Posted: Sunday September 30, 2012 12:27AM ; Updated: Sunday September 30, 2012 12:27AM
Jeff Wagenheim
Jeff Wagenheim>INSIDE MMA

With UFC on Fuel win, Struve gains ground in heavyweight division

Story Highlights

Stefan Struve stopped Stipe Miocic in the 2nd round to win his fourth straight fight

Struve got hit a lot for a man his size, but won by controlling his aggressiveness

Dan Hardy was disciplined in his co-main event win before of a hometown crowd

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Stefan Struve has won four straight fights, all via stoppage, and six of his last seven.
Stefan Struve has won four straight fights, all via stoppage, and six of his last seven.
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Stefan Struve has grown.

It's not just that the Dutchman was introduced before Saturday's UFC on Fuel main event in Nottingham, England, as a 7-footer after having been billed at 6 feet 11 inches ever since he was knee high to a dinosaur.

Beyond his height measurement, Struve (25-5) showed that whatever tendency he's had to shrink when stepping up in competition might be a thing of the past. He sure came up big against previously unbeaten Stipe Miocic, wobbling him with a couple of right hands and landing a series of uppercuts that left the stout heavyweight out on his feet when referee Herb Dean jumped in at 3:50 of the second round.

For Struve it was his fourth straight victory, all finishes. No less important, it altered a career trajectory that had seen him twice build upward momentum with victories, only to be stopped cold when he stepped in with a contender. Now, there's no shame in being knocked out by the likes of Roy Nelson and Travis Browne -- or, for that matter, by Junior dos Santos, who welcomed Struve to the UFC with a KO back in 2009. But what's troubling is that two of those three losses came within the first minute of fights, which suggests that it didn't take long for top guys to figure out the big guy.

That shouldn't happen when you're tall enough to play center in the NBA and have the reach of Jon Jones. Have you ever seen anyone get inside the reach of "Bones"? No, you haven't, and the light heavyweight champion has fought four former world champs over the last year and a half. Struve might want to look at those tapes.

Even in this win over Miocic, he got tagged a lot more than a man his size should. In the first round, Stipe showed off his old Golden Gloves chops, feeding Struve's face a succession of crisp jabs and softening his ribcage with digging lefts and rights. Stefan acknowledged afterward that he took way too many punches. "I'm working on using my reach better," he said in an interview in the cage. "Some moments were pretty good. Some weren't that good. I think I've shown I got a hard chin."

That he did, withstanding everything dished out by Miocic, who came in with seven knockouts in his nine professional fights. And Struve gave as well as he took punishment. In the second round, his aggressiveness even sent Miocic into retreat a couple of times. But it was a controlled aggressiveness, nothing that might leave him susceptible to a big shot. And when he trapped Miocic along the fence and hurt him, Struve didn't let up. "I always want the finish," he said. "If I got him rocked, I'm going in for that kill."

Fresh off the kill, Struve is hunting for bigger game. At the post-fight press conference, he even threw out a name: Fabricio Werdum. "I think I can cope with him on the ground," he said, "and I think I can rough him up on the feet."

Inch by inch, Stefan Struve continues to become a bigger presence in the UFC heavyweight division.

Dan Hardy has grown, too, and in his case that's a commentary solely about his fight game, not his physical stature. He's still 6-feet tall, not an inch bigger than last time he stepped into the octagon. And that those 6-feet could be measured vertically, not horizontally, at the end of his co-main event welterweight bout against Amir Sadollah is a testament to Hardy's newfound discipline as a fighter.

After resuscitating his UFC career back in May with a knockout of Duane Ludwig, a victory that came on the heels of four straight losses, Hardy took another step forward with a unanimous decision win that was remarkable for being unspectacular. That's actually a high compliment to a guy who's paid the price for aspiring to make a big splash.

Fighting in his hometown, walking distance from his apartment, Hardy (25-10, 1 no contest) did not allow himself to get swept up in the emotion of the loud ovation he heard from the crowd at Capital FM Arena, where he often can be seen sitting in the stands watching hockey games. "There was a point about a minute into the first round where I heard the crowd chanting my name, and I kind of felt that I wanted to trade punches and start going nuts," said Hardy said afterward. "So I stepped back and kind of bounced around a little bit."

And when he attacked, he attacked smartly. Much of the time those attacks came via punches and kicks, but Hardy also threw in some takedowns, which led to a ground-and-pound beatdown that left the face of Sadollah (6-4) all cut up by fight's end. If you were waiting for a slugfest, you obviously had this Dan Hardy confused for the old version. And Hardy has no interest in looking back. "The old Dan Hardy," he reminded us, "got knocked out by Carlos Condit."

Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the e-mail link at the top of the page.

 
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