Stefan Struve last fought on March 3, 2013, losing to Mark Hunt in the third round of their bout in Japan.
Hunt broke Struve’s jaw in the final moments of the fight, which he ended with a flurry of punches. The lanky Dutchman quickly recovered from the broken jaw, but not long after discovered he had much more serious medical issues in the form of a leaking aortic valve and an enlarged heart.
In diagnosing Struve, doctors discovered that he had a bicuspid aortic valve.
A normally functioning heart has a one-way valve (the aortic valve) between the heart and the aorta that has three small flaps that open and close to regulate blood flow from the heart to the aorta. In someone who has a bicuspid aortic valve (BAV), the valve doesn’t function like it should.
With a BAV coupled with an enlarged heart, Struve was only getting about 60 to 70 percent of the blood flow that a normally functioning heart would supply.
Initially a condition that threatened an end to the promising heavyweight’s fight career, Struve has spent the better part of the past year getting his condition under control, so he could resume his career. He now finds himself preparing to return to the Octagon at UFC 175 on July 5.
That’s a great thing for him, but perhaps not so much so for his opponent, Matt Mitrione.
Struve and Mitrione weren’t necessarily best buddies, but they’d gotten along fine over the years, generally sharing a few laughs when making appearances or attending various UFC events together.
But having had a day to think about how his fight with Mitrione came to be, Struve isn’t ready to share any more laughs with him. He’s now ready to take Mitrione’s head off and serve it up on a platter.
“In Macau, when Mitrione (last) fought, he was really interested (in my heart condition), so I explained to him what was going on and all that. So he knew where I was at,” Struve told MMAWeekly.com on Thursday in his first interview since the fight was announced. “Then, a couple months later, even before I'm cleared to return to the Octagon, you tell Joe Silva that you want to fight me for my comeback fight?”
While filling out some paperwork, Safapour fielded a call from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, who asked whether or not Struve would want to fight Mitrione on July 5, granted Struve got the necessary medical clearance.The call came recently while Struve was in Los Angeles with his manager, Nima Safapour, at the clinic of Dr. Ram Dandillaya, a cardiologist. Struve and Safapour were waiting to meet with Dr. Dandillaya to go through a final battery of tests to see if Struve would get the final clearance to fight again.
Silva added that Mitrione had specifically asked to fight Struve.
“I wasn't even cleared to fight yet. Everybody knew I was on the way up, things were looking good, but I wasn't cleared yet,” said Struve. “Everybody knew that I had a heart issue and then you call up the matchmaker without knowing I'm cleared and then you ask for the fight?
“The only way you would do that is because you think you have a better chance of winning that fight. In my opinion, that really is pathetic and Matt Mitrione made this personal.”
While he feels that Mitrione was doing his damnedest to manufacture a best-case scenario to win a fight over a guy that was previously rocketing up the ranks of the UFC heavyweight division, Struve believes Mitrione picked the wrong fight.
After going through the final steps to put his fight career back in motion, Struve has more confidence than ever that he will again be successful in the Octagon… starting with Mitrione.
“I don't know all the tests they did, but they basically just turned my heart inside out. It looked really good,” said Struve. “I never really felt like this after training, just energized, ready for tomorrow. It's amazing.”
That’s something that was missing in the past. While his training partners recouped in between workouts, Struve was struggling just to get himself back in the gym. There were also moments during fights that shook his nerves.
“It's crazy, but now and then there would be moments in the fight where there'd be a lot of action in 20 or 30 seconds and because my heart was only pumping 60-70 percent of the blood that I needed to the aorta… if a normal heart would beat 10 times, my heart had to work harder and beat like 15 times,” he explained.
“I really had to catch my breath after that. Especially in a fight, that's scary.”
Now, however, with his heart functioning more normally by the day, Struve isn’t scared, he’s excited. And his perception that Mitrione is looking to take advantage of his situation only serves to keep his heart functioning properly; the blood is pulsing through his veins.
“It's just kind of pathetic. I would never do something like that,” said Struve. “Big mistake by him because I'm gonna absolutely show this guy.”