Stefan Struve Plans to Finish Lavar Johnson at UFC 146

Stefan Struve finishes Dave Herman in the second round (Josh Hedges/UFC)

6-foot-11 Dutchman believes he has advantage on ground

Up until last week, Stefan Struve was half of the only main card bout to remain intact from the original lineup at UFC 146.

The heavyweight showcase was set to feature the 6-foot-11 Dutchman vs. the heavy hands of “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt. But due to a late injury sustained by Hunt, Struve became the latest addition to the shakeup surrounding Saturday’s card in Las Vegas.

As an 11th hour replacement, the UFC tapped another heavy-handed striker, Lavar Johnson, to step into the spot left vacant by Hunt. Johnson has been a force since coming over from Strikeforce and will return to action just three weeks after scoring a Knockout of the Night victory over Pat Barry at UFC on Fox 3.

The bout creates another big opportunity for Struve to continue his journey up the heavyweight ladder, and it is one he is happy to see not go to waste.

“I was with my girlfriend when I got the news that Hunt was pulling out,” Struve told HeavyMMA. “My manager told me I needed to call him right away. I was happy when I heard Lavar was stepping up to take the fight because I didn’t want this training camp or opportunity to go to waste.

“I was training for a heavy-handed striker, and Lavar Johnson certainly fits that role as well. He is coming off two Knockout of the Night performances, but I’m also coming off two consecutive finishes. He hits hard, but I hit hard, as well. Every fighter in the heavyweight division has power and has the ability to knock anyone out. I am prepared in all areas and have worked hard to continue my development in all aspects of my game. I feel the best I’ve ever felt heading into a fight.”

When looking at the stylistic matchup between Struve and Johnson, one area where there appears to be a gaping difference is the ground game. The 24-year-old “Skyscraper” has been a nightmare for his opposition when the action hits the canvas, while Johnson has yet to show his skill set on the mat. While Struve doesn’t discount the fact Johnson has one-punch finishing power on his feet, he doesn’t dispute the advantage he’ll have on the ground, either.

“I would have thought he would be putting a lot of work into his ground game,” Struve said. “But it doesn’t look to be that way – at least not what he showed in his fight with Pat Barry. And he looked to be in trouble during that fight. He was able to get back up and finish Pat against the fence with big shots, but Pat had him in a bad position on the ground. I know I’ll have a big advantage if the fight goes to the ground and I can finish him there.

“Lavar Johnson has looked good in his first two fights in the UFC, but people forget he came over after losing two straight in Strikeforce. Both of those losses came by way of submission, and it’s clear the ground game is his weakness.”

Since coming to the UFC in 2009, Struve’s momentum has been on a roller coaster. He has been able to put together multiple victories on two other occasions before meeting his match at the hands of a powerful striker. While Struve doesn’t let regret stand in the way of his progress, he believes he is finally coming into his own and there is a specific reason the UFC comes to call on him.

“When the UFC flies me in, they know they are going to get a great fight,” Struve said. “I am at a point in my career where everything feels like it is coming together and I know I can compete with anyone in this division. With every camp, I’m getting stronger and my skills are getting sharper.

“Some people forget that I’m only 24 years old. I still have a lot of learning to do, but I’m more confident than I’ve ever been. I was upset after my fight with Dave Herman (at UFC on Fuel TV 2) because the first round didn’t go the way I had planned. I got the finish in the second, but didn’t start the fight the way I wanted to.  I have made the adjustments I needed to make, and if I use the tools I have, this is going to be another solid performance.”

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