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Nothing quite matches the spectacle of seeing two colossal men duke it out in the cage. Fortunately, just such a collision will take place in the UFC Fight Night 115 main event on Saturday, when Stefan Struve meets Alexander Volkov at Ahoy Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Struve’s stands out among his heavyweight peers because of his sheer size -- even against someone as tall as the 6-foot-7 Volkov -- but there’s more to the Dutchman than meets the eye. The 29-year-old has enjoyed and endured the career of a true, grizzled mixed martial arts veteran. He made his MMA debut just a month after his 17th birthday.
Given the appropriate moniker of “Skyscraper” thanks to his large, ungainly frame, Struve had already won a regional heavyweight championship and compiled a 16-2 record ahead of his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut in 2009. It’s a mystery how Struve made the light heavyweight limit of 205 pounds in the early days of his career, even if he was just a spotty teenager at the time. He has been training under Dutch kickboxing and MMA pioneer Bob Schrijber even since he gave up hope of playing professional soccer in a rare moment of pragmatism discovered in adolescence. When coupled with his youth and height, that kickboxing lineage led many to label Struve as one of the hottest heavyweight prospects to come along in MMA in years.
Though he appears to have plenty of time to change perception, Struve has not yet realized the potential pundits saw in him a decade ago. His UFC debut was emblematic of his career. Just two days after he turned 21, “Skyscraper” took on eventual heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos. Struve succumbed to punches in less than a minute. Wins over a series of heavyweight gatekeepers that included Paul Buentello, Christian Morecraft and Sean McCorkle followed, but his momentum stalled in perturbing knockout defeats to Roy Nelson and Travis Browne.
Struve then righted his ship with consecutive victories against Pat Barry, Dave Herman and Lavar Johnson; he finished all three inside two rounds. Towards the end of 2012, the 7-foot Dutchman was assigned to face Stipe Miocic, a future heavyweight champion who was a prospect at the time. They met in the UFC on Fuel TV 5 headliner in Nottingham, England. After a competitive first five minutes, Struve found his striking groove and delivered a technical knockout in the second round. It remains the only time Miocic has been stopped in his career.
At 24 years old and in possession of a 25-5 record, Struve appeared poised for a breakout campaign in 2013. However, another step up in competition -- this time against a K-1 World Grand Prix winner -- saw him lose in devastating fashion, as Mark Hunt not only knocked out Struve but broke his jaw in the process. Months later, he hit another snag, this one more troubling than all the rest. He was diagnosed with a leaking aortic valve and enlarged heart, casting doubt on his future in fighting. As it turned out, 2013 turned out to be a difficult year for Struve, who also endured the death of his father.
Eight months after his health threatened his career, Struve was medically cleared to compete again. However, the good news was short-lived, as his scheduled bout with Matt Mitrione on July 5, 2014 was cancelled when the Dutchman fainted backstage due to an elevated heart rate. Struve’s return finally materialized at UFC on Fox 13 five months later, the promotion pairing him with former Dream and Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem. It did not go as he had hoped, with Overeem scoring the knockout 4:13 into the first round.
In August 2015, Struve was back in the winner’s circle after defeating Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 190 in what turned out to be the Brazilian legend’s final fight. However, in line with his recurring theme, “Skyscraper” was dealt another setback in his next outing, as he dropped a disappointing decision to Jared Rosholt at UFC 193. Since his mixed-results 2015, Struve has posted back-to-back wins over Antonio Silva -- he wiped out “Bigfoot” with elbows in just 16 seconds -- and Daniel Omielanczuk. He hopes to put a third straight victory in the books at Volkov’s expense.
As a former M-1 Global and Bellator MMA champion, Volkov is far from an easy out and should serve as a barometer for where Struve stands in the heavyweight division. The aging and shallow weight class continues to cry out for new blood. Struve’s physical attributes, penchant for fun fights -- he has gone the distance only three times in his 36-fight career -- and history with the current UFC champion make him an attractive proposition for a future rematch with Miocic. If he can get past Volkov, perhaps Struve will have finally broken through the glass ceiling that has blocked his path since 2009.