Struve sure chin, smarts will pass Stipe test

It's official: Stefan Struve has declared he's out of the unnecessary slugfest business. Ed Mulholland for ESPN.com

As UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has proven numerous times, having an 84½-inch reach can be very beneficial inside the Octagon -- but only when used properly.

Heavyweight contender Stefan Struve also has an 84½-inch reach, but he has yet to fully use it to his advantage. And that can’t continue if Struve is to have any shot at becoming a serious title challenger. No one knows this better than Struve.

With a height of 6-foot-11½ to go along with that exceptionally long reach, Struve should be a difficult target for any opponent. Too often, however, Struve finds himself in a slugfest. Regular participation in slugfests might make one popular with fans, but it isn’t a good recipe if the ultimate goal is to have an extended fighting career.

The 24-year-old Struve wants to compete in mixed martial arts for a long time. He also envisions himself one day claiming the title. In an effort to improve his chances of attaining both, Struve has worked diligently in recent training camps on better utilizing his reach advantage.

There is more pop in his jab, his lateral movement has advanced and he’s much better at catching guys coming in. On offense and defense Struve, who has strong submission skills off of his back, has taken his standup game to a higher level.

“I’m evolving as a fighter with every fight,” Struve told ESPN.com. “I’m starting to use my reach; I’m starting to fight from a distance. But it’s my distance and not their distance.

“They have to step in now to throw something. But when they step in, I can throw something to keep them from stepping in again.”

Improved striking and defensive elusiveness is the area of Struve’s standup game that he expects will be most noticeable Saturday night when he faces undefeated Stipe Miocic in Nottingham, England.

Miocic is a dangerous striker who has knocked out seven of the nine mixed martial artists he has faced in his professional career.

None of Miocic’s opponents had the technical skills or experience that Struve will carry into the Octagon. Knowing he represents a step up in competition for Miocic provides Struve with a little extra boost of confidence.

Struve (24-5) is riding a three-fight win streak and is in a rhythm unlike any he has felt in the past. It’s a rhythm that Struve believes, if maintained against Miocic, will put him squarely in the title picture.

“Stipe is a great opponent,” Struve said. “He’s 9-0; he’s a great wrestler and he’s got a lot of hype around him. He’s undefeated but I really don’t care about that. I’m definitely good enough to beat him.

“The winner of this fight will be between the top 5 and top 10 of the UFC heavyweight division.”

When talking about this fight, Struve makes it a point to include the importance of how he must look winning it. Getting into another slugfest and eking out a difficult victory isn’t part of the plan. Struve wants to be taken seriously as a contender and the best way to do that is to win impressively. He plans to deliver a dominant performance Saturday night.

“With all the new things I’m learning, the fights are getting easier. It’s a lot easier to defend; it’s a lot easier to attack,” Struve said. “Fighting itself is becoming a lot easier.

“Taking a shot, I’ve already shown I can do that, but with all the improved techniques controlling the fight is beginning to get a lot easier. If you don’t have to take punishment it’s a lot easier to give punishment. I didn’t have to tear up my face in my last three fights and I’d like to keep that streak going.

“I want to show that I can dominate a fight from the first minute until the last.”