A decade into his UFC career, Stefan Struve still feels like a young gun in the heavyweight division, but as he prepares for his 22nd walk to the Octagon, the 31-year-old is getting daily reminders of how far he’s come since 2009.
“Actually being home and training in the old gym, my coach has all the posters from the events and most of the banners and he put them all up in the gym,” said Beverwijk’s Struve, who has been training for his Saturday bout against Marcos Rogerio de Lima in the Netherlands. “We were training there the other day and talking about it. There are a lot of memories on that wall and it’s crazy to think about all the places we traveled and all the people I fought. You’re so in the career and not thinking about what you’re doing; you’re just doing it – training, getting ready for the fight. It’s a weird and crazy life. And then after ten years, you sit down in the gym and look at all those things on the wall and it’s something special, for sure.”
Struve could walk away from the sport tomorrow with his head held high. He’s had his wins and losses, with the list of victories including names like Stipe Miocic, Minotauro Nogueira, Pat Barry, and Bigfoot Silva, but despite a recent three-fight losing streak, he’s confident that he is still one win away from being back in the mix among the big boys.
“Heavyweight is a division where things can change really fast,” he said. “You see that time and time again with other people. It’s unfortunate that I’ve lost three in a row, but there are definitely reasons for me to look at why I lost. Not excuses, but reasons why things didn’t go exactly the way I wanted them to go. It’s not like I wasn’t training the right way or not doing the right things in training camp. There were some injuries, so you always try to get around that, but sometimes you cannot.”
And in the heavyweight division, getting stopped in a Fight of the Night battle with Alexander Volkov and dropping decisions to Andrei Arlovski and Marcin Tybura is nothing for Struve to beat himself up over. And he’s not. He’s been through enough in the UFC over the years to know that it’s not if you lose, it’s how you respond to those losses. And Struve’s response was to put in a hard training camp and prepare the best he can for his upcoming bout.
“I just tried to make this the best training camp, as always, and I think it was very successful,” he said. “I don’t let myself get down because I lost three in a row. The great thing is that I get to change it all in this fight. It’s unfortunate that it’s happened, but it happened and I fought my way back from way worse things and I’ll end that streak this week. That’s the goal, that’s the plan, and that’s what’s gonna happen.”
If he sounds not just confident, but at ease, that would be accurate, and a lot of that likely has to do with him training at home this time around, instead of with Henri Hooft and the gang in South Florida. The reason? Nothing dramatic, just logistics.
“I was in Kazakhstan at the end of December and I couldn’t make it into Florida until mid-January, and then I would have to fly back to Prague,” Struve said. “It was a little too much. If I stay here, it’s just an hour and 15 minutes to Prague, so it’s much better for me this way.”
So there’s no place like home?
“I bought a new house last year, so I’m finally able to spend some time in there instead of just being in and out all the time,” he said. “So it was very nice to be home for this, and I’m feeling very relaxed. Doing all the camps overseas, you begin counting down the days, not only for the fight, but also to be able to go home. So it’s nice to not have that feeling. South Florida is awesome, but it’s hard to always be gone.”
This week, Stefan Struve is home in Europe and ready to fight. Even ten years later, that’s music to his ears.
“At times it’s been hard, but I’m not someone who shies away from a challenge,” he said.
“It’s fighting, and I realize that more and more because I’ve been doing it so long. You go in there and someone’s gotta lose. Unfortunately, those guys were just a little bit better that night. But I know for a fact that I could beat all the guys who beat me on any given day, too. I know I’ve got the skill, I put the effort in, and I work my butt off. Things didn’t go my way, but that’s okay; things will go my way this week. I really believe that.”