Despite a two-fight winning streak and a top 15 ranking, Stefan Struve knows that watching the UFC 211 main event between Stipe Miocic and Junior Dos Santos on May 13 will be a painful process that has nothing and everything to do with the shoulder injury he’s rehabbing.
“For sure,” the heavyweight contender said. “I have a certain plan in my head and I have to wait to make it happen. And watching a fight like that makes it worse.”
If not for that injury, he could have been the one challenging Miocic in Dallas next week, as he was slated to face Dos Santos in February before being forced to withdraw from the match. “Cigano” went on to get a rematch with Miocic and Struve went on the DL.
RELATED: Pre-order UFC 211 right now | Watch a preview of the stacked fight card with matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard
But Holland’s “Skyscraper” is getting better and hoping for a Sept. 2 return in Rotterdam, and in the mean time, there’s no one better to discuss next week’s title fight than a man who has shared the Octagon with both combatants. And though he’s friendly with both former foes, he knows getting a rematch with the one he holds a victory over will be his easiest route to a title fight.
“For me, it’s a simple calculation,” Struve said. “With me being in the mix and having beat Stipe, if he defends his title and I win my next fight, anything can happen. I know both guys, I like them both, they’re both great guys, but for me, that would be the perfect route.”
That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t chase a return bout with Dos Santos. In fact, he was craving the shot at redemption against the Brazilian bomber earlier this year just to prove that he wasn’t the same fighter he was when they first fought in 2009.
“I was confident that I would have been able to pull it off,” he said of the scrapped rematch.
The 29-year-old had the same confidence when he was two days removed from his 21st birthday and ready for Dos Santos and the world as he prepped for his Octagon debut.
“I was doing good,” he said. “I had a good streak outside the UFC, I signed the UFC contract and I was planning on continuing to do what I was doing, which was winning and beating everybody they put in front of me.”
Dos Santos had the same goal, and in his UFC debut in October 2008, he needed just 80 seconds to knock out top contender Fabricio Werdum. Struve saw the fight.
“I thought, ‘Oh well, this guy’s for real,’” Struve laughs. “A couple weeks after his fight, I signed with the UFC.”
First fight, Dos Santos.
“I was confident in my own ability that I was going to beat him, but looking back, it was too soon for me to fight those guys,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to fight at that level. I was missing a lot of things that I have right now. I didn’t know how to keep my distance or use my frame and he punished me for it.”
Dos Santos halted Struve in 54 seconds. After five more victories, he stopped Cain Velasquez in 64 seconds to become the UFC heavyweight champion.
By that time, Struve was in the midst of his own surge. He weathered some early ups and downs, but by the time he was scheduled to face fellow up and comer Miocic in September 2012, he was on a three-fight winning streak and hungry to get in the title picture.
“Back then, it (the Dos Santos loss) left a big dent in my confidence,” Struve said. “But it also had me work really hard to get to where I want to be. I realized I had a long road to go before I was where I wanted to be in the UFC.”
The Miocic bout pushed him further down that road, as he stopped the future heavyweight king in the second round of a matchup that earned the pair Fight of the Night honors. Struve didn’t know he had just defeated a man who would win championship gold less than four years later, but he was aware that he fought a quality foe.
“At that point, I knew I beat a really good fighter,” he said. “When we fought, we were both not amongst the bigger names, but I knew I beat one of the top guys of the future. I wasn’t thinking of him as the next champion. The only thing I had in my mind was I beat this guy, I’m on a four-fight win streak, I’m gonna beat Mark Hunt and I’m gonna fight for a world title. Then all hell broke loose. But we’re back on track.”
“Hell” was a heart scare, as well as some key losses. But after getting a clean bill of health and finishing Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Daniel Omielanczuk in 2016, Struve is back in the gold-chasing business. So who will emerge as his primary target next week?
“This is still the heavyweight division, and with the power we have, predicting fights is always difficult,” he said. “But I think Stipe learned a lot from the fight they were in, he’s going to pressure him and he’s gonna be fighting smarter than he did the first time. I think he’s gonna win this fight. I don’t know how he’s gonna win it, but I’ve got a pretty good feeling that he’s gonna pull it out.”