(This story first appeared in Tuesday’s USA TODAY.)
ABU DHABI – A career once thought to be jeopardized by a rare heart condition is now ready to begin again.
UFC heavyweight contender Stefan Struve (25-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) said doctors have cleared him to return to action, and he’s ready to schedule his next appearance.
“I’m just working on the last details with the UFC right now for my clearance,” Struve told USA TODAY Sports. “They’ve got everything — my doctor’s letter, medical files and everything. Everything is there, and we’re just waiting on the UFC to do their thing.”
Struve is in Abu Dhabi as a guest fighter to help promote Friday’s “UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs. Nelson” event at du Arena, which streams on UFC Fight Pass (11:30 a.m. ET).
Struve, a 26-year-old Dutchman, was diagnosed in August with a leaking aortic valve and an enlarged heart.
While the 7-footer expects to have surgery at some point to completely correct the issue, doctors first recommended medicine to bring down his blood pressure in hopes of finding a less invasive fix for the time being.
“The chamber where the aortic valve is connected is the left chamber of your heart, and that chamber was a lot bigger than it was supposed to be,” Struve said. “A lot of that was the high blood pressure. Now they treated me for it with blood pressure medicine, and it got smaller.
“Because of that, the opening where the valve is got smaller, too. Normally, when the chamber gets bigger, like often happens with athletes, the valve gets bigger, too, so that it closes.
“But in my case, the opening got bigger and the valve didn’t grow, so the leakage got worse and worse. But now, it’s smaller again and the valve closes better.”
With his blood flow now normalized, Struve hopes to get the UFC’s blessing to return this month and then plans on booking a fight as quickly as possible.
“I want to fight,” Struve said. “I’m ready to go into a training camp. I can be ready in two or three months.”
The UFC’s tallest fighter, nicknamed “Skyscraper,” Struve has resumed a regular training regimen and is excited to turn up the intensity. And perhaps most important, Struve believes with his condition treated, he’ll actually be better when he returns than he was before the diagnosis.
“My body was only functioning at 60 or 70 percent,” Struve said. “Because of that, my body was way more prone to viruses and all that, so I got sick a lot. It was horrible. But I’m back.
“I left a year behind me that was the most difficult year of my life, but now I’m here. I’m back, and I want to fight. I want to show that I’m one of the best heavyweights in the world. I really feel like I’ve got another shot at all of this and I’m better than I’ve ever been.”
For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, including UFC Fight Night 39, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.