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Morning Report: Stefan Struve: 'Everything kind of fell apart for me after the fight with Stipe'

UFC heavyweight Stefan Struve says his body "quitting" on him was a "scary experience" that created a "hurdle" he is looking to get over in his upcoming fight against Antonio Silva.

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Esther Lin

Feeling better than ever, Stefan Struve is gearing up to make a run at the UFC heavyweight title.

This weekend in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 87, Stefan Struve will be taking on Antonio Silva but regardless of how the fight plays out it won't be Struve's toughest battle. Struve's most difficult opponent has proven to be himself and a heart condition which sidelined him for over a year.

Struve fought Mark Hunt on March 3, 2013. Coming into the fight he was riding a four fight winning streak and a victory over Hunt would have likely propelled him into a title eliminator. Struve had moments of success in the bout, achieving mount multiple times, but was unable to finish Hunt and was eventually knocked out in the third round. Several months after the fight, Struve released a statement informing the public that he had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart and a bicuspid aortic valve necessitating a hiatus from fighting to tend to his condition. A year later, Struve was expected to return against Matt Mitrione at UFC 175, but was forced to withdraw when he blacked out backstage prior to his fight.

Ahead of his co-main event bout with Silva, Struve spoke candidly with Jon Anik and Kenny Florian on the Anik and Florian podcast about his preparation for the upcoming fight and the effect his medical setbacks have had on his mentality and in cage performances.

"Everything kind of fell apart for me after the fight with Stipe [Miocic]. In my opinion, the fight with Mark [Hunt], I lost that one because my heart condition was at its worst at that point and I was pretty sick before the fight. That together just led to my body quitting on me in the fight.

"To be honest with you guys that was the biggest hurdle I had to overcome in my training. I never really worry about fighting. But in the fight with Alistair Overeem, not so much in the fight with Noguiera because I got going, but also in the fight with Rosholt I had trouble finding my rhythm and I was constantly thinking about ‘should I hit the gas now or should I just wait until the second round? You don't want to get tired like that fight with Hunt where your body gave up.' I never really got super tired in that fight because my conditioning is good and we always make sure I'm in tip top shape. But that fight with Hunt, my body just quit on me and I had to hang on for like ten minutes and wasn't able to do much and he was just battering me, beating me.

"How my body felt that fight was such a scary experience. That was the biggest hurdle to overcome, to be able to hit the gas in the fight and start hunting immediately and that's exactly what I did this training camp so that makes me feel really good."

The mental aspect of the fight game is incredibly important and Struve is only a couple of years removed from an illness which had many speculating he would never fight again, so some apprehension is to be expected. However, Struve has lost three of his last four with his lone win being a decision against aging legend Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera. Another loss due to Struve's gun shyness could signal the end of his UFC run. Understanding this, Struve's camp has been geared towards bringing out a more aggressive nature in the heavyweight.

"One of the things my coaches really wanted to see more in this training camp was aggression. I was doing my thing the last couple training camps but when I would have a guy up against the fence or in a bad spot I would take my foot off the pedal and let them get back into the sparring or the fight, whatever you want to call it. And this time they were like, ‘if you get someone up against the cage we want to see you finish it...We want to see more aggression we want to see you be focused on finishing the fight.' I dropped a ton of guys in sparring and it's definitely going to pay off this Sunday. It's going to translate perfectly to the fight in my opinion."

On paper, Antonio Silva may represent the perfect foe for Struve to clear his mental hurdles against. Silva has also lost three of his last four fights since the UFC's ban on TRT, a medication which Silva needed to combat his decreased testosterone as a result of acromegaly. Moreover, Silva's losses have all been first-round knockouts and Struve is a big heavyweight with enough power to put him away, something which doesn't escape Struve.

"I feel really good. I think I'm faster. If I fight with my reach and get my jab going and my teep going then he's in for a hard night and I'm going to drop him....I'm walking around at 275. My gas tank feels great. Everything is there you know. When I entered the UFC I was 230 pounds. I feel so strong and dominated in sparring so much, I couldn't be more ready for this fight to put on the best performance in front of my family and friends."

If all goes according to plan for Struve on Sunday, he could find himself back in contention sooner than expected. As Struve notes during the interview, "this is the heavyweight division, a lot can happen fast." Though the top of the heavyweight division currently has a log jam of contenders, the rest of the division is relatively thin and stringing together a a couple of wins could catapult Struve right back to where he was before the heart ailment. Perhaps even more importantly, despite the fact that Struve has 16 fights in the UFC he is still one of the youngest fighters in the heavyweight division, a division in where age seems to matter less than in others.

"I'm 28. I still feel like I'm a kid. I still have such a long road ahead of me."

You can listen to the entire interview with Struve below, as well as Anik and Florian's conversations with Ray Longo and AJ Hawk.

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TODAY IN MMA HISTORY

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2011: Koji Oishi defeated Daisuke Hanazawa by unanimous decision to claim the vacant Pancrase lightweight championship at Pancrase: Impressive Tour 4.

2008: Takashi Nakakura defeated Ganjo Tentsuku via unanimous decision to claim the Shooto lightweight championship at Shooto: Tradition 1.

2001: Smackgirl standout Yuuki Kondo recorded her first MMA victory winning by TKO over Yuta Dum due to an ankle injury at ReMix - Golden Gate 2001. In the main event that evening, former American Gladiator Erin Toughill defeatedMegumi Yabushita via armbar.

1996: Invicta flyweight Mariana Morais was born.

1989: UFC lightweight Bryan Barberena was born.

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1985: UFC lightweight John Makdessi was born.

1974: MMA legend Pedro Rizzo was born.

1972: UFC veteran Shonie Carter was born.

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Think I missed a spot? Found something you'd like to see in the Morning Report? Just hit me up on Twitter @JedKMeshew and we'll include it in tomorrow's column.

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