Time for UFC’s giants to take long stride toward gold

Stefan Struve celebrates after beating Christian Morecraft by TKO in the second round during a heavyweight UFC mixed martial arts match in Oakland, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Taking a month-long break as a means to better present Mayweather vs. McGregor to the masses, the UFC is finally set to make its return to your television sets this Saturday. Hailing from Rotterdam, Netherlands for just the second time in promotional history, the Octagon will play host to what is easily one of the biggest fights the company could possibly host.

Literally, but unfortunately not figuratively.

Stefan Struve, he of a two-fight winning streak, is set to step into the Octagon for the first time since October of last year. Standing at a remarkable 7-feet in height, the 29-year-old veteran is the tallest fighter the UFC has ever known, nearly an entire foot taller than a good portion of the men he’s shared the cage with.

That won’t be the case come Saturday night, as the man justifiably known as “Skyscraper” takes on an opponent who will tie as the tallest fighter Struve has faced in the UFC. Alexander Volkov, will be just one year younger and 5 inches shorter than his Dutch counterpart, paving the way for a bout between two of the tallest men to ever grace the eight-sided cage.

Saturday’s main event comes more than seven years removed from the last time the UFC went all in on a giant versus giant matchup; though this main event can only peril in comparison to the one that came before it. A heavyweight championship unification bout between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin took the mixed martial arts world by storm in mid-2010, billed as a collision between two behemoths who — while neither man taller than 6-foot-3 — both stepped onto the scales at the heavyweight limit of 265 pounds.

That went on to become one of the most anticipated and successful pay-per-view events in UFC history.

UFC Fight Night 115, however, will merely be a soft return party for the promotion after a slow month of August.

As noted, Struve comes into the bout having won two straight, and is 3-2 in his last five. He’s come a long way since dealing with a potentially career-ending heart condition in 2013, but has yet to recreate the sort of sustained success that forced pundits to paint him in such a favorable light earlier in his career. A third straight win would help change that narrative, serving as the longest winning streak of his career since 2012.

It would be a fairly opportune time for a third straight win from the massive Dutch fighter, seeing as he’s ranked eighth in the division with a reasonable claim for a title shot with one, or likely two, more wins. Of the seven man that currently stand in front of him in the rankings, four (Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem, Derrick Lewis and Fabricio Werdum) are still a few wins away from vying for a title shot. That leaves just Cain Velasquez (whose recovery from injury is still up in the air), Francis Ngannou and Volkov (who may be out of the way come Saturday night).

Three wins in a row would give Struve a greater winning streak above all but one of the contenders currently ranked ahead of him, but even Ngannou (nine straight) doesn’t have the sort of history with the current champion of the heavyweight division. Though it feels like it took places eons go,  Struve is one of two men with victories over Stipe Miocic, serving as the only man in MMA history to actually stop the heavy-hitting Ohio native.

The divisional pecking order has never been more in flux, providing Struve with the perfect time to make an impact.

“Fans always wanna see finishes,” Struve said during a UFC promotional video. “I don’t like decisions. I like to end the fight on my terms. This is an exciting fight because it’s two of the tallest strikers with a lot of finishes on their record. The world’s waiting to see who is the best tallest fighters. Everybody understands that this is not going to a decision.”

It’s an equally important time for Volkov, who is now 2-0 after making his UFC debut in late 2016. Earning a split decision win over Timothy Johnson and a unanimous nod over Roy Nelson, it’s fair to say the Russian heavyweight has yet to make the sort of impact he’s had in fights past with 18 career knockouts.

“I don’t think I have reached my full potential as a UFC fighter yet,” Volkov said. “This fight with Stefan Struve will show how good I am. It will put me one fight closer to the title belt.”

A win over Struve would net him three consecutive wins over ranked opponents inside the Octagon, and five consecutive victories overall spanning back to his run in Bellator in 2015.

He doesn’t have the sort of history with Miocic that Struve’s had, but Volkov could make great strides by earning yet another win inside the UFC, placing himself perhaps one win away from the highly coveted crown.

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