This Saturday, the UFC will help MMA fans kick off the Memorial Day weekend with a UFC 130 card headlined by wisecracking PRIDE superstar “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (29-8) and inspirational wrestling stand-out “The Hammer” Matt Hamill (9-2) who step in to replace the injured lightweight title contestants “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (13-1-1) and “The Bully” Gray Maynard (10-0-1). Leading up to the main event, the UFC has provided a quartet of bouts with the potential to shake up the heavy, middle, and welterweight divisions’ current contendership rankings. At 170, former title challenger “Pitbull” Thiago Alves (17-7) squares off against rising star “The Horror” Rick Story (10-2) to see who gets to take (or keep) Alves’ place as a top contender. In the middleweight ranks, USMC veteran “All-American” Brian Stann (10-3) looks to continue his UFC rebirth as an elite fighter against a man who made his mark after getting drummed out of the UFC and has now returned for redemption, “Sandman” Jorge Santiago (22-8). The third class that gets a shake, the heavyweight division, receives a double helping as former UFC champ Frank Mir (14-5) takes on former IFL champ “Big Country” Roy Nelson (15-5) for a chance to get back on top and the UFC’s hard-nosed youngsters “The Skyscraper” Stefan Struve (18-4) and Travis Browne (7-0-1) battle for a shot at the UFC heavyweight elites. Struve and Browne both pose interesting questions for each other. Those questions and many more will be answered as two of the largest fighters in the UFC clash to make their mark.
At First Glance: This is quite literally the biggest match on the card. While Nelson and Mir are a pair of 265lbs. tanks, the two don’t seem so titanic when standing next to the 6’ 7” 265 lbs. Browne or the towering 6’11” Struve who almost had to get on one knee to be face-to-face with “Big Country” during their staredown at UFC Fight Night 21. The fun thing about two physically towering fighters like these two is that they rarely face a fighter of their stature. Struve has shown impressive growth in his striking over his UFC career, but how much of that is his goliath reach advantage and how much is actual skill? The same holds true with Browne’s skill set. He has built a career on ground-and-pound brutality, but can he manage to get past his opponent’s defenses when he lacks excess mass needed to simply blast through his foe’s guard? The answers will come this Saturday when these two men fight for their place in the division’s title contention conversation.
In Depth: Struve has three very handy advantages against Browne going into this UFC 130 heavyweight tilt. The first is momentum. “The Skyscraper” is riding a two-fight win streak and has gone 5-1 in his past six, losing only to Roy Nelson and having just one fight go to the judges. Added to this confidence is the fact that while Browne is larger than anyone else Struve has had to face, “The Skyscraper” will still hold a comfortable 5” reach advantage. The last of the three advantages Struve carries is his overall more well-rounded skill set. Browne is a ground-and-pound bully style wrestler who has heard the final bell just twice in his career. He relies on strength and overwhelming offense to get the win and tends to gas later in the fight. Struve remains calm even in bad spots and has patient, crisp striking and a solid bottom position submission game that can give a reckless aggressor like Browne fits, especially once the clock has taken its toll.
Wild Card: While Struve has certainly got the reach and skill advantages on lock-down, Browne is still a heavier, stronger man and holds a key advantage in his wrestling background. Browne is no NCAA stand-out, but Struve has practically no skill in the wrestling aspect of the game and that is something a patient Browne can easily exploit. If Browne picks his places to shoot and remains in control of his aggressive tendencies on the mat, he should be able to grind Struve out in the first two rounds while conserving enough energy to survive the third and catch a late stoppage or 29-28 decision win.
The Verdict: Browne has a much brighter future than most give him credit for with the wealth of sub .500 fighters he has faced in his career, but that future isn’t likely to begin at UFC 130. Struve has impressively beaten every fighter he has faced in the UFC who isn’t currently considered a top five contender for the title and has defeated far better overall competition than Browne who has only one UFC win against a fighter who went 1-2 in the Octagon. Look for Struve to threaten sweeps and submissions early before beating an exhausted Browne up with straight punches at range en route to a fifth stoppage UFC victory. Struve via TKO (Strikes), Round 3.