By Thomas Gerbasi
When you mention the name Bob Schrijber to longtime mixed martial arts fans, you may get mixed opinions; not surprising when you’re talking about a guy nicknamed “Dirty Bob”.
But whatever you may think about the PRIDE vet who fought 38 times against the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Heath Herring, Igor Vovchanchyn, Gilbert Yvel, and Melvin Manhoef, you do know this: a) he’s one tough hombre, and b) he’s developed one of the UFC heavyweight division’s top young prospects in 21-year old Stefan Struve, who has been training with Schrijber ever since his brother let him tag along to a training session in Beverwijk seven years ago.
“My brother trained at Bob’s gym,” recalls Struve. “He gave classes in the city where I lived, and I was lucky to meet him there. I watched a couple of his fights because my brother was already doing it, and I was pretty impressed (with Schrijber). In my opinion, he was one of the best standup coaches in the world, as well as a great coach when it comes to the mental part – he knows how to get you as good as you can get.”
Schrijber also injected a dose of toughness into his fighter, something that was never more evident than in Struve’s second fight in the UFC this past June against Denis Stojnic. It was perhaps the most pressure-filled test of Struve’s career, especially considering that he had lost his Octagon debut to Junior Dos Santos four months earlier. So with a win necessary to keep his UFC dreams alive, Struve came out determined to score the victory, but instead got his forehead cut open, painting the canvas red. It would have been an opportune time to call it a day, but Struve just knew who would be waiting for him in the corner, and that’s the man who had been pushing him past his limits every day in the gym, Schrijber, who has apparently not lost a step at the age of 44 when it comes to intimidation.
“Even in training when you really don’t want to go anymore, he just kicks your ass and yells at you,” chuckles Struve. “It keeps you going and it’s good when you’ve got someone like that in your corner to help you through a tough fight like that.”
In round two, Struve went on a submission attempt frenzy, and eventually he caught Stojnic in a rear naked choke that produced a tap out and gave “Skyscraper” his first UFC win. It was a bloody, but sweet, victory, and a far cry from the bout against Dos Santos, which saw Struve look like a deer in the headlights as Dos Santos blitzed him en route to a 54 second stoppage win at UFC 95. To this day, Struve says that it wasn’t him that night in the Octagon.
“It was the UFC jitters, how you guys call it,” he said. “Walking to the Octagon I felt great and ready to rock, but when I stepped in there, everything was gone. I don’t know what happened. He knocked me down, not because my standup was bad; I just jammed and didn’t know what to do. It was weird.”
It was only the third loss of Struve’s career, one that now sees him at 22-3, an amazing record considering his age. But despite his talent and his upside, the UFC isn’t the place to get on the job training, so he needed the win against Stojnic, and when he got it, it proved that he also has the toughness to survive at this level.
“I was a little nervous before that fight because my last fight didn’t go so well, but I never stopped believing in myself,” he said. “And my trainer said that it happens to everybody – just keep working hard and you’ll be there eventually. And I think I’ve shown now that I belong in the UFC, and I would love to do that fight with Dos Santos over again.”
There are other matters to tend to first though, and following the win over Stojnic and an October victory over Chase Gormley that earned him UFC 104’s Submission of the Night honors, Struve has left his home in the Netherlands for Memphis, Tennessee and a bout with returning veteran Paul Buentello, a former UFC heavyweight title challenger.
“He’s a good striker, and he’s got good boxing,” says Struve of ‘The Headhunter.’ “He tries to use his reach on his opponents, especially with his jab, but it’s gonna be hard for him to do that with me because of my height and my reach.”
He’s not kidding, and with a 6 foot 11 frame and an 83” reach, Struve provides a unique style dilemma for anyone in the division, and that’s just the way the soft-spoken prospect likes it. Yet while the top guns can rest easy for now, because he insists that he’s in no rush, Stefan Struve is not shying away from the elite heavyweights either.
“I’m trying to get bigger, better, and stronger in every aspect of my game, and just improve with every fight,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that I can give the top guys in the division a real tough fight, and I’m not saying that I would win those fights, but I’m pretty sure I can give them one hell of a fight and make them work for their money.”