It’s good to see Stefan Struve back in UFC competition after the discovery that he had a leaking aortic valve. It’s always a disappointment when an athlete is unable to do what he loves because of a medical condition – ask Isaiah Austin, the basketball player who was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome and therefore will never be able to play in the NBA. Fortunately, Struve seems to have corrected the issue and is able to compete in the UFC again – but he got a tough draw in his return fight as he’s been matched up against Matt Mitrione.
It’s no secret that Struve is one of the better submission fighters in the heavyweight division. He’s been credited with 19 submission attempts and four submission wins in 13 UFC fights. The good news for Struve is that Mitrione is not particularly difficult to take down. He’s been taken down 11 times in 10 fights and defended just 57 percent of his opponents’ takedowns. The bad news is that Struve doesn’t go for takedowns himself: just 3 out of 4 takedowns landed in the UFC. Struve instead prefers to stand and strike, occasionally either pulling guard or leaving it up to his opponent to land the takedown.
Mitrione enters this fight with zero takedowns in zero attempts, so Struve can forget about Mitrione taking this one to the ground. That means we’re probably going to see a striking battle unless Struve can land an unlikely takedown in this one.
And in a striking match, I’m not sure I love Struve’s chances. Struve does have a TKO win against Stipe Miocic, so there’s something to be said for his offensive striking. Mitrione is no defensive savant either (2.64 significant strikes absorbed per minute) so I have little doubt that Struve will succeed at landing a barrage of punches and knees on Mitrione. The problem is that while Mitrione’s defense is not great, Struve’s defense is usually quite porous. Struve has absorbed 3.96 significant strikes per minute and successfully defended just 48 percent of his opponents’ strikes. That’s the downside to being freakishly tall: Struve is a big target and has a lot of trouble defending himself effectively.
That’s a problem in any weight class, but it’s a particular problem in the heavyweight division, where fighters hit hard and most fights don’t go the distance. Mitrione is no exception to this, and is actually a pretty respectable striker overall: +76 in significant strikes and +6 in knockdowns in the UFC. In a 15 minute fight between Mitrione and Struve, I have to think that it’s probably not going the distance if it stays standing, and I also have to think Mitrione is a lot more likely to get the finish.
The knock I have against Mitrione is that his striking success has generally come against the bottom of the UFC heavyweight division. Great performances against opponents like Joey Beltran, Kimbo Slice, Christian Morecraft, and Phil de Fries aren’t necessarily an indicator of success at a higher level. It’s possible that Mitrione’s striking won’t translate well against even a mid-tier UFC heavyweight like Struve.
Still, I’m surprised that the initial reaction of the betting public was to support Struve so strongly. Struve opened as a -140 favorite and quickly got pushed to -210. I feel like Struve has to get this fight to the ground to be considered a favorite, and has only limited means to do so. Unless Struve pulls guard or lands a rare takedown, this fight is going to remain standing and Mitrione is a clear favorite there in my humble opinion.
Pick: Matt Mitrione by KO