UFC 115: Is Mirko Cro Cop Responsible for the Evolution of MMA?

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UFC 115: Is Mirko Cro Cop Responsible for the Evolution of MMA?
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Go back to about five years ago.

During that time, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was head kick highlighting his way to the the heavyweight ranks of the, now defunct, Pride Fighting Championships.

The former member of the Croatian Parliament was widely considered the most dangerous striker in MMA and a legitimate threat to the crown that was then held by Fedor Emelianenko

If you're unaware of the history, "Cro Cop" tested Emelianeynko in a three round war that ultimately went the way of the Russian champion by decision.

The fight was arguably the most anticipated bout of its time.

The results might have been a bit watered down, but the overall atmosphere surrounding the fight gave notice to fans of the sport that a one dimensional fighter could compete at the highest level of MMA.

Fast forward to present day.

Mirko Cro Cop is no longer an immediate threat to the heavyweight title in any fight promotion. 

After transitioning to the Ultimate Fighting Championships in 2007, Filipovic put together a less than stellar 3-3 record in the world's leading MMA organization.  

Many believe that the Croatian's aura of invincibility was left behind years ago, and that father time had caught up with him, slowing him down and taking away his legendary kicking power.

Many believe it, but not everyone...including his UFC 115 opponent, Pat Barry.

As a matter of fact, Barry believes that the reason mixed martial artists have risen to the level they are today is a direct effect of what "Cro Cop" has accomplished in his career.

"I blame...Mirko for the evolution of MMA. The reason why there are guys like me...is because of him," said Barry on last week's UFC 115 media call.

It's not absolutely absurd to think that fighters have had to find different strategies to counter what a guy like Mirko Filipovic can do.

Many may argue against it, citing that Mirko's strongest performances came while he was outside of the UFC; that no one he's faced in the Las Vegas based promotion has had to change anything.

Since Mirko's peak years, however, there has been a arguable rise in talent in the sport.  

Fighters have sharpened up their stand-up and wrestling has become "the new black." (fashion reference, google it)

For, what seems like, the first time in MMA history, the heavyweight division has a long list of contenders to make their bids for top dog in the weight class.

Up until three years ago, Mirko "Cro Cop" made his argument for top heavyweight.

Now? Probably not.

The consensus is that Mirko is no longer the man he was half a decade ago, but Pat Barry disagrees.

"'Cro Cop' is still the man he's always been. He's still the monster he's always been. He's still as deadly as he's always been. It's because of him... everybody else had to evolve to get better in the sport in order to survive with guys like 'Cro Cop.'"

It might be safe to say that wrestlers have concentrated more on their take down efforts in order to neutralize the stand-up of grade-A strikers.

Seems reasonable.

When asked if Filipovic agrees with Pat Barry's assessment, the Croatian kick boxer almost seemed bashful when he passed the buck back to his pending opponent in saying, "I think you should ask Pat. He said it. He should explain it."

Whether you think the sport's evolution was natural or it was brought on by the level of skill carried by fighters like Mirko "Cro Cop," it is plainly obvious that MMA is a few steps up from where it was five years ago—both in talent and popularity.

A new generation of fighters are taking the sport and shooting it into the mainstream light. Fighters like Pat Barry are being handed the torch from legends like Mirko "Cro Cop."

The good thing for fans is this particular torch will be handed off in the form of a kickboxing exchange in a steel octagon cage. 

What else can one ask for?

UFC 115 takes place Saturday June 12, 2010 at General Motors Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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Follow Erik Fontanez on Twitter:  @ErikFontanez

Follow Bleacher Report MMA on Twitter:  @BleacherRprtMMA

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