As the UFC prepares to make its return to Japan on March 2, the promotion is putting on a pivotal heavyweight clash that brings back memories of some of the Pride FC sideshow matches. No, this isn’t the extreme of say Giant Silva vs. Minowaman, but it is 5-foot-10 “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt taking on seven-footer Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve.

Whether this is an indication that UFC matchmaker Joe Silva has a twisted sense of humor is irrelevant, as both men are looking to break into title contention with another win. The match-up was originally targeted for UFC 146 last May, but Hunt was forced to bow out with a last-minute knee injury.

Hunt, just weeks away from his 39th birthday, has reinvented himself in the last three years. After years of success as a kickboxer, and early MMA success, the New Zealand native hit a patch of six straight losses. Yet, despite a 5-7 record, the UFC gave him another fight. Now he’s reeled off three straight wins, including a devastating of finish of Cheick Kongo early in 2012. Is there one last run at a title left in him?

Meanwhile, Struve just eclipsed the age of 25 and the seven-foot barrier. The towering Dutchman has put together a four-fight winning streak of his own, with all of his wins coming by some form of stoppage. In his 12 career UFC bouts, he’s gone 9-3 and has only gone the distance once. A win over Hunt would give him a strong argument for a shot at UFC gold.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills matchup against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Hunt – 10, Struve – 9

Hunt delivers a left hand (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

In striking, there are a number of factors that make fighters successful. In Hunt’s case, it’s power, technique and a chin made of granite. The experience of more than 40 kickboxing contests and a K-1 World Grand Prix championship has carried over to MMA, where five of Hunt’s eight career wins have come by knockout. His willingness (and ability) to absorb a punch to land one has been key to his success, as he frequently has to overcome a reach disadvantage. That will be critical in this fight, where he will give up more than 10 inches to Struve, as well as 14 inches in height.

Struve’s not a slouch on the feet by any means. He has seven career wins by knockout or TKO, including four of his last six. In his most recent outing against Stipe Miocic, he proved that he can handle a fighter with superior technique and absorb some punishment as well. However, Struve has to be concerned that four of his five losses have come via knockout, including all three of his UFC defeats. While his height is a big asset, it is also a weakness, as his chin is an easy target. The strategy he used against Lavar Johnson of pulling guard may not be the worst idea against someone with Hunt’s credentials on the feet.

Ground Game: Hunt – 9, Struve – 10

Struve (R) pulled guard to submit Lavar Johnson (James Law/Heavy MMA)

The submission game is the polar opposite of the stand-up. Hunt’s years of striking training left his ground game largely nonexistent, as evidenced by six of his seven losses coming by submission. In recent years, he’s trained with American Top Team and he no longer panics when the fight hits the mat, but he’s far from an accomplished grappler. He did attempt an armbar in his bout with Ben Rothwell at UFC 135, but don’t expect him to repeat that in this fight.

Where Hunt has the clear edge on the feet, Struve has it on the mat. His long limbs have helped him to 16 wins by submission, including eight by triangle choke and three by armbar. The aforementioned fight with Johnson is a perfect example of how Struve should approach this bout with Hunt. Trading shots with Hunt will end badly for the lanky youngster, but exploiting Hunt’s lack of ground prowess—as Struve did with Johnson and Pat Barry—is the safest path to victory.

Wrestling: Hunt – 10, Struve – 10

Struve (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

Let’s make this very clear, Hunt wants this fight on the feet. Somewhat surprisingly, he did score some takedowns in his fight with Rothwell, but the altitude in Denver was a bigger factor in that than Hunt’s actual desire to grapple. Hunt does not possess a wrestling base, and he wants no part of Struve on the ground.

On the flip side, Struve hasn’t shown a strong ability to score takedowns either. He’s perfectly content working from his guard, as evidenced by the multiple triangle and armbar wins. From a straight physics standpoint, it’s not likely that Struve will be able to use his length to overcome Hunt’s base and get a takedown.

If this fight hits the ground, it’s because of a knockdown from Hunt or a guard pull from Struve.

X-Factor

Something has to give in this fight. Will it be Struve’s chin? Or will Hunt be forced to tap yet again? This fight is a perfect example of the extremes of the sport in both physical makeup and skill sets. Is Struve ready for the division’s top five? Or can Hunt punch his way to a storybook title shot that no one would have believed just a few years prior? As cliché as it might be, the real question is who wants it more?

Total: Hunt – 29, Struve – 29

Verdict: This fight is a total coin flip. Both fighters have shown that they have the tools to end fights quickly and violently, albeit via different techniques. If Struve pulls guard, expect another armbar or triangle choke finish, but if he tries to test his stand-up against someone like Hunt, he’s going to end up unconscious. Hunt came out very poised and relaxed in his last outing in Japan, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do it again. Hunt by first-round knockout with a flurry of uppercuts along the fence.

Top Photo: Mark Hunt celebrates victory (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

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