A short while ago fans rallied around Mark Hunt to replace Alistair Overeem against Junior Dos Santos for the UFC title. And it made for a great story but wasn’t going to happen; a knee injury later and the one-time K-1 World Grand Prix champion was out of the fight picture for some time. All the while Stefan Struve kept adding wins to his record, surging up the ranks and looking for a title shot himself. Now comes the rescheduling of a fight that was supposed to happen on that same all-heavyweight card last summer.
Fight Breakdown – If there ever was a heavyweight fight between the old guard and the new it’s this. Mark Hunt was a kick-boxer who showed flashes of brilliance on occasion in an MMA setting when Stefan Struve was still somewhat normal sized.
Hunt’s strategy is going to be simple: keep it standing and land something big. Hunt has two things that can doom Struve on his feet: a chin made of granite and what I like to call “God-smashing” power. Usually the highest level of power is that “one hitter quitter.” If you have a tough chin, though, even that level of power can be stopped by someone with a tough enough chin. It takes a whole other level of power to be able to crack someone who doesn’t get cracked and Hunt has that kind of power. Cheick Kongo has one of the toughest chins in MMA and Mark Hunt dropped him with punches like it wasn’t a big deal and finished him in less than three minutes in violent fashion. When it comes to standing there’s no one in MMA outside of Melvin Manhoef who has enough artillery to get into a protracted stand up affair with Hunt for 15 minutes and live to tell the tale.
It’s just that when the fight goes to the ground Hunt’s not exactly a BJJ whiz. Crazy enough he nearly finished Fedor with a kimura in Japan, way back when, and what was once a significant weakness is now just a weakness. He’s not Lavar Johnson level bad off his back but he doesn’t have a deadly guard in any aspect. He has improved over the years, though, to the point of being competent on the ground. He nearly completed an armbar on Ben Rothwell, something you never would’ve expected from him 2-3 years ago. Hunt’s bread and butter is his hands and that granite chin; he needs to keep this on his feet and eventually Struve will be crumble.
Struve is a complete fighter with a significant height/reach advantage coming in. He’ll have a foot on Hunt and has already faced a heavyweight of similar proportions before in Pat Barry. He also has an underrated ground game, especially off his back, and his key will be to drag Hunt down to the ground and start going for submissions. Hunt has improved his submission defense significantly but Struve is good enough to pull something off. His leverage from being seven feet tall against a fighter less than six feet will serve him like it did against Barry, who is Hunt with a significantly weaker chin. Hunt is strong enough to slam Struve out of a submission but Struve is good enough off his back to not let go.
The key to this fight will be if Struve has developed his jab. He’s been traditionally poor at managing distance and letting fighters get inside on hm. Struve can’t let Hunt get inside and have an easy time swinging away because Hunt has enough power to really hurt him. Hunt on the inside, able to land bombs on him, is going to make for a short night for the giant Dutchman. Struve has been knocked out fairly violently by guys before that he has significant physical advantages over (Roy Nelson, most famously) and needs to make this fight a grappling exchange. Getting Hunt to the ground has gotten more difficult over the past several years or so but it’s possible; Hunt is strong enough to power out of anything Struve has early on but if he can tire him out a limb will expose itself. Hunt is incredibly powerful and has tightened up his submission defense to a degree but eventually he’ll leave a limb out if it’s on the ground for any extended period of time.
Why It Matters – With a win either guy can make a claim to a title shot. With Overeem needing a rebound win or two before he gets a title shot, as well as Junior Dos Santos, the path to the champion isn’t that far a road. Struve represents an interesting style match up, based on his size alone, and Hunt represents a challenge in toughness potentially.
Prediction – Hunt