Just when you think it's okay to look forward to your upcoming fight, somebody pulls a rug from under your feet at the last minute. That happened to me on Thursday evening, when I was told my opponent at UFC 146, Mark Hunt, had suffered an injury in training and would be unable to face me on May 26.
The news arrived at a very funny and awkward time actually. I was at my girlfriend's place and we were looking for potential holidays after the fight. It was then that my manager sent me a text message telling me I needed to call him immediately because Mark Hunt was injured and out of the fight. At that moment I panicked, as I wasn't sure whether I'd still be fighting or not. I didn't want my whole training camp to go to waste. Luckily, I spoke with my manager and he told me Lavar had already been put in place as the stand-in opponent - I was delighted. It's a really cool fight.
I just wanted to fight, and didn't mind who I was put up against. Obviously, Hunt would have been a great opponent, and is somebody I look up to, but it was important to just get some sort of fight. By Thursday evening, I didn't really care who it was against.
As it turned out, Lavar Johnson is every bit as exciting for me as Hunt was. Credit to him for stepping up to the plate. All in all, Lavar is a big, strong guy who likes to stand and punch, and he's also far easier to take down than Hunt. I truly believe Mark has better takedown defense than Lavar, and that makes it a fun fight for me.
After learning who my new opponent would be, I did a little bit of research, but already knew plenty about him. Lavar fought two weeks ago against my friend, Pat Barry, and that was a fight I have now watched a couple of times. I also saw Johnson's fight with Joey Beltran and a few of his Strikeforce fights from the last couple of years.
The next day I went to train with my BJJ coach and gather his thoughts on the match-up. He is the guy who tells me what to go for and what not to go for on the ground, and we discussed this fight with Johnson at length on Friday.
In the end, it doesn't matter who they put in front of me – the fight is still just three rounds of five minutes. Nothing changes. I'm not suddenly being asked to fight ten rounds of ten minutes.
Of course, it goes without saying, it would have been an absolute honor to fight Mark Hunt. I've been watching Mark's fights for years and was genuinely excited at the prospect of testing my skills against him. I hope he gets well soon and doesn't suffer too much as a result of the injury. It would be great to fight him at some point in the future and pick up where we left off. He's great for the sport and, so long as he can continue performing the way he's done recently, that man's going in the right direction.
It's a shame I won't be fighting Mark at UFC 146, but I'm more than happy with my new fight. Besides, I can't afford to live in the past - Lavar Johnson currently stands in my way of getting where I want to get in this sport and it's him, not Hunt, who I must now beat. Although they may have different faces, different bodies and a different set of skills, both Johnson and Hunt are still obstacles that needed conquering. That doesn't change, no matter who the actual person is. In order for me to keep living the dream in the UFC, I have to do my best to defeat everybody in my path, be it Mark Hunt or Lavar Johnson. It doesn't matter to me...
Stefan 'Skyscraper' Struve fights veteran Mark Hunt at UFC 146 on Saturday, May 26, live on pay-per-view. Follow @StefanStruve on Twitter for all the latest news ahead of his bout at UFC 146.