A four-fight win streak in the UFC's heavyweight division is very impressive these days.
Taking a look at the top ten rankings, according to the UFC, not a single fighter, save for one, has victories in four consecutive fights, and that one person is UFC on Fuel 8 competitor Stefan Struve.
The 7'0" Dutch fighter has started to come into his own in the last couple of years after some rough patches when he kicked off his UFC career as a young, lanky 21-year-old. Now more matured and a bigger body made for the heavyweight division, Struve wants to cement his place as a serious contender this year, starting with his fight against Mark Hunt this weekend in Japan.
"I need to make a statement if I want to put myself right in one of the top spots," Struve told Bleacher Report. "If I win this fight, I'm going to be the only heavyweight in the UFC that's on a five-fight winning streak. I think that's going to make a lot of noise. I need to make a clear statement, win this fight in exciting fashion and don't let there be any doubts that he had any chance to win this fight."
Facing Hunt in Japan was a very conscious choice for Struve because he knows what kind of star power the former Pride and K-1 fighter has in the country. Struve knows that MMA is sometimes just as much about business outside the cage as what happens inside the Octagon.
Beating someone like Hunt in the country where he gained his notoriety is something special, and Struve plans on taking full advantage of the situation.
He also knows that Hunt received a ground swell of support last year when at the time UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos lost his original opponent for UFC 146, and Hunt's name was championed by the fans to take the open slot. Ultimately, the UFC shot down the idea, and Hunt himself actually ended up falling off the card due to injury, as well, but that doesn't mean Struve wasn't paying attention.
Now Struve wants to capitalize on his winning streak, Hunt's fame and roll that all in to one more long stride towards title contention.
"I'm only focused on Mark right now. I'm not thinking about that. Of course I want that belt," said Struve. "I can beat anybody in the world, that's really what my mindset is right now. If I hit somebody with the power I have right now, they're going down. Right now, I'm focused on Mark, I'm not looking past him; that would be a really dumb thing to do."
Looking at Mark Hunt's record is a little deceiving when breaking down what kind of fighter he's become lately. Overall Hunt is 8-7 as a pro mixed martial artist, but that doesn't speak volumes about the extreme level of talent he faced early in his career or the fact that he jumped into MMA with minimal training outside of his stupendous kickboxing acumen.
Lately, Hunt has transformed into a much better fighter, winning his last three fights in the Octagon, with two of them coming by way of knockout. Struve is also very well aware of everyone that Hunt has beaten, and he actually believes his record could be even better if he was training the way a UFC fighter has to train to stay competitive in the division.
"He's a really dangerous fighter. The thing is he fought Chris Tuchscherer and if (Hunt) would have been training for that fight, in my opinion he should win that fight. After that, he fought Ben Rothwell and he fought a great fight, but couldn't finish him. If you look at Rothwell in his last fight against (Gabriel) Gonzaga, I wasn't that impressed, no offense," Struve said.
"Then he fought (Cheick) Kongo, and Kongo didn't seem like his normal self, and he fell after his punches, and if you do that against a guy like Mark, you're going to be in a lot of trouble. Cheick overdid with a right hand, and Mark caught him with a left hook. As long as Mark is training, he's a really dangerous guy."
Hunt is certainly a dangerous fighter, and if he can get inside on anybody and land a punch or two, it's likely they will wake up a few moments later wondering what just happened. Struve is no dummy when it comes to Hunt's game plan, and he refuses to play into his strategy for victory.
"Don't expect a slugfest," said Struve. "I learned from my mistakes in the past, and I'm not going to do that again. I'm just going to fight my fight like I've done for the last four fights, and we make a good game plan and I'm going to stick to that and I'm going to win this fight."
With a win, Struve will have five straight victories, and it will be hard to ignore him stepping into a top five fight for his next trip to the Octagon and then possibly title contention after that. Struve knows, however, none of that happens if he doesn't get past Mark Hunt in Japan.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.
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