Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cro Cop: Comeback Kick

Ever since the UFC partnered up with Fox, the brand and their events have been everywhere. Averaging four cards a month for Pay-Per-View, Fox, FX or online Fight Pass, the sport of Mixed Martial Arts is definitely in it's go-go years. With so many cards to fill, local talent in expanding markets are given the call while many a big name out of title contention can still headline. On April 11th, former K-1 kickboxer, Pride champion and UFC fighter Mirko "Cro Cop" Filopovic returns to the octagon after retiring in 2011 on the heels of three losses. The former commando and member of parliament wouldn't stay out of the fight game for long as a return to kickboxing saw him attain K-1 Gold along with a 7-1 record. Mirko would also return to MMA under the IGF and Legend banners going 3-1. His last victory came via vintage head kick and punches on New Years Eve.

Cro Cop has now signed a three-fight contract with the UFC, the first being a rematch with Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga set for April 11th in Krakow, Poland. The two first met in what would become one of the greatest upsets in all of MMA history in 2007. At that time, Cro Cop had just won the Pride Fighting Championship Open Weight Grand Prix and was contemplating retirement. An offer he couldn't refuse came from the UFC and after dispatching Eddie Sanchez, a title shot against Randy Couture was thought to be next. However a match up against up and comer Gonzaga would forever change Cro Cop's future. Known for his devastating high kicks, Mirko was unable to mount much of an offense against Gonzaga, being taken down off of a caught low kick. Dazed by some elbows, the two were stood up where Gonzaga unleashed a Cro Cop-esque high kick that knocked the Croatian out cold. From there Cro Cop would never regain his momentum and would struggle against the likes of Cheick Kongo, Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir, Brendan Schaub and Roy Nelson. The once ferocious killer now seemed gun shy and afraid to engage. Glimpses of Cro Cop's highlight reel attacks surfaced in his fights with Pat Barry, Roy Nelson and Satoshi Ishii where high kicks, feints, combinations and brutal uppercuts made their welcome return. After two runs in the UFC, Cro Cop left on a disappointing 4-6 record and underwent some eight surgeries for his nose, elbow, knee, etc during the same time period.

Gonzaga would fight in the title bout originally thought reserved for Cro Cop against Randy Couture in August of 2007. In a bloody affair that left Gonzaga's nose battered and Couture's arm broken, Gonzaga would lose in the third round by Technical Knock out. Since then Napao has fought exclusively in the UFC while putting together two and three fight win streaks but has been unable to climb back up the ranks. He's fought tough guys like Shane Carwin, Ben Rothwell and Junior dos Santos but has recently fallen to Stipe Miocic and Matt Mitrione.

While many fans thought Mirko had broken down mentally and needed to get out of the comforts of his home camps, Cro Cop has shown renewed vigor lately fighting at least three times a year and returning to the UFC to right some things versus doing it strictly for the money. With two kids and his family in Croatia, Cro Cop is unwilling to leave his native land to prepare for a fight away from them for months at a time. On record as saying the loss to Gonzaga was the worst in his career and that he will beat Napao in a rematch or die trying. To help him prepare, Mirko has brought in one of Croatia's best boxing trainers along with young UFC heavyweight Stipe Miocic as his main sparring partner. Win, lose or draw, I'll always be rooting for Cro Cop and hope this third run is the charm.

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