The UFC's long-awaited return to the United Kingdom was met with mixed reactions leading up to the event. British fans feel that the UFC stays away for far too long, while the UFC brass points out that it is trying to cultivate new markets and it cannot be everywhere at once.
However, after the event was over, I think that the fans were pleased with the action on Saturday night. Dan Hardy won his bout to great approval and there were slugfests, submission wins and three great knockouts on the card. So, even though Paul Sass suffered a loss by submission and John Hathaway was ho-hum in his performance, the event was still a roaring success if you ask me.
I understand that the English fans might feel a bit left out after the UFC invested a lot of time and effort there from 2007-2009 to strengthen that market and now they have to begin to watch the UFC visit less and less as it continues its global expansion.
Either way, Britain still seems to get a UFC event year after year which is much more than I can say for my home state of Illinois (It is also important to note that my state is in the country of the UFC's origin and is still largely ignored). The UFC is "going everywhere" as Dana White likes to say and they cannot be everywhere simultaneously so I think we all need to simmer down and relax a bit. Patience is part of game folks. In the current context of what Zuffa is trying to do with the UFC, this is likely to happen to a lot of markets so they are not being singled out in any way.
The biggest winner from UFC on Fuel 5, both literally and symbolically, had to be Stefan "Skyscraper" Struve. Stefan has looked increasingly good in wins over Pat Barry, Dave Herman and Lavar Johnson. All of these wins came via stoppage.
Struve looked sharp on Saturday, landing good strikes at range and finally seeming to utilize his 84.5" reach to his advantage on his way to notching his fourth straight win in the UFC. Stipe Miocic was a game opponent and gave Stefan a good run for his money in the first round with solid standup and clinch skills, however Struve used a popping jab and some crushing uppercuts to set up a second-round TKO in Nottingham.
With this win in hand who should Stefan Struve face next? He certainly had an interesting idea when, after the fight, Struve called out Brazilian heavyweight and top contender Fabricio Werdum.
I'm not so sure I like that matchup for him right now, instead I have three other options that I think make a lot more sense for his progression while not pushing him too fast, which could be the case with booking the Werdum fight right now.
Option No. 1
Struve could face the winner of the Travis Browne-Antonio Silva bout that takes place this coming Friday in Minnesota at UFC on FX 5. This fight is appealing for three reasons.
The first is that the timing is ideal. Both fighters, if healthy, would be able to get back into the cage soon, which is usually appealing to up-and-comers.
Secondly, I think this would be a step up but not too far. Browne is undefeated but for whatever reason he doesn't have a lot of hype behind him and neither does Silva, however, they both are solid top-10 guys like Struve.
Lastly, if Browne wins in particular a rematch of a previous fight with Struve could be an easy sell and no doubt would provide some great pre-fight trash talk.
Option No. 2
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira would be another great choice for Struve at this point in his career ascension. Big Nog is not only a legend, but he is fighting Dave Herman, whom Struve beat not that long ago to get to where he is.
When we combine this with the fact that Nogueira is a name opponent and a known commodity, this fight just makes sense. If Rodrigo emerges unscathed from his UFC 153 bout, this is a viable option for Skyscraper.
Option No. 3
Why not Cheick Kongo? Many newer fans may not think this man is a top heavyweight but he is a top-10 UFC heavyweight.
Since 2010 Kongo is 4-1-1, with the loss coming to Mark Hunt and the draw was against Travis Browne, another top heavyweight fighter. In fact, Cheick is a combined 11-5-1 in the UFC, which is much better than a lot of naysayers would think.
It is true that he has lost five times, but the only decisive losses were against Mark Hunt, Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez who are all top tier heavyweights.
Kongo could be a perfect fit for Struve because he is a top-10 heavyweight, a veteran and not too much of a step up at this point. But Kongo will test Struve's skills and his Octagon moxy, which Stefan needs to beat the top UFC heavyweights. In my opinion this is actually the best option right now because it moves him forward but he won't be reaching too far and end up getting Superman punched out of the top ten again. Ouch! That one had to hurt.