“I think I'm ready to beat anybody and I'm ready to be the champ, too.”
Not many 25-year-old fighters can say that and mean it with the same conviction as Stefan Struve.
Not only does he mean it, but he also has the credentials to back it up.
His resume belies his age. Struve already has 30 professional mixed martial arts bouts to his credit, a staggering 12 of them in the Octagon. Only once has he gone to a decision in any of his victories. Struve has knocked out seven and submitted 16 of his opponents.
He has stumbled only against Junior dos Santos, Roy Nelson and Travis Browne in the UFC, all are or were Top 10 fighters at one time or another; dos Santos was even the UFC heavyweight champion for a brief stint.
Struve is currently riding the wave of four consecutive victories that include Pat Barry, Dave Herman, Lavar Johnson, and Stipe Miocic.
That may sound like a rocket ride to the top, but Struve has felt comfortable with his development during his three-plus-year tenure in the UFC.
“UFC gave me time to develop and they believe in my talent,” Struve told MMAWeekly.com recently. “I'm starting to show that wasn't all for nothing. They've always believed in me and I've always believed in myself.
“It's good to really show what we've known and what we were thinking for years, that I could be one of the best heavyweights in the world. And now I'm among the best heavyweights in the world.”
Struve carries that confidence into a hostile arena at UFC on Fuel TV 8 in Japan when he faces Mark Hunt, a fighter that has long been a staple of the Japanese combat sports scene.
Hunt built a strong following in Japan with his hard-headed, go for broke style in both K-1 kickboxing bouts and Pride mixed martial arts fights.
That fact isn’t lost on Struve. If anything, it hits home for him more than most, as he grew up, quite literally, watching fighters like Hunt and Wanderlei Silva compete at the apex of Pride Fighting Championships’ golden years.
“I'm proud and really happy to be on that card. I've been watching these guys fight since I was 11 or 12 years old,” said Struve. “Now I'm in Japan in the co-main event, one of the biggest fights of the night fighting Mark Hunt. It's an honor and I really want to showcase my skills again and show that I'm one of the best in the world.
“A win over Mark Hunt is going to be huge for my career, especially in Japan where he is huge. He's a living legend, so showcasing my skills there and getting a win over him in Japan is gonna be really big for my career.”
Struve knows that he’s probably not going to be next in line for a title shot with a win over Mark Hunt, even if it does reflect his fifth consecutive victory, but he also knows that it leaves him knocking on the door.
“I'm fine with whoever they want to have fight me next,” Struve commented. “But when I win, and I expect to win, I want to fight a Top 5 guy, at least.
“There's a lot of weird stuff happening in the heavyweight division right now.
“With me on a four-fight win streak right now – I plan to be on a five-fight win streak soon – I think I have a bid to claim that I'm one of the top contenders in the division.”