With the pressure of his career's biggest bout of the way, Stefan Struve was finally able to let out his bottled-up emotions.
The 7-foot-tall Dutch heavyweight was able to push aside his personal life as he made the rounds on fight week, dealing with main-event media responsibilities for the first time and preparing for his bout with unbeaten striker Stipe Miocic.
But after finishing Miocic via second-round TKO at UFC on Fuel TV 5 in Nottingham, England, on Saturday Struve was able to return his thoughts homeward. As he trained for the bout, Struve found out has father back home in Holland has been stricken with cancer.
Struve fought back tears as he discussed his father during an emotional interview on Fuel TV's post-fight show.
"My dad [found out he had] cancer two months ago," said Struve. There was a considerable pause before he continued. "He's in therapy. He's doing well, but, still. Yeah, I've been wanting to go home. It will be good to go home and see him again."
Struve returns home after a fight which demonstrated the continued improvement in his game. In the opening round, Struve resisted the urge to turn the bout with Miocic into a firefight, content mainly to parry his opponent's rushes.
In the second round, he turned it on. Struve absorbed several brutal shots from the heavy-hitting Miocic. But he kept his composure and turned the tide, ending the bout with a ferocious finishing flurry.
"I saw he was really starting to slow in the second round and started to chase him," Struve (25-5) said. "At least start to pressure him and knock him a couple times and finish him. I hit him with a series of uppercuts for the knockout. ... I think people won't discuss my jaw much any more."
It would be too far a leap to call Struve ready for a title shot, but the win establishes him as a top-10 heavyweight. Since getting knocked out by Roy Nelson in 2010, Struve has won six of seven fights. He's taken four in a row, all via finish, against an increasing level of competition each time out.
He's still got work to do, but he's come along way from the gangly 20-year old who was finished in under a minute by Junior dos Santos in his UFC debut.
"I'm still getting better and stronger every single fight," Struve said. "I have power in my punches. Every shot I hit him with, you know, I just backed him down. I felt really good, I just need to use my reach more and more, you know. I just wanted to go in there and get my win and go home."
UFC on Fuel TV 5 quotes
"I know he would come out here, especially in his home country, and he's looking to finish. ... I knew that going in. I had a lot of nerves. I had to take it from him." -- Matt Wiman, on his stunning armbar finish over previously unbeaten submission specialist Paul Sass.
"Dan Hardy actually looked like a mixed martial artist tonight. He didn't look like a kickboxer. He looked like a mixed martial artist." -- Dana White on Dan Hardy's performance in his unanimous-decision win over Amir Sadollah.
"I knew this night was going to be special. I never thought they'd come to Nottingham. When Dana announced it, I knew I had to be on this card. If I hadn't won my last fight, I probably wouldn't have been around for tonight. It was a special night." -- Hardy
"You know we don't like that. It's never good." -- White on DaMarques Johnson missing weight Friday by eight pounds for his bout with Gunnar Nelson, which he lost via first-round submission.
Stock up: Dan Hardy
The UFC took some heat for keeping Dan Hardy on the roster after dropping four consecutive fights. But now Lorenzo Fertitta's looking pretty smart for giving him another chance. Hardy's win over Duane Ludwig at UFC 143 didn't tell us much, since it was a knockout and punching power has always been Hardy's bread and butter.
But his win over Amir Sadollah was something altogether different. Hardy looked like a more mature, well-rounded, and patient fighter than we've ever seen, which is doubly impressive since he had the fight the urge to put on a show in front of his hometown fans. Hardy was patient in the first round as Sadollah rushed at him; turned up the pace in the second, and looked confident with his wrestling and his ground game.
Granted, it isn't as though it was Georges St-Pierre Hardy was taking down his opponents and controlling them. But Hardy's performance Saturday shows he's back on the right track.
Stock down: Duane Ludwig
There's an unwritten rule in the mixed martial arts community which implies you're not supposed to tell a fighter when to retire. But it's just getting tough to watch Ludwig continue on. He's 34 years old and has fought seven times since returning to the UFC in 2010. He's lost five of those bouts. Twice, including Saturday against Che Mills, it's been due to injury TKO. He was knocked cold by Hardy and submitted twice. All five have been in the first round. No one's doubting "Bang's" courage, but he hasn't shown anything in his recent bouts to demonstrate he still belongs in the big leagues.
To Herb Dean, who proved once again why he's the best referee in the business. Stipe Miocic is one tough dude, as he proved by staying on his feet as Struve unleashed right hand after powerful right hand. But Dean was able to recognize that even though Miocic was standing, the lights were flickering and were a shot or two from going out. Dean stopped the bout at precisely the right moment.
Akira Corassani looked surprised when he got the the nod via split decision over Andy Ogle. That should tell you all you need to know about the fight, in which most believe Ogle took the first and third rounds. (Author's note: Yup, in the original version I had a brain cramp and flipped the winner and loser. It's been corrected.)
Fight I want to See Next: Struve vs. Fabricio Werdum
Struve is due for a step up in competition. Werdum is still in need of his next opponent. Werdum has the ground skills to challenge Struve on the floor and is much-improved on his feet. While I wouldn't be surprised to see Werdum vs. Alistair Overeem when Overeem returns, I think Werdum makes the most sense in terms of putting Struve into the Octagon with a top-10 fighter.
For his part, Struve likes the thought of a bout with Werdum. "I think that's an awesome fight to make," he said. "I think he's one of the best guys in the world, and you know, I think I can handle him on the ground and I think I can rock him on his feet."