Stefan Struve would've fought anybody by the time he got his recent phone call from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. After a year and change spent on the sidelines due to the discovery of an enlarged heart and leaking aortic valve, the lanky seven-footer likely would've challenged his own kin if it meant one more shot inside the ubiquitous Octagon.
So it wasn't as if Struve was unhappy when he heard Alistair Overeem's name on the other end of that phone call. Of course, he wasn't exactly thrilled either, though as Struve joked on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour, there's only two Dutch heavyweights in the UFC, so at least the good news is that someone from Holland is bound to come away with a win from December 13th's UFC on FOX offering.
"The only thing I wanted to hear was: ‘You got an opponent,'" Struve told host Ariel Helwani.
"I'm ready to fight. I'm ready to put on a fight, step into that cage with the attitude you guys have seen me (have) in the past. I don't care who it is, he's going down December 13th."
Struve said that despite being the two most prominent heavyweight MMA fighters from Holland, he and Overeem never had much of a personal relationship. The two have never trained together, and aside from a few chance meetings or teammate clashes, the only interaction they've had were a few phone calls Overeem placed to Struve throughout the past year, offering words of sympathy and encouragement during Struve's physical and personal struggles.
All of that is in the past now though, as Struve carries the opportunity to make a resounding statement into his comeback fight this winter. Overeem's name still carries some weight to it, even despite a disappointing UFC run highlighted by three knockout losses over four recent attempts. But to hear Struve tell it, he's not particularly surprised by the former K-1/Strikeforce/DREAM champ's inability to gain a foothold in the UFC's heavyweight division.
"The level of the competition in the UFC is just really high," Struve said. "I said that to my friends and to people who asked me before [Overeem] got into the UFC, (people) who said he's going to absolutely dominate and he's going to be champ for years, he's going to annihilate everybody. I told them, you just wait and see how high the level of the competition in the UFC is. You really underestimate that. He was beating everybody outside of the UFC, but if you go through his record, and also in K-1, if you really take a look at when he won and who he won against, then, you know, I'm actually not that impressed.
"Who did he really win against in the period where people were saying he might be the number-one heavyweight in the world? Yeah, he beat Fabricio Werdum, but was that impressive? I didn't think so. Yeah, he won the K-1 (title), but he won the first round against a mediocre fighter, then he beat Gokhan Saki, who had a broken arm, then he beat Peter Aerts, who was spitting blood after his fight with Semmy Schilt. If you take a really good look at it, it's not all that impressive. He was winning in impressive fashion, but not against the best guys in the world, not in the UFC, where the best talent is and always has been."
Struve was quick to point out that he doesn't believe Overeem to be an overrated fighter, but rather, that Overeem simply isn't a fighter who responds well to opponents who match his pace. When you allow him to come forward and pressure you, Struve explained, Overeem "may be the best guy in the world." But when you combat that pressure with pressure of your own, as Antonio Silva, Travis Browne and Ben Rothwell all did to great success, Overeem struggles to maintain his dominance.
Struve also dismissed the idea that Overeem's chin is exceptionally weaker than any others in the weight class.
"I think that's really an easy thing to say in the heavyweight division, with guys that hit that hard and with guys with such small gloves," Struve said. "The best example is this weekend. I think everybody was pretty surprised when Mark Hunt knocked out Roy Nelson with just one punch. Of course there's guys who seem impossible to knock out, but actually can be knocked out. Mark Hunt himself has been knocked out, too. So, weak chin? I'm not sure. I just think that if you get punched in the face by a 280-pound guy and you stay on your feet, then you're doing a good job."
In a strange way, because of Overeem's two-year slump and Struve's episode at UFC 175 -- in which a fainting spell caused the last-second cancellation of his comeback fight against Matt Mitrione -- the stakes for this featured bout are far graver than most which share such name appeal. Another loss, especially another violent knockout, could spell disaster for Overeem; likewise for Struve and another brush with his heart issues.
Though on the other hand, the heavyweight division now appears more wide open than ever before. Despite his absence, Struve remains fixed within the division's media generated rankings, and the higher Miocic rises, the more impressive Struve's late-2012 knockout of the American looks. Realistically, a clean bill of health and a win over Overeem could place Struve as little as two fights away from a title shot, and don't think the man they call "Skyscraper" hasn't been pondering that while stuck on the sidelines.
"The thing is, people only look at the period I've been through and forget about the period I had before," Struve said. "Look at the fight with Mark Hunt. That's what people are doing now, but they forget that I was pretty damn sick before that fight. I didn't know about my heart condition. I was fighting with pretty heavy fluid, jelly in my body. I couldn't get it out of my system and I didn't know why, but now I do. And if you look at the fight I gave him, I nearly beat him. I think if you look back, I had full mount twice. Normally when I get full mount, I win the fight right there. But I couldn't.
"The feeling I had when I was in full mount the first time, I was pounding away, I saw Herb Dean stepping in to take a closer look, and then my arms just stopped. Do you know that feeling when you wake up at night and you cannot move your arm? That's the way it felt. My entire body just shut down. If you look at the third round with Mark Hunt, I had trouble just standing upright. So people forget about the streak I had before, people forget about the fact that I'm only 26," Struve continued.
"If you look at Stipe Miocic, if he wins (against Junior dos Santos), I see him as the next contender. I beat him, and that just shows that I could be there too if all the bad things didn't happen to me. I really believe that, that I would be right up there.
"If you look at the heavyweight rankings right now, every heavyweight in the top-10 is over 30, (every heavyweight) in the top-15 is over 30. I'm the only one well under 30, and I'm coming. I still plan to be champ in the coming years. I just need to run through a fellow Dutchman on December 13th."