Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
I started my camp about eight weeks ago, and it's a great feeling to know we're almost done and ready to fight. The hard training is pretty much finished, and I'm now just focused on staying in one piece and not coming down with any injuries or illness before the fight. So, although I'm still working very hard in camp, I'm also being very careful.
You always have good and bad days in training, but I wouldn't swap my job for the world. Believe me, I'm not the kind of guy that can happily sit behind a desk and work a nine-to-five. This is what I do and I enjoy every moment of it, even the training sessions that drag on and destroy your body. When you get to this point – a week or two from the fight – you can really feel the benefit of all that hard work, and it's great to feel in shape and physically fit.
Also, you might think that because I'm 6-foot-11 my body suffers more from training than it should, but that's not really the case. And, if it is the case, it's something I'm used to now anyway. As you can imagine, I've always been a pretty tall guy – that's all I've ever known. When I was eleven or twelve years old, I really started to grow and shoot up above my classmates. I've been used to being the big kid in the playground all my life, and that hasn't really changed since joining the UFC and competing as a mixed martial artist. I'm now the tallest guy on the UFC roster and, in many ways, it's just like being back at school again.
It's a strange feeling, because I don't believe I'm any different to the 5-foot-10 heavyweights like Mark Hunt or Pat Barry. Sure, I'm a little bit taller and longer, but I've grown up in this body and frame all of my life, so it's nothing new or weird to me. I just see myself as being the same as them, only I'm able to see over large crowds of people, while they might struggle.
I never played basketball – tried once, was useless – but I did used to play center back on soccer teams in Holland. I figured back then I'd either make it as a center forward, winning balls in the air and getting on the end of crosses, or as a dominant center back, winning balls in the air and stopping crosses. I didn't exactly have the build to be a quick and agile winger.
Football was a passing phase, though, and it was the K-1 fights on TV that first attracted me to combat sports. I would have only been ten or eleven at the time, but always remember tuning in to watch those events. My brother would also bring home a lot of DVDs of Pride events, and that was something different altogether. I had never heard of MMA before that time, and couldn't believe there was something out there that encouraged kicking and punching in addition to wrestling and jiu-jitsu. The whole concept was fascinating.
My next opponent, Mark Hunt, was actually one of the guys I watched a lot of during my teenage years. He has competed in both K-1 and Pride, and was always somebody who loved to stand and trade kicks and punches. His style of fighting was a personal favorite of mine and, to be honest, I was a big fan of Mark for many years.
My brother was also an inspiration during this time. He was already training MMA, and had even had a couple of fights. So, when I turned 14, he decided to take me to the gym and, it's fair to say, I haven't looked back since. The day I set foot inside that gym was the day I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
On my first day of training we were doing a lot of bag and pad work, and I remember going to school the next day and being unable to write with a pen because my hand was still shaking from impact. The teachers couldn't understand why I was so behind on my work, but I knew it was because I'd been hitting the heavy bags so hard.
Despite my early love of punching, I've never been the type of guy to get involved in fights away from the gym. That's just not my thing. Even as a kid, I was never the sort to scrap in the playground. Also, I towered over a lot of kids my age, so they would have been foolish to pick a fight with me.
Still, when I was 18, I started working as a bouncer to make some money and help out my parents, and that was a real eye opener for me, as many fights would break out on a nightly basis. You always hoped they wouldn't – and did your best to prevent them – but alcohol and testosterone is never a good mix. Working the door consisted of lots of late nights and fist fights, though I tried to stop the fights before they got out of hand. Looking back, I'm now happy I get paid to fight and can get to bed at a reasonable time.
That was my life before the UFC. As you can see, I'm happy to be where I am right now, and can see beyond the aches and pains that follow an eight-week training camp. Come May 26, I know it will have all been worth it...
Stefan 'Skyscraper' Struve fights veteran Mark Hunt at UFC 146 on Saturday, May 26, live on pay-per-view. You can follow Struve on Twitter (@StefanStruve) for all the latest news ahead of his bout at UFC 146.
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