When Frenchman Francis Ngannou first debuted in the UFC less than a year and a half ago, he was a completely unknown prospect in MMA. He’s not an unknown anymore.
Nobody knew who Ngannou was when he first entered the Octagon, but they could assume just from a short glimpse at him that he was an absolute monster with potentially scary power. They weren’t wrong, either.
In five UFC fights, Ngannou has gone 5-0 and has finished every single one of his opponents with relative ease, while only letting two opponents into the second round before knocking them out.
As if he wasn’t already scary enough standing up, Ngannou has also demonstrated his submission skills by finishing Anthony Hamilton in December with a beautiful and unexpected kimura.
The interesting thing about Ngannou is that in addition to knocking opponents out so easily, he can be even more of a threat due to his submission skills. That’s just another wrinkle every fighter should add to his or her game. Typically, knockout artists don’t have a heavy submission arsenal. They’re reliant on striking. We still don’t know how extensive Ngannou’s submission game is, but he’s shown it exists, which makes fans want to see more of it.
That’s where Dutch striker and longtime UFC veteran Stefan Struve comes in. Struve isn’t set to meet Ngannou, but he makes a very intriguing potential opponent for “The Predator.”
Struve has been fighting some of the best heavyweights for more than eight years in the UFC. Granted, he hasn’t compiled the best record or beaten all of the top fighters in his division, but he has been inside the eight-sided cage with some of the best heavyweights in the world. Struve has gone on several winning streaks against lesser known fighters and then lost to the better ones.
After getting knocked out in his UFC debut in the first round against Junior dos Santos at UFC 95, Struve went on to win three in a row, including two via submission. Then, he faced hard-hitting Roy Nelson, who knocked Struve out in the first round. Two knockout wins followed for Struve. After a devastating knockout loss against Travis Browne, where he nearly got impaled by a superman punch, Struve railed off another four wins in a row — two by knockout and two by submission. He suffered back-to-back knockout losses for the first time to legendary strikers Mark Hunt, who broke Struve’s jaw in the fight, and Alistair Overeem. Struve then beat Brazilian legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in what was only the second decision victory of Struve’s career. After a lackluster decision loss to wrestler Jared Rosholt, Struve has actually rallied with back-to-back finishes, beating another Brazilian legend, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, via knockout and then submitting Polish fighter Daniel Omielańczuk.
The point of rehashing Struve’s UFC career is two-fold. First, it shows the extensive level of experience he has against incredibly tough opponents. Second, and more importantly, it highlights the fact that he’s been knocked out by multiple huge and talented heavyweight strikers, but he still continues to move forward and put on really great fights while showing continued improvement.
This second point is particularly important, because it pertains to the argument about the dangerous striking of Ngannou and how Struve might have issues against the Cameroon native.
Struve has faced fighters just as scary and tough as Ngannou, though, so this wouldn’t really be anything new for the Dutch fighter. That’s not to say the Frenchman isn’t a threat. Of course not. However, for a guy like Struve, who started at the highest level only two days after his 21st birthday, to compile a fairly impressive 12-6 record is no easy task, especially when one factors in the fighters he has had to face during his career. The heavyweight division isn’t the toughest weight class, but Struve has seen the best of it, including guys that could practically murder him in the cage because they’re so strong and fearless.
Ngannou isn’t going to offer anything to Struve that he hasn’t already seen. Struve has not only faced fighters as big and as destructive as Ngannou, but he’s clashed with title challengers and champions from the UFC and Pride.
Another detail that shouldn’t be overlooked is an even bigger testament to Struve’s toughness. The 29-year-old suffered through a pretty bad heart condition, which put him out of commission for nearly two years. His only back-to-back losses bookended his nearly two-year layoff while he dealt with these medical issues. He’s now back on another winning streak, even after suffering through this ordeal. If that doesn’t say toughness, what does?
Struve will be able to match Ngannou step-by-step. Not only does Struve have great striking, but he’s also a wizard on the ground. His long limbs do wonders when he’s on the ground or trying to sink in a front choke. The only thing that is suspect is his chin. Struve has suffered six losses in the UFC, with five coming via knockout. He has to work on his head movement, because obviously getting hit too many times doesn’t lead to good results for anybody. Ngannou’s power only multiplies Struve’s need to avoid taking too many blows.
If the UFC were to book Ngannou against Struve, it would be a great fight. It would definitely be a great stand-up battle, where both guys will take it to each other until the other one goes down. If they decide to take it to the ground, we’ll get another look at what Ngannou’s made of as a grappler. Either way, we’d be in for some fireworks. Let’s just hope the UFC pulls the trigger and makes it official.