"I’m in really good shape, I feel really good, I’m really confident, and I’m gonna hunt him down and search for a knockout or submission."
When it comes to athletics, Stefan Struve appears to be more NBA center than prizefighter, but that’s until you see him fight. Usually bloodied, but usually victorious, the 22-year old fills every bit of his 6-foot-11 frame with that most elusive of traits – heart. You can’t buy it, you can’t learn it, you either have it or you don’t. And when you see it is in the most trying of times, and the Beverwijk native has had plenty of those in 2010 alone.
First stop on Struve’s rollercoaster ride, Charlotte, North Carolina. Things started out quiet enough. The “Skyscraper” had won three in a row after dropping his UFC debut against Junior dos Santos, and he had a prime television spot on Spike TV to take on Ultimate Fighter winner Roy Nelson on March 31st. Then came what Struve describes as “one of the worst days of my fighting career.”
We’ll let him pick it up from there…
“I was staying in North Carolina with my trainer (Bob Schrijber) all week and we found a good place to eat and we ate chicken and rice noodles all week long because that’s good fight food,” he recalls. “And the day of the fight we went there and had a meal and two hours before the fight, my trainer got sick and we were like ‘let’s hope it’s not because of the food.”
“30 minutes before the vans were supposed to pick us up, I got really sick in our hotel room,” Struve continues. “I threw up and got really, really sick. After that I tried to eat as much as possible to get some energy back and I felt good in the locker room. My warm-up went well and I felt pretty strong. I went in the cage ready to fight and then the power went out.”
Yes, if you recall, the power went out at the Bojangles Coliseum, forcing both Struve and Nelson to get sent back to the locker room after they had already warmed up and made it into the Octagon. After an extended delay, the lights came back on, but 39 seconds into the bout, Struve’s lights went out courtesy of Nelson.
The defeat was a crushing one, but oddsmakers and fans expected Struve to get back on track, and the talented prospect didn’t let what happened in Charlotte put a damper on his preparation for an August bout against Christian Morecraft, opting to look back and say, “It happens. It was good experience.”
But again, Struve got hit with a last minute sickness, this time in the locker room due to nerves.
“An hour before the fight – I think this time it was with the nerves, I was afraid that something was going to happen like in the Roy Nelson fight – I threw up in the locker room,” he said. “I took a shake to get some energy back, and the first two minutes (against Morecraft) were okay, I had energy and everything went well, but in the last three minutes of that round, all my energy was gone and he beat me up really bad.”
Bleeding badly from a huge gash on his lip, Struve staggered back to his corner, dazed by his opponent’s assault. There, he was greeted by the dulcet tones of PRIDE vet Schrijber, who didn’t earn his nickname “Dirty Bob” for his bedside manner in the corner.
“I went back to my corner and I told my trainer I didn’t feel good,” said Struve. “He told me, ‘shut up and fight. Do your thing, stand up with him, throw your combinations and we’ll see where it ends.’”
It ended 22 seconds into round two, but this time, it was Struve on the winning side, as he knocked Morecraft out. “I caught him with a big combination, he went down and that was it.”
It was the most stirring win of Struve’s five year pro career, and before you vilify Schrijber for his dose of tough love, remember that he has been working with his fighter since Struve was 14. He knows when to push and when to pull back, and in this instance, he knew his charge had one more round in him.
“I’ve got a ton of respect for him,” said Struve of Schrijber, “and when he tells me something like that, I take it from him and it worked.”
The come-from-behind win should have garnered the gutsy youngster universal praise, and for the most part it did, with the exception of some pointed barbs from the man pegged as Struve’s next opponent, Sean McCorkle, who unleashed a steady stream of trash talk at him through Twitter.
“I was kinda surprised that he went on Twitter like that,” said Struve. “I never experienced an opponent doing things like that. When we signed the contract, our fight wasn’t announced yet, and he already started to talk smack on Twitter and I was like ‘what is this?’ But I don’t really care about it. I’ll talk with him on December 11th.”
December 11th is the date set for the meeting of the two heavyweight giants, and while Struve isn’t too fond of all the trash talk, he’s keeping it all business when it comes to his training camp and preparation.
“His (McCorkle’s) last fight with Mark Hunt shows that he’s got some skill, but on the other hand, Mark Hunt lost his last six fights and he lost five of those by submission, so that pretty much tells everything about that fight. I’m not really impressed with his fights before that, but he worked hard to get in the UFC and he probably worked hard for this fight, so I’m ready for ten rounds, and I hope that he’s ready.”
Struve is definitely ready for his big night as the last fight before UFC 124’s main event between Georges St-Pierre and Josh Koscheck, but when it comes to his own championship aspirations, he’s not pushing things, showing great maturity for such a young fighter.
“There’s no rush. I’m still only 22, I’ll be 23 in February, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the way my life is going,” he said. “I couldn’t be more thankful to the UFC for the fights they’ve given me and I couldn’t be more thankful for the appreciation I get from the fans. Of course I would love to fight for the title someday, but for now I just want to keep winning my fights, and we’ll see from there.”
Having said that, all that Struve will give up in terms of his future plans zeroes in on this Saturday night, and nothing more.
“The fans should expect an exciting fight because I always come in there with all I’ve got and I try to give my best,” he said. “And that’s what I’m gonna do now. I’m in really good shape, I feel really good, I’m really confident, and I’m gonna hunt him down and search for a knockout or submission. It’s gonna be an exciting fight, that’s for sure. That’s a promise.”
Free Prelims on UFC.com/Live
For the first time ever, two preliminary bouts will be aired live and free online at http://www.ufc.com/live.
The Dustin Hazelett vs Mark Bocek and Dan Miller vs Joe Doerksen fights
will be available to everyone worldwide at no charge starting at 9pm
ET/ 6pm PT/ 2am GMT.