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Stefan Struve discusses difficulty of making UFC comeback, Cain Velasquez’s return

There was a time when a major health problem looked like it might put Stefan Struve’s fighting career in jeopardy.

A few months after a loss to Mark Hunt in 2013, Struve was diagnosed with a leaking aortic valve and an enlarged heart. While he was immediately put on medication, the towering heavyweight’s issues later gained prominence in frightening fashion when he was supposed to fight Matt Mitrione at UFC 175. In the middle of fight night, not long before he was supposed to step into the cage with Mitrione, Struve collapsed backstage and was taken to the hospital.

Upon recovery, there would be 22 months between Struve’s fight with Hunt and his next fight with Alistair Overeem. Appearing on The MMA Hour on Monday, Struve was asked how difficult it is to return to the Octagon after that and how his situation compares to someone like Cain Velasquez, who just saw his comeback fight from a 30-month layoff end in 26 seconds due to the hands of Francis Ngannou and his own knee giving out.

“For him it was a long, long time since he was in there and then to have your first fight against a man like Francis Ngannou, there’s no time for you to smell the Octagon and feel comfortable again,” Struve said. “That guy is coming at you with everything he’s got and he’s gonna try to knock your head off and if he touches you, he’s gonna hurt you. He caught him off-guard because the punch he landed wasn’t crazy hard, but that man’s got so much power and he walked into it. And then unfortunately he blew his knee out so, it’s just very unfortunate for him because I do believe he’s got a lot more in the tank, but coming back especially against a guy like that, that’s no easy task. At the same time, he’s Cain Velasquez, you’re not going to give him a nobody to make a return. …

“I was going to fight Matt Mitrione, I had the blackout in the locker room and all that because of the medication I was on. Then five months after that they gave me Alistair Overeem for my comeback. You cannot hesitate, you cannot be feeling the Octagon and feeling everything again and fighting someone like that because if you’re not 100 percent focused, you’re not going to win that night.”

Struve seemed to bounce back well from the UFC 175 incident and has competed eight times since. He’s gone just 3-5 during that stretch, losing to Overeem before winning three of his next four fights and then hitting a three-fight skid. This Saturday, he returns at UFC Prague where he takes on Marcos Rogerio de Lima in the co-main event.

In regards to his heart condition, Struve said he’s still on medication and gets checked two or three times a year. It’s certainly not an ideal situation for someone in Struve’s line of work, but he doesn’t plan to stop fighting anytime soon, so it’s just something he has to live with.

“It’s not really a concern. I’ve been fighting my whole life with the heart disease,” Struve said. “That’s just the thing I’ve had my whole career. Normally, it’s found in kids when they are young and then they are told these types of combat sports aren’t the best decisions because one day they would probably need surgery and you’d be on blood thinners and all that and they’d be hard to quit.

“There’s erosion in my heart. The aortic valve will decay faster than probably when I wouldn’t train, but that’s not for sure either. There’s just an abnormality in my heart, but I’m doing pretty damn good with it, so I wouldn’t do anything else with it.”

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