Stefan Struve: Legitimate Contender Now, or Still Work in Progress?

Craig AmosFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2012

May 26, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Stefan Struve reacts while being interviewed after winning by submission over Lavar Johnson (not pictured) during the UFC 146 at the MGM Grand Garden event center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

Stefan Struve has been one of the more intriguing UFC fighters to follow since he joined the promotion back in 2009. From his grandiose stature and impossible wingspan, to his natural charisma, to his penchant for in-Octagon excitement—Struve has given fight fans many reasons to take notice over the past three-and-a-half years.

But despite the intrigue garnered by Struve, and in spite of his youth, fans have been reluctant to label "The Skyscraper" a contender. Detractors have cited the absence of top talent on Struve's hit-list as a sign of his limitations, and pointed to his obvious inability to defend power shots from close quarters as an impasse to his future success.

And until recently, this case was ironclad. But it is ironclad no longer.

After a strong 2012, Struve has moved from the periphery of the UFC's heavyweight division into its title scene, now representing a legitimate challenge to the upper-echelon of fighters populating the class.

At 3-0 so far this year, Struve has not only won, but has done so in style, scoring a trio of stoppages over Dave Herman, Lavar Johnson and Stipe Miocic. And while a run like that in the UFC heavyweight division is invariably impressive, the particular victims Struve has lined up are quite meaningful on an individual level. 

Struve's greatest deficiency as a UFC competitor has been his failures to avoid damage from big punchers that have been able to get inside the perimeter of his striking range. This problem area has led to three knockout losses, all of which came in Round 1.

But in 2012, all three of Struve's wins have come against fighters quite capable of exploiting this weakness. And while Herman, Johnson and Miocic may not be Junior Dos Santos, Roy Nelson and Travis Browne—the three men who have defeated Struve in the UFC—they do employ the fighting style that has long signified trouble for the young Dutchmen.

What is particularly impressive is that, with the exception of Johnson, Struve has not taken his opponents out of their comfort zone and put them on their backs, but has instead dealt with their attempts to close the distance and knock him out.

Only instead of finding the same old failures, Struve has been the one landing knockout blows. 

So at 24, Struve seems to have overcome his biggest weakness. He is not only one of the division's most dangerous grapplers, but a threat on the feet as well. And as he continues to learn how to better wield his incredible reach, he'll only become all the more deadly.

2012 was a crucial year in Struve's development, and while he may not top the list of UFC heavyweight contenders just yet, he's now moving in the right direction, and is doing so at a pretty rapid pace.