UFC Fight Night 87 will go down as one of the most memorable evenings in Stefan Struve's career.
The giant heavyweight from the Netherlands got a hero's welcome from the sellout crowd in Rotterdam on May 8, then went out and finished Antonio Silva in a mere 16 seconds.
"This was absolutely amazing," Struve said on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. "The chants, the way the arena exploded when the Dutch fighters walked out. Everything. I felt so great, it was absolutely amazing."
But it was also marked the end of a roller-coaster week for the Blackzilians fighter, as it came just days after his teammate, Bellator competitor Jordan Parsons. Parsons died, several days after he was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in Delray Beach, Fla., who has since been apprehended by authorities.
Struve gave a memorable tribute to Parsons during his post-fight interview as he wore a black armband adorned with Parsons' initials.
"We decided to pay a tribute to him this way," Struve said. "I think everybody appreciated that. I heard his mother really appreciated that. I'm happy I was able to do something like that for him, because he really was an amazing person, just great energy every day."
It was a mental challenge for Struve in trying to stay focused on the fight, as he did not find out about the accident until arriving in the Netherlands, then had to keep abreast of developments from afar.
"It was a roller coaster," Struve said. "I flew out on Friday. Then on Sunday I got the news that he got hit by a car. But I didn't know at that point how bad it was. They told me they had to amputate his leg, and that's horrible, but then there's life after fighting, so if I had to make choice between passing away and getting my leg amputated, there's more things than fighting.
"It got worse and worse, you know, as the days went by," Struve continued. "I tell myself, try not to think about it too much because you need to do your job and you just trained to win this fight for about four months. So you need to win this fight and you cannot have this influence your performance."
In case Struve needed a final boost, he got an inkling the crowd would pick him up when he heard them give fellow Netherlands native Germaine de Randamie a superstar reaction for her walkout.
"I was in the locker room and I was watching Germaine fighting and I heard the crowd going crazy and everything," Struve said. "At the point I was like, it was impossible to lose, in 30 minutes you're going to be there and your hand is going to be raised. It's impossible to lose, just go out there and you'll get this as your reward."
Struve then went out and executed against Silva, landing a right, sprawling a desperation Silva takedown attempt, and then administering elbows until the fight was waved off. It was his second win in his past three fights, and, more important in Struve's mind, proof that he's fully acclimated with the Blackzilians, where he's trained for the past 15 months.
"I felt the right hand connected perfectly," Struve said. "And that's one of the drills we drill so much in the gym. It's a 1-2 follow up, an uppercut and a knee, this one was two uppercuts and a knee, then you finish from there, you see where he is and you work from there. ... Even in a 16 second-fight there were so many things to pick up it was just a great feeling."
Struve will be an interested onlooker at UFC 198, where Fabricio Werdum will defend his UFC heavyweight title against Stipe Miocic in the main event. Struve earned his most memorable career victory over Miocic with a second-round knockout in a Sept. 2012 bout in the U.K.
"I'll be watching," said Struve, who plans on taking some time to fix a nagging issue with his right hand. "Stipe is a great fighter, a great person, and I think he's going to win. I think he's got the skills, I think he's going to get the belt, and its not too long that I beat him. For me, everything fell apart after that fight. Everybody knows I had really serious issue to deal with at that point."
To that last point, Struve speaks of the heart issues which nearly derailed his career. Now that he's back on on the right track, Struve believes he's finally about to go on the sort of run people long expected of him.
"I'm 28, everyone has see my fight since I was very young, especially for a heavyweight, and I'm finally starting to really turn into force I was talking about. I see and I know what I can do, I show every single day in the gym now. I can't wait to put together a streak now."