The phrase “biggest card to date” has been tossed around when describing a night of mixed martial arts action but for once, the meaning is literal as the UFC presents its first heavyweights-only main card this Saturday with UFC 146. Newly-crowned champ “Cigano” Junior Dos Santos (14-1) takes on former champion and lethal submission artist Frank Mir (16-5) in the night’s main event. Cain Velasquez (9-1) begins his quest back to the title when he welcomes “Bigfoot” Antonio Silva (16-3) from the Strikeforce ranks. ”Pee Wee” Dave Herman (21-3) battles “Big Country” Roy Nelson (16-7) in the card’s anchor. Undefeated streaks are on the line when UFC prospect Stipe Miocic (8-0) plays host to Shane Del Rosario (11-0) in his promotional debut from Strikeforce. The card’s opener is sure to draw heads as “Skyscraper” Stefan Struve (23-5) and “Big” Lavar Johnson (17-5) are tied to do battle. Both Struve and Johnson have shown the best way to get the job done is to leave out of the judges’ hands. Come Saturday night, they will look to do just that.
At First Glance: Since this card was conceived, it had gone through a myriad of shuffles and changes. Plagues of TRT, injuries, and title pictures had altered the main card and while Struve remains game, his original opponent, “The Super Samoan” Mark Hunt (8-7), had fallen to such circumstances. Luckily, Lavar Johnson is able to pick up the pieces and salvage what is a promising fight. The Dutchman, Struve, towers the heavyweight division as the tallest fighter on the roster and after chaining together two impressive victories, he is looking to finally break past his curse of falling short on fights that really matter. Johnson certaintly demonstrates brute force. Deserving of the “knockout artist” moniker, Johnson’s power is one of its own as he has been the first to stop “The Mexicutioner” Joey Beltran (13-7) and “HD” Pat Barry (7-5) within his first two outings in the eight-sided cage. A win here for Johnson will not instantly shoot him into contention but if devastating enough, it can certaintly grant him a dance with a name that can.
In Depth: Stefan Struve may have been spared from fighting a former K-1 Grand Prix champion, but he still has to contend with a heavy-handed banger in Lavar Johnson. Johnson had spent a majority of his time on the Strikeforce Challengers series but it was not until his destruction of Beltran in his UFC debut that he finally started making waves in the sport. Of his 17 fights, Johnson has ended 15 of those by (T)KO and the other two by submission, one of which was due to strikes. If this were not any clearer as to what “Big’s” gameplan is entering the fight with Struve, it’s simple: just let the hands fly and reap the rewards as they come. Struve has the right to boast stopping power as well as his rallies against Christian Morecraft (7-3) and Dave Herman will support but losses show that even against much smaller fighters such as Dos Santos and Nelson, he is still prone to being clipped due to his failure to effectively use his reach advantage that comes with his height. Luckily for Struve, he is able to excel where Johnson has fallen short, in the ground game. Struve has racked up nearly just as many submission victories to Johnson’s knockouts but nearly every loss the latter has is due to his deficiency on the mat over more tested grapplers. It can even be argued that Pat Barry, who is a prominent kickboxer, would have submitted Lavar Johnson via Keylock had he not let it go. Struve’s aptitude on the mat surpasses that of Barry and should he find a way to ground Johnson, he could find the victory through a path of much less resistance.
Wild Card: For both men who are finishers, it is Struve who is in dire straits. Struve’s five defeats have all come within the first round, four of which by TKO. While he can certainly get the job done in the opening stanza, he cannot afford to have a slow start against the iron-handed Johnson. “Big” is already becoming a household name in the UFC and with just three weeks since his last outing, he will be more at ease in the Octagon and have no problem forcing himself upon Struve. With only a mere three-inch reach advantage, if the young Dutchman cannot keep him at length enough to possibly tire Johnson to later rounds or prompt a tie-up, it would only be a matter of time until the “Skyscraper” comes tumbling down again.
The Verdict: Struve’s tenure in the Octagon has been that of a roller coaster: even with a bumpy start, he’ll etch up slowly with solid wins but once he faces a fighter who possesses that X-factor, in this case Johnson’s power, he is forcibly and swiftly sent back to the bottom having to work his way up again. The judges can go ahead and take a water break when these two stand across each other. They just have to make sure they remember to thank Johnson later for saving them the trouble of having to add points. Johnson via Knockout (Strikes), Round 1