UFC on Fuel 8: Will Stefan Struve Ever Be an Elite Heavyweight?
So much about Stefan Struve in the UFC's heavyweight division is unique.
The first, most obvious thing is his height. Struve stands at 6'11”. In the Octagon, the top of the cage reaches his shoulders. He made Pat Barry, who stands at an above-average 5'11", look like a child side-by-side.
He uses that length to lock up nearly inescapable body triangles and pull off some slick submissions that other folks would not be able to. In theory, he would use this to out-range his opponents standing and land hands from miles away (in reality, he is still a work in progress striking-wise).
The second thing is how wiry he is. While a fight like Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez would lead you to believe that being ripped is a must to succeed in the heavyweight division, Struve stands out with his Randy Moss-like, slender physique.
The third thing, though, is his age. At 25 years old, Struve is the youngest fighter in the UFC's heavyweight division, with basically no competition. To quote myself:
Struve is almost universally ranked as a top-10 heavyweight, and that basically translates to him being the only guy who, realistically, can be expected to remain part of the title picture for years to come. In spite of that, when asked if Stefan Struve will ever be an elite heavyweight, it is hard to respond in the affirmative definitively.
Roy Nelson is 36 years old. Fabricio Werdum is 35.
On and on, the UFC's heavyweight division is downright dominated by fighters well over 30 years old. Mark Hunt (38), Matt Mitrione (34), Antonio Silva (33), Pat Barry (33), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (36), Josh Barnett (35), Frank Mir
(33), Alistair Overeem (32), Daniel Cormier (33), Cheick Kongo (37), Lavar Johnson (35) and Shane Carwin (37) all have a timer floating over their heads, counting down to retirement.
Statistically, Struve has had a very solid UFC career to this point. In 12 fights, he owns a 9-3 record. Of those wins, he owns four submissions, four knockouts and just one decision. Those three losses, however, have been scary knockouts at the hands of Travis Browne, Roy Nelson and Junior dos Santos.
This is not an indictment of Struve. As has been shown time and again, any heavyweight bout can end in a knockout for either fighter. However, as has been shown time and again, your chin does not get stronger as your career goes on.
His height would also put him at a disadvantage in terms of wrestling. Granted, his length gives his jiu-jitsu a boost that allows him to control opponents in a way like few others can. However, with his striking as raw as it is, it ends up a net loss against wrestlers, especially the fearsome lot in today's heavyweight division (Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, in particular).
All that said, the Stefan Struve fighting in the UFC today is better than the Stefan Struve of 2009, and really, that is where the question is when it comes to Struve's chances at becoming a top heavyweight. How high is Stefan Struve's ceiling?
His grappling is ever-improving for sure, and while we haven't seen him on his back much, it's hard not to give him the benefit of the doubt. The real question is if he can begin to effectively use his reach to strike in MMA.
If his striking develops to the point where he can keep opponents back with ease and land kicks and punches from afar, then he could become the elite heavyweight the UFC is hoping for. If not, he will continue being good, but not great.