-round fight, can Struve avoid exposing his chin to Miocic’s power? Can Miocic avoiding falling into Struve’s guard like so many of his past victims?
Verdict: The winner of this fight will put himself in a great position for title contention, but despite Struve’s experience edge, expect Miocic to come out on top. His ability to dictate where this fight takes place and his knockout power make him a very dangerous contender in the heavyweight division. Miocic by second-round TKO.
Top Photo: Stefan Struve (James Law/Heavy MMA)