In this Saturday's UFC Live co-main event, heavyweights Pat Barry and Stefan Struve collide. Michael DiSanto breaks it down...
I wonder if Pat Barry can punch Stefan Struve in the head without leaving his feet. I know it is physically possible, if the two are standing right next to each other. I’m talking about landing a jab, right hand or left hook when the two are fighting from a normal striking distance.
Those questions and more will be answered on Saturday night when one of the UFC’s shortest heavyweight competitors faces its tallest in a fight that may seem on the surface to be a bit gimmicky, but could prove to be the most exciting bout on the Versus telecast.
Barry, who stands 5’11 when wearing combat boots, is one of the division’s most talented kickboxers. He mixes his punches and kicks as well, if not better, than any heavyweight in the world. He is equally effective striking from an orthodox or southpaw stance. And he can knock out any man with a single shot delivered with either fist or either foot.
Barry’s game is really limited to the standup realm. He has worked hard on his wrestling over the last couple of years, training at the DeathClutch gym with Brock Lesnar, Marty Morgan and crew. But Barry is still pretty far behind his brethren when it comes to takedowns and grappling. He isn’t a fish out of water when the fight hits the ground, but he isn’t comfortable, either.
That is normally a major problem when facing a ground specialist like Struve, who just so happens to be every inch of 6’11 tall. Keep in mind that the Dutch fighter has nearly three times as many submissions as knockouts in his professional career. Yet, Struve has shown a recent penchant for slugging it out on the feet, and that should lead to disastrous results against an apex striker like Barry.
If Struve can get the fight to the ground, Barry will instantly look to scramble to his feet. He has no choice but to do that. The difference in length of their respective torsos means that Barry’s guard will be basically useless in stopping hard ground-and-pound attacks. Since Barry has no threatening offensive guard skills, particularly against a submission wizard like Struve, any time spent on his back will be time spent losing the fight.
Things probably won’t be much safer for Barry if he ends up on the top position. Absent a knockdown, where Struve’s wits will be scrambled, he should be able to control Barry from his guard almost as well as he can control him from the top position. Their respective torso length has the exact opposite effect when Struve is on his back. He can use his legs to control Barry’s hips to the point where the former K-1 kickboxer will basically have to slap with his punches to reach Struve’s head, unless he can stack up his foe. And stacking him in the guard opens the door for armbars and triangle chokes.
So, this should be the classic kickboxer versus standup fighter battle, right? I doubt it.
As mentioned, Struve has a real thirst for thrilling the crowd with slugfests. The guy seems to engage in an entertaining back-and-forth brawl each time he steps into the cage. My guess is that he will come out looking to use his nearly nine-inch reach advantage to pop Barry with jabs and lead left hooks. I also think he will throw a tremendous volume of leg kicks, front kicks and kicks to the head, since he probably has no fear whatsoever of being taken down.
If the two had equal standup skills, then hammering away from the outside would be an excellent tactic for Struve, just like it was for the taller Jon Jones against Quinton Jackson last weekend. The problem, of course, is the two do not have equal standup skills. Barry is on a completely different level when it comes to technique, speed, power and chin.
If Struve tries to hunt and peck on the outside, Barry will cut off the cage, use feints to encourage his foe to lead, and then slip and explode off his misses. Once on the inside, Struve’s height will actually work against him. He won’t be able to generate any real torque on his strikes, other than knees, which he really hasn’t shown much of an affinity for up to this point in his career. And he won’t be able to effectively counter with those long limbs. It will be all about clinches and throws, pulling guard, or getting out of Dodge once Barry gets inside. Otherwise, he will get knocked out.
Barry’s short, powerful limbs and ability to really throw shots from his core will let him land with uninhibited power on the inside. He should completely forget takedowns. Struve will dominate him on the mat if he is able to quickly work to his guard. His focus should be firing power shots with reckless abandon, if and when he gets to the inside.
Barry did just that against fellow former kickboxer Cheick Kongo in his last fight. Of course, he got knocked out, after almost knocking out Kongo with a barrage of punches. Barry should forget about that fight. Struve is not Kongo. Not by a long shot. Kongo is a savage power puncher. Struve is a technician on the feet. Savages can bust Barry’s beard. Technicians cannot.
Another key to victory for Barry is unadulterated use of leg kicks. Not the kind that some fighters use to establish distance or score points. Barry wants to use the kind that resembles Albert Pujols swinging a baseball bat. You know, leg kicks dripping with bad intentions.
Barry won three of his first four professional fights with leg kicks, including his UFC debut. A beanstalk like Struve is the perfect target for his vicious leg kicks. Granted, many fighters worried about getting taken down shy away from that particular type of strike, but those guys aren’t Barry. They don’t fire leg kicks like he does. And Struve is not a dominant wrestler by any means.
As mentioned, Struve’s game plan should be singularly focused on getting the fight to the ground. Sure, he can score on the outside, but he has to be perfect in his execution if he wants to remain conscious after engaging in a standup contest with Barry. He can get the fight to the ground by smothering Barry and tripping him. He should look to smother Barry by trying to bait his opponent into throwing wild, leaping lead hooks. Feints are a good way to get that result.
But again, stepping inside comes with a severe potential price. It means risking a right or left hand bomb to the jaw. Yet, I don’t really see any other way for him to safely score a takedown. Shooting from a distance isn’t Struve’s game, and it is also a great way to eat a shin to the jaw.
He can try to use the jab to back Barry to the fence, where stepping inside for a clinch is much less dangerous compared to doing that in the center of the cage. If the jab is sharp, quick and accurate, that could be an effective approach. If he misses, however, he has to be prepared to try and catch Barry coming in with a right hand. Otherwise, it could be lights out.
All the above may go out the window if either man is still affected by the result of his last fight. Barry and Struve might be physical and stylistic opposites, but they suffered the same fate in their respective previous bout. Both got knocked out.
I’ve written it dozens of times. It is impossible to predict how a man will react after being on the wrong end of a jaw-dropping knockout. The Kongo fight was the first Barry has experienced that. He responded by giving an interview backstage while eating a slice of pizza like it was any other normal Saturday night. A slice of pizza! I don’t know if that means it was no big deal to Barry or if he was in shock. Struve hopes it is the latter.
Travis Browne’s win over Struve was actually the second time in his UFC career that the Dutchman was folded like a lawn chair. The last time it happened, courtesy of Roy Nelson, he embarked on a two-fight winning streak. Can he do that again? Will those two knockout losses, plus the 54-second knockout he suffered from Junior Dos Santos in his UFC debut, start to permanently soften his chin? Barry certainly hopes to force an answer to that one.
Will Struve pull a Jones and control the action from the outside? Will he get his shorter foe to the ground?
Will Barry be able to mount an effective offense on the feet against a guy a full foot taller? Can he even reach his opponent’s chin outside of phone-booth range? Will he fully utilize low kicks?
Are both men fully recovered (mentally and/or physically) from their previous bout? Will the loss result in hesitation?
Like I said, those questions and more will be answered on Saturday night.