Stefan Struve vs. Stipe Miocic: Prospects Battle in Nottingham

Duane FinleyContributor ISeptember 28, 2012

Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Labels can be found everywhere in MMA. There are fighters who ascend the ranks to become champions and those who obtain greatness and go on to be known as legends.

Undoubtedly, somewhere along their journeys they were once tagged as prospects, and for every competitor with potential there comes a point where old labels are shed and new ones begin.

On Saturday night, in the main event for UFC on Fuel TV 5 in Nottingham, England, rising heavyweights Stefan Struve and Stipe Miocic will collide.

The victor will be ushered into the next tier of the division while the loser will be forced to take a step backwards. It is a battle which occurs at a critical junction of their respective careers. While there may not be championship gold on the line, this fight carries implications which will shape the road ahead for both men.

Each man has proven himself to be a talented fighter, but this matchup will reveal which of them is ready to move upwards and into the land where monsters such as Alistair Overeem and Cain Velasquez reside and Junior dos Santos rules with a pair of iron fists.

Miocic, with an unblemished record, solid wrestling and knockout power, is a fresh face in the divisional mix. The Cleveland, Ohio product has looked more impressive with each outing.

In February, he made quick work out of Phil De Fries and stepped in on short notice at UFC 146 to hand Shane Del Rosario the first loss of his career. After three solid victories on the sport's biggest stage, Miocic appears to be on the cusp of becoming the next big thing in the weight class.

This is a position Struve knows all too well. The Dutch "Skyscraper" has traveled the path Miocic currently navigates, but each time he has appeared ready to cash in his prospect status, a loss has pushed him backwards.

However, his most recent performances suggest the trend may be changing as Struve has collected three consecutive victories, finishing all three of his opponents in impressive fashion. With solid momentum at his back, the time for Struve to make his run towards the divisional upper tier has arrived.

The most notable differences in their respective trajectories has come in the caliber of competition they have faced and overall experience. Despite being seven years Struve's elder, Miocic has only competed nine times as a professional mixed martial artist where Struve has racked up 29 bouts.

At 21 years old, Struve made his UFC debut against a heavy handed Brazilian in Junior Dos Santos. The future champion crumbled the baby-faced Dutchman in devastating fashion early in the opening frame.

He would bounce back strong by getting his hand raised in his next three outings and finally appeared to be getting comfortable inside the Octagon, but another knockout loss, this time to TUF winner Roy Nelson, quickly put Struve back to square one.

Another three-fight win streak landed Struve back on the radar, but after getting folded by fellow up-and-comer Travis Browne at UFC 130, the question of Struve ever being able to live up his potential rang loudly.

Not one to be detoured, he pressed ahead with urgency and the results which have followed will bring him toe-to-toe with Miocic on Saturday night. Struve has proven time and time again he can defeat the mid-level competition in the weight class but a victory over Miocic in Nottingham will ultimately show he's prepared to face the best the heavyweight division has to offer.

While Struve's road to the main event of UFC on Fuel TV 5 has been filled with twists and turns, Miocic's path has been unobstructed. After dominating the regional fight scene in Ohio, he was tapped by the UFC to face Joey Beltran at UFC 136 in Houston.

Despite it being a lopsided affair, the unanimous decision victory was the only time in his young career Miocic has seen one of his fights go to the judge's cards. Though he earned the win, Miocic was unhappy with his performance and returned to his finishing ways in his next two outings.

With both men priding themselves on their ability to finish the opposition, their matchup on Saturday night has all the makings for an excellent fight.

Miocic will look to impose his power and strength while Struve will attempt to use his length and savvy submission skills to put the first loss on Miocic's record. Plenty of questions surround both fighters but when the smoke clears in Nottingham, answers will be revealed.

Will Struve finally become the fighter he has been touted to be since hitting the UFC? Or will Miocic add him to a growing list of victims and keep his loss column clean?

We are only days from finding out. Once the cage door closes, both Struve and Miocic will have the opportunity to shed the "prospect" label once and for all and proudly wear the "contender" tag for the next step of their journey.