UFC Legacies: Mirko Cro Cop

Mirko Filipovic, the K-1 Kickboxer who moved to mixed-martial-arts just as “striking” was beginning to find its sea legs in the sport. In many ways, he is the embodiment of that movement. The Croat with the legendary left high kick that he would eventually coin the cemetery kick, started his career in K-1 with moderate success, amassing a 12-7 record, with marquee wins over Remy Bonjasky, and Peter Aerts.

Rebranded and Reaching For The Stars

After years of fighting with various promotions and establishing himself as a feared and lethal competitor, the big stage beckoned for the agile Croatian. In February 2006, Mirko’s latest contract offer would change his life, and the soon-to-be renamed Mirko “Cro Cop” would call Nevada-based Ultimate Fighting Championships home.

On Feb. 3, 2007, he would make his debut at UFC 67: All or Nothing, taking on undefeated prospect Eddie Sanchez, who entered a +800 underdog with MMA betting odds. After a few flurries, Sanchez would slip, allowing Cro Cop to take mount and rain down punishment leading to a controversial stoppage.

Searching For Gold

The message had been sent. Cro Cop was a contender for the UFC title. At UFC 70, Cro Cop would return again to take on Gabriel Gonzaga for a shot at Randy Couture’s UFC heavyweight title. Late in round 1, Mirko dropped his hands to stop a body kick. Gonzaga lunged into the air, with his plant foot leaving the mat to land the most technically unsound, head bazooka in MMA history, at 4:51 seconds of round No. 1. During the fall of his lifeless body, Mirko fractured his ankle.

Rebuilding To No Avail

With his reputation in shambles, Cro Cop re-entered the octagon at UFC 75. After multiple triangle attempts, and an incredible pace in the second round. Cro Cop’s usually excellent conditioning began to leave him in the third round as the big Frenchman bullied him. With nothing left in the tank, he lost a unanimous 29-28 decision. Following the fight, Cro Cop was released. Physically depleted, many wondered if the 35-year-old had anything left to offer the sport.

Down But Not Out…Yet

Post-fight, it would be learned that Cro Cop have broken a rib in his bout with Kongo and it sapped his strength. Looking at the footage, the likely spot he received it was when Kongo dropped an axe kick to Cro Cop’s abdomen. It would be the first and only time Cro Cop would ever lose two consecutive fights. Convinced he didn’t get a fair run of luck in his first UFC go-around, Mirko chose to return to the UFC, on a one-fight deal, at UFC 99: The Comeback defeating an overmatched Mostafa Al-Turk.

Final Thoughts

Whatever you feel about his UFC run, Mirko was undoubtedly one of the greatest strikers to ever put on a pair of four-ounce gloves. We should be celebrating his career, not sullying with the trappings of the end. He could have pressed on and collected a few more paychecks and tarnished his legacy even further. Instead, he entered the octagon to learn if he still had it. The moment he learned the truth, that his skills have eroded to the point that, he can’t beat anything above a third-tier heavyweight, he’s announced his retirement.

Should he be remembered as a world-beating heavyweight? Probably not. Should he be remembered as a class act, who fought (and defeated) some of the best heavyweights of his era? Probably so.

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