I have a feeling this year is going to be my year. The year I establish myself as one of the best guys in the heavyweight division and start moving up the ladder towards a title shot. Next step arrives this Saturday (May 26), when I take on Lavar Johnson at UFC 146 and seek my third straight UFC win.
Unfortunately for Lavar, he's meeting me at my very best. I weigh 30 to 35 pounds more than when I made my UFC debut in 2009, a 21-year-old kid all skin and bones, and I'm bigger, better and wiser than back then. Far more confident in my ability, too. I'm surrounded by experienced coaches and training partners, all of whom are experts in various disciplines. As the sport has grown and developed, so too have I. Although I'm still young at 24, I feel just as experienced as the top heavyweights in the world.
Going into my fight on Saturday night, I want to achieve two things, the same two things I aim to achieve each and every time I set foot in the Octagon. Firstly, I want to fight to the best of my ability and do myself proud, and secondly, I want to give the fans a great show. So long as I achieve both of those goals on fight night, I'm always a happy guy.
My 2009 fight against Denis Stojnic is a good example of what makes me happy. That is probably my favorite UFC moment to date and a moment that always puts a smile on my face whenever I recall it. I showed everybody I could hang in the UFC in that fight, and also battled back from adversity early on. Stojnic cut open my face and many people thought the fight was going to be stopped because of the sheer amount of blood pouring from my forehead.
I knew my back was against the wall and knew I probably had to stop Denis before the final bell, which I did. The feeling of locking in that choke and winning the fight was just unbelievable. Even better was knowing that the fans inside the arena, and everybody watching at home, would have had the time of their lives watching the fight. That matters to me just as much as getting the win.
I'm expecting another fun fight this Saturday, as my opponent, Lavar Johnson, is somebody who always brings it hard. He knows only one way to fight – forwards and with lots of aggression. That should make for a great fight, as I won't be looking to run away or hide. I thrive off my opponent's aggression and will use any mistakes he makes to exploit his weaknesses.
Lavar looks for that big right hand at all times, and it is a very big right hand. He can clearly punch and has knocked out a lot of guys with that shot. He also likes to press you up against the cage and then unload with everything that he's got. The one mistake I don't want to make in this fight is to allow him to push me up against the cage and keep me pinned. As soon as I feel my back to the cage, that means it's time to get the hell out of there. Although I love pleasing the crowd, it doesn't pay to be stupid, and you have to realize there's a time and place to trade punches and get the crowd on their feet.
I'm really confident in my stand-up right now. I think I've got a lot better in the last year and, with my height and reach, feel as though I can live with most of the top strikers in MMA. I really want to show that as well. However, it doesn't take a genius to work out what I plan to do to Lavar on Saturday night. If you look at our strengths, I have far more upside to my game if I take him to the ground and exploit his major weakness. If I take him down in this fight, the fight is done, and he knows that. There's nothing he can do to argue or stop it. Lavar isn't stupid – he knows he doesn't stand a chance against me on the ground.
Ultimately, you've got to fight smart in this sport. I've very confident that this fight will end via submission or knockout. And I can do either..
Stefan 'Skyscraper' Struve fights hard-hitting Lavar Johnson 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.