As he prepares for his UFC on Fuel TV 5 headliner with Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve, undefeated heavyweight prospect Stipe Miocic should know that he’ll walk into the Capital FM Arena in Nottingham, England, with quite a number of firsts to brag about.

Miocic makes for the fifth opponent in Struve’s 29-fight career who has put his undefeated record on the line against Struve. But like Struve, he can brag about finally fighting in his first UFC headliner. Also, Miocic can brag about coming in on the strength of his UFC 146 win over Shane Del Rosario, which marked the first time anyone defeated the former Strikeforce heavyweight. Historically, Struve aces any fight against an undefeated fighter—unless your name is Travis Browne—but above all else, Miocic can brag about providing a tough fight and a step up in competition his Dutch foe. Just the same, the 24-5 Struve can brag about a current three-fight winning streak and the task of presenting a submission game the like of which Miocic has never faced in his career.

It’s funny we mention the “step up” in competition with which both will present each other on Saturday, especially given their streaks. Both men performed impressively in their last three respective outings, and both men finished impressively in those fights. However, do their respective UFC runs justify them earning a title shot with a win on Saturday?

Sadly, neither is in line for a title shot, even with the most impressive of wins this weekend.

However, let us look at the glass as half full. In his three Octagon appearances, Miocic finished Del Rosario and Phil De Fries, and earned a unanimous decision over Joey Beltran. Meanwhile, Struve sandwiched a TKO win over Dave Herman in between submission wins over Pat Barry and Lavar Johnson.

Nobody can knock on the names either man defeated up until now—the brunt of Miocic’s pre-UFC career came in the NAAFS in Ohio, while Struve flew under the radar (more or less) before his comeback win over Christian Morecraft.

However, both men still need a step up in competition before they can get their crack at Junior “Cigano” dos Santos or Cain Velasquez. The only problem in figuring out who best suits the winner—besides the fact that we won’t know the winner for another four days—is that more heavyweights make less sense for the winner due to recent losses. As for the heavyweights that might make sense, those gentlemen either have other foes in mind or may not resonate with some as fights that make sense for the winner of Miocic vs. Struve.

De Fries came off of his loss to Miocic in order to beat Oli Thompson on the Fuel TV undercard of UFC on Fox 4, but he also must win impressively against Matt Mitrione in order to find himself anywhere near a step up in competition, and he cannot bank on that step coming in the form of the winner of this Saturday’s heavyweight tilt. Additionally, Mitrione finds himself staring down another step up in competition with a win over De Fries as well, but he already appears on schedule to send off Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the former UFC light heavyweight champion’s farewell fight—which may come at a catchweight if Mitrione beats De Fries and gets his wish to fight Jackson. With all this in mind, who could provide the best step up for the winner of Saturday’s headliner?

Unless Shawn Jordan beasts through his next tilt, or unless people forget that Cheick Kongo put a crowd in Calgary to sleep with a snoozer of a unanimous decision win at UFC 149 over Jordan, the only chance at a step up for the winner comes either in the form of UFC 153’s scrap between Herman and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, or against the winner of Gabriel Gonzaga and the debuting Geronimo “Mondragon” dos Santos, the latter of which stands on UFC 153’s Fuel TV undercard.

However, don’t hold your breath on Gonzaga or Mondragon getting this Saturday’s winner next. Unless the UFC watches this Saturday’s heavyweight tilt and still deems one more fight necessary in order for the winner to get a step up, one can expect the UFC to throw the winner somewhere close to the wolves. And before anyone asks, no, we’re not throwing the winner to Frank Mir, until we know he’s recovered from his injuries.

Now, as for Nogueira vs. Herman, the winner of that bout makes sense for the victor of Miocic vs. Struve for a few good reasons. First and foremost, the winner must move up the ladder if he wants to come anywhere close to a crack at Cigano, Velasquez, or even a yet-to-return Alistair Overeem. Also, Herman needs a couple of wins to prove he never faded away from the debates about the next credible contender to the belt. If Herman does beat Nogueira on Nogueira’s home turf, what better way to prove his worth than to beat either the undefeated Ohio native or the young lanky phenom who beat him not too long ago?

Nogueira also needs to prove he’s on the comeback trail after Mir broke his arm at UFC 140. With a win over Herman, he could provide Struve with a true test of where the Dutchman’s submission and striking skills rank among the true best of the division. Likewise, Nogueira’s own submission skills and boxing prowess—which clearly have yet to abandon him—helped him score a monumental upset over Brendan Schaub before almost finishing Mir. Who can say he has no chance of repeating the same against Miocic if he beats Herman and draws Miocic next?

At this point, every win Miocic gains is a cry out for a shot at the elite of the division. Mind you, the absence of Overeem and the prolonged delay in the debut of Daniel Cormier leave the division without two players who will immediately join the upper echelon. Although the talent pool near the top might seem depleted at the moment, that hole will soon be filled with Overeem’s return and Cormier’s debut, leaving Miocic and Struve to further prove their worthiness before drawing a title bid.

A win over Struve should answer Miocic’s cries for a step up in competition. However, Struve is no easy fight. Many a fighter thought they could keep their undefeated streaks alive against Struve, and except for the KO loss to Browne, who faces Antonio Silva on FX in a the following weekend, Struve successfully ended those undefeated streaks.

Whether or not Struve can end Miocic’s streak remains to be seen. But regardless, there’s no question that Saturday’s winner still has at least one more significant opponent awaiting them before either even thinks about that UFC heavyweight title.

Photo: Stipe Miocic (left), who puts his undefeated streak against Stefan Struve in the headliner of UFC on Fuel TV 5 this Saturday (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.