Heavyweights are known for their longevity, but don’t expect Stefan Struve to be anywhere near the octagon when he’s pushing forty.
Washington, D.C. — It’s incredible when you really think about it. Stefan Struve has been competing as a pro mixed martial artist since 2005. With the UFC since 2009’s UFC 95. And he’s still barely over 30.
Struve (29-11) returns this Saturday at UFC on ESPN 7, where he goes up against another longtime veteran of the heavyweight division, ‘Big’ Ben Rothwell. Of course, few men are bigger than the towering seven foot Struve himself.
It will be a different feeling, perhaps, when he sets foot in the octagon Saturday, mind you. Struve is coming out of a short, self-imposed retirement. One that he entered following his submission win over Marcos Rogério de Lima earlier this year.
“I just needed some time off, to really dig deep into my own mind and see what was going on,” Struve told media outlets including Cageside Press at Thursday’s UFC DC media day. “Just being away from everything for a little bit.”
“I wasn’t even under contract anymore with the UFC,” he revealed. “I had nothing going, so there was no pressure for a fight or whatever.”
That said, Struve continued to train during his down time, helping Alistair Overeem prepare for Alexander Volkov (Volkov would later be replaced by Aleksei Oleinik). “Ever since then, I’ve just been training. At first it was like three, four times a week. And then later on I started pushing a little harder. After four, five months I was like ‘you know, I’m doing so well still against these top level guys, I’m feeling so good, I’m having fun with it.'”
With nothing else he wanted to put his energy into, Struve decided to carry on fighting. “If you’re doing so well, why not compete a couple more times? You fought up to a level and to a point where the paychecks are real good. So if you feel good, why not? Let’s do it.”
Admitting that he did talk to other promotions at least briefly, “ultimately UFC has always been good to me. I know what I get when I fight here. And the feeling, which was good. The offer was good.”
Now that Struve is back, the question becomes, how long will the 31-year-old heavyweight stick around? He’s dealt with injury through his lengthy career, taking some extended breaks. Plus a heart condition. Despite that, the ‘Skyscraper’ has been in an incredible 40 pro fights.
The heart condition, for one, remains in the back of his mind. “Always. Because it’s right here, right now. It’s not like something happened and it’s gone,” he explained. “I was born with a heart defect. And that will be here for the rest of my life.” When things get hard in training, it can cause him to question himself, said Struve. “Sometimes when you have a bad day, you’re tired, I’m like ‘really, is this me, am I just having a bad day, or [is it the heart]?'”
The good news is, “it’s been so stable, ever since they found it. It improved a lot since they found it, then it’s been stable at that level.” Which has allowed Struve to keep up his conditioning, which he described as “awesome. Especially for a heavyweight my size. Seven foot, 270lbs. How much is it really slowing me down? I don’t know. I probably would have been a lot better if I didn’t have it, but that’s just guessing.”
That said, don’t expect Stefan Struve to go the route of Alistair Overeem or Ben Rothwell and fight into his late 30s.
“I don’t think so,” he said of whether he’d be in the sport that long. “At first, when they found [the heart defect], it was like five years ago. I thought that window, five years, was probably a good window to keep on fighting. Now we’re a little past that, but I’m still feeling great. But I just want to be smart with it.”
“I tell my cardiologist too, don’t look at me like you’re going to end my career if you have to tell me something bad,” he added. “But he’s really happy with the way it looks. I’m not going to fight into my late 30s, but right now, it’s a really good paycheck. I’m doing something I like. It’s my life’s work, I’m proud of it.”
Watch the full UFC DC media day press scrum with Stefan Struve above!