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Stefan Struve explains decision to return to fighting: ‘I was just burnt out’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Earlier this year, Stefan Struve wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue fighting, but today, that’s a different story.

The long-time UFC heavyweight announced his possible retirement back in February after snapping a three-fight losing streak with a submission win over Marcos Rogerio de Lima in the co-main event of UFC Prague. In his post-fight speech, Struve thanked the fans for the support and made no promises to ever set foot in cage again, leaving his gloves behind as most retired fighters do in their last bout.

Fast forward six months and Struve has a new six-fight deal with the Las Vegas-based promotion and a date to take on fellow veteran Ben Rothwell at UFC on ESPN 7 on Dec. 7 in Washington D.C.

The decision to want to continue fighting only came after Struve took a break from the game and the frustrations that led him to doubt his future in MMA to begin with.

“I just needed some time to relax and step away from fighting and everything,” Struve told MMA Fighting. “I had a hard stretch with three losses and before that I had shoulder surgery, I had two hand surgeries, I fought multiple times with injuries like broken ribs. One of my fights, during fight week, I blew my back.

“So I did a lot of travel and invested a lot of my career to be the best I can be in the cage, but if you’re unlucky – injuries, losses and all that – you put a lot of work in but you don’t get what you want out of it. So it was only the other side that was present, so it was really frustrating.

“Looking back, I think I was just burnt out from all those years putting in hard work and not getting the results and going, and going, and going, so it came to that. I had a fighting burnt out. I enjoyed my time off, I worked on my house and spending a lot of time with my family and sleeping in and relaxing and just doing whatever I wanted. And after a while, I was getting annoyed with that.

“I started training again without the goal to fight. I’ve always enjoyed training, but I really missed the feeling that makes me go the extra mile in training. I would wake up at night thinking about fighting again and that’s when I would ask myself, ‘are you sure you really want to walk away from that?’. I’m happy I made the decision. I feel really good, I’m really relaxed and my mind is clear. That’s the most important thing with fighting.”

Struve might have a clear mind resuming his MMA career, but fans and critics are often not too fond of fighters coming back from retirement. “Skyscraper” could care less about what people have to say about his comeback.

“Most of those people with those opinions have never really fought, there’s very few people who have fought at this level and people have a hard time understanding fighters like myself because we’re a different breed,” Struve explained. “You have to be different, you have to be a little insane to go in that cage and do what we do. I used to really read a lot what people would say about me online and on social media, but I’ve been pretty much immune to that.

“I don’t really read it anymore and I’m at a better place because of it. I don’t care about their opinions. If you read everything people have to say about you, you’re life is not going to be much fun. I rather do other things than reading that. And the only thing that matters or the only answer I can give to people that doubt me, I need to have a great fight Dec. 7th, that’s the only thing that counts.

“Things can change so fast. After a win, people say, ‘you’re the best,’ and want to see me fight Stipe Miocic again. And after a loss, ‘oh he’s the worst heavyweight ever blah blah blah.’ So I really don’t give a f*ck, I don’t get paid to read those comments, so I’m just going to train, come in the best shape possible and win the fight. That’s how I make a living.”

Struve’s win back in February was the last fight on his UFC contract. Being a veteran and a recognized name in the sport, one would assume the 31-year-old then free agent would’ve been interested in signing with other MMA promotions. Yet, that wasn’t the case for the Dutch striker.

“We had some talks, people reached out, but we never got to a point where they made an offer or we were really interested in what they had to tell us,” Struve said. “UFC has been my home for such a long time, they’ve always taken good care of me, so for me it was a pretty easy decision. And who knows what happens in the future, but for now I’m happy I’m going to return. And that losing streak still aches, so I want to come back and put a couple of wins together and see where we’re at then.”

In his return to the UFC, Struve is looking to bring back some the things that made him a contender early in his career.

“I need to bring back the aggression that I use to fight with in the early days with the UFC, but I also need to be smart with my distance control,” Struve said. “It’s a hard balance between those two. What made me good, what made me special, was fighting with that tenacity.

“There’s guys who are better on their feet, better wrestlers, better grapplers, but I really learned over the years that yeah, all that is good, but it also depends on how much you want to win in there. If I fight as hard as I did in my first couple of years in the UFC, then I’m a very hard fight like I’ve showed in the past, especially with my new skill set and unique frame.”

For his bout against Rothwell, Struve is open to do his training camp with Hard Knocks 365 in Florida, but he’ll likely stay at home in Holland with his long-time coach Bob Schrijber and Gegard Mousasi’s team.

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