UFC 124: Is Stefan Struve a Future Title Contender or Gatekeeper?

Tim GrovesCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 24:  UFC fighter Chase Gormley (R) battles with UFC fighter Stefan Struve (L) during their Heavyweight bout at UFC 104: Machida vs. Shogun at Staples Center on October 24, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Twenty-two years old.  What were you doing at 22?  Barley scraping by, trying to find a job?  Trying to get through your final year of college?  Just surviving?  Whatever it may be, it's safe to say that it probably wasn't as daunting a task as what Stefan Struve currently faces.

The 6'11'', 247 pound Dutchman has been competing in mixed martial arts since he was only 17 and has amassed an astounding record of 20-4.  He has already fought six times under the UFC banner, going 4-2. 

Coming into the organization, Struve was incredibly hyped.  His reach advantage was telescopic, his jiu jitsu skills scary and his stand-up fierce.  Maybe we put too many expectations on someone who is a mere baby in the mixed martial arts world, but so far Struve has lagged behind what was expected.  So without fail, fans are already wondering if The Skyscraper was just another over-hyped prospect.

Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva and Cain Velasquez were all much older when they finally hit the upper echelons of their divisions.  Struve still hasn't even hit his physical peak. I mean, he may have not even have hit puberty yet.  To already write him off as just another gatekeeper would be absurd. 

But now the question becomes will he ever enter the top 10 within the UFC heavyweight division?

His skills indicate that Struve has all of the necessary tools to one day reach that plateau.  Struve's extra long limbs give him an exceptional advantage in two separate areas of the fight game.  His reach advantage is downright absurd; he should be able to jab enemies at will and keep them at bay. 

Outside of striking though, his spider-like limbs provide a tremendous help with his jiu jitsu.  Already a rather proficient jiu jitsu practitioner, his length gives him an extra edge.  It allows him to reach for submissions and transitions that would otherwise be out of the question for the average fighter.  This makes him very dangerous once the fight hits the mat.

At 6'11'' and weighing in at only 247 pounds in his bout against Christian Morecraft at UFC 117, it's clear that Struve still needs to put on some pounds.  It should happen in time as he matures and fills out.  By adding in that extra 25-30 pounds of weight and cutting down to the 265 limit, Struve could become an imposing force. 

That extra muscle and strength would be extremely helpful when facing the wrestlers that populate the heavyweight division. 

Struve would seem to be on his way to an eventual top 10 spot in the rankings, but he has one glaring weakness: he gets tagged in every single fight. 

Christian Morecraft rocked, dropped and almost finished him.  Roy Nelson knocked him out.  Paul Buentello rocked and dropped him.  Denis Stonjic opened up one of the nastiest cuts ever witnessed in the Octagon on him.  Junior Dos Santos TKO'd him. 

Notice a pattern?

Someone cannot be that susceptible to being hit and make it in the UFC, especially in the heavyweight division, where heavy handed strikers like Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez, and Junior Dos Santos reign supreme.  You must be able to protect yourself standing.  Brock Lesnar found this out the hard way.

Another issue not normally mentioned is Struve's takedown defense.  Look back up at the people who tagged him.  Notice anything else?  Not one wrestler is mentioned there.  Sure they may have some wrestling background, but Struve has yet to face a Velasquez, Lesnar or Madsen in terms of sheer wrestling ability.

Height can be an extreme advantage in MMA but also a great hindrance when it comes to wrestling.  The lower center of gravity will wreak havoc on him if he ever faces one of the aforementioned wrestlers.  Of course, his takedown defense could be Chuck Liddle-esque, but it's not likely. 

Until we see it in action, that could become his major downfall.

Stefan Struve has the striking, the jiu jitsu and the heart to make it to the top in the UFC.  But I just can't see it happening with as often as he leaves his chin floating in the air.  It's like he is begging for someone to knock him into tomorrow.  It may not be a problem if Struve were fighting in the lightweight division, where power and knockouts are pretty hard to come by, but against heavyweights?  His chin is toast.

I do like him to sure up his striking to some degree.  I feel like he may never enter the top 10 but he will become a Gabriel Gonzaga 2.0;  a guy who will clobber any fighter who has no business being inserted into the top 10, but soundly losing to anyone good enough to eventually earn a title shot.  I doubt he ever fights for a title; he may get close every now and then but ultimately fall short.

Not quite a true gatekeeper. Struve turns out better than that, but not quite a true title contender either; he ends up a little farther down the rankings.  Struve should be counted on to deliver very entertaining fights over the next ten plus years.  His chin just has to hold up.