Until Saturday, each time Stefan Struve took a step up in competition, he was sent thudding back to reality. He made another grab for the elite level Saturday and, this time, passed the test in a big way.
Struve took over his fight against unbeaten Stipe Miocic with his jab. And he finished it in a violent and ruthless manner, landing a pair of straight rights and a crushing uppercut that sent Miocic staggering away.
That was all referee Herb Dean needed to see, as he jumped in to stop it at 3:50 of the second round at Capital FM Arena in Nottingham, England.
Struve was knocked out in less than a minute by future heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos in his UFC debut in 2009. He was KO’d by Roy Nelson in 2010 and by Travis Browne last year.
He now appears to be a different fighter and has won four in a row.
Struve took the best that Miocic could give in a highly entertaining first, but managed to take it and keep coming. Once he got untracked, it was no contest.
"I heard complaints about my power in the past, but I think this might change some opinions now," Struve said of his finish of Miocic.
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Miocic had a good first round, circling the cage and ripping combinations that cleanly landed, many to the midsection of the 7-footer.
Struve seemed to have difficulty getting his distance correct, but he made an adjustment in the second. His jab was clearly bothering Miocic, and as his opponent tied to slip underneath it, Struve made him pay by blistering him with an uppercut.
"The uppercut is my favorite," Struve said.
And it was the uppercut that helped him get the victory, his sixth win in his last seven fights.
He was regularly hurting Miocic in the second, but when he landed a clean straight right near the cage, it was obvious the end was near.
Struve fired off two straight rights to the head, and then came back with a pair of uppercuts to show the finishing ability that UFC president Dana White loves.
"I really wanted to finish," Struve said. "I knew I had him rocked and I'm going in for the kill when I have someone rocked."
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In the co-main event, hometown hero Dan Hardy put on perhaps the best performance of his career in scoring a unanimous decision over Amir Sadollah. Hardy won by scores of 29-28 twice and 30-27 after showing vastly improved wrestling.
Bantamweight Brad Pickett had the punch of the night, a right uppercut that put Yves Jabouin to sleep at 3:40 of the first round.
Matt Wiman handed submission specialist Paul Sass his first defeat, catching Sass in an arm bar and forcing the tap at 3:48 of the first. It was a sensational fight in which the two traded submission attempts before Wiman got the finish.
John Hathaway outworked John Maguire to win a welterweight match via unanimous decision.
In the main card's opener, Che Mills repeatedly took Duane Ludwig to the ground and pounded the American with punches and elbows, until Ludwig injured his left knee and verbally submitted.
As the fighters were going to the canvas again, Ludwig immediately pointed to his left knee and submitted at 2:28 of the first. He was able to get up with assistance, but was clearly having difficulty with it.
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