Sunday, June 30, 2013

King of Fighters: Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic

I used to watch a lot of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) but was a closet fan since for a long time it was referred to as "human cock-fighting" (by a douche bag who ran a state where regular cock fighting was legal) or brought to mind a bro-douche bag clad in a Tapout shirt (catchy name but means surrender in the sport).  During the heyday of Pride and UFC, you had super stars, athletes with larger than life personalities and a cool mystic.  Knock out artist, Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell, shoot-fighter Ken "The World's Most Dangerous Man" Shamrock, Sambo expert Fedor "The Last Emperor" Emelianenko and my personal favorite, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic; a K-1 kickboxer who also served on his native country of Croatia's Anti-Terrorist Unit and in Parliament.

Today, Mixed Martial Arts is everywhere in the form of juggernaut UFC, on Pay-Per View and several FOX affiliates.  But where have all the stars gone?  Where have all the characters disappeared to?  The Greatest Of All Time, Anderson "The Spider" Silva is ready to retire.  Lyoto "Ryu from Street Fighter" didn't quite live up to his early promise.  Georges "Rush" St. Pierre dominates but can't finish a fight.  Chael Sonnen runs his mouth, earns title shots and gets destroyed.  The fact that it runs on multiple channels and PPV has saturated the market with fighters you've never heard of and too many bouts to keep track of.  Ah well...

Cro Cop's story always interested me; a young kid, inspired by Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, teaches himself how to fight in the outskirts of Croatia.  Making his own weights, kicking walls and running around, the kid starts to box and eventually kickbox.  In 1996 at age 22 he was a commando for the Croatian police and had his first professional bout in K-1, the wildly popular Japanese organization of karate, kung fu and muy thai.  Cro Cop fought the best of the best in K-1 and won legions of fans with his displays of courage, heart and aggressiveness that were manifested in his crisp punching combinations, wicked low kicks and deadly high kicks.  His statuesque physique, cool facade, sense of humor and well rounded background made him a fighter you could root for in and out of the ring.

By the early 2000's, MMA was growing and Cro Cop transitioned to Pride Fighting Championships, home of Fedor, Big Nog, The Axe Murderer and other colorful characters/fighters.  Each event was a spectacle and the Japanese loved Cro Cop.  After winning the Open Weight Grand Prix and mulling retirement, Cro Cop changed organizations and headed for the big show, the UFC.  Early chatter put him on a collision course to meet then current champ Randy "The Natural" Couture but after losing to Gabriel Gonzaga in arguably the biggest upset in MMA history, Cro Cop never seemed to recover mentally and finished out with 3 straight losses before leaving in 2011.

Life after the UFC wasn't quiet for long as Mirko has fought sporadically in MMA and more regularly in K-1.  After quietly rattling off a string of victories in the ring, Cro Cop was back in the hunt for K-1 gold and recently won the World Grand Prix Championship at age 38.


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