For the first 13 and a half minutes of his PPV opening bout with Brendan Schaub, Mirko “Cro Cop” was freakin’ back, baby.
Seriously, Brendan Schaub was fighting a good fight and it was by no means a blowout, but the PRIDE legend and Croatian kickboxing legend was doing everything right. He was doing everything fans of his have been clamouring for since his UFC debut, after spending night after night pulling their hair out.
Solid takedown defence? Check. “Cro Cop” showed the kind of solid wrestling game that made his a killer in the standup in PRIDE. Sure, Schaub took him down a few times. But “Cro Cop” was able to regain his feet on several occasions, including a tight guard sweep of Schaub in the first round.
Willingness to throw the feared LHK? Check. Mirko threw his legendary high kick on several occasions, and it clearly got Schaub’s attentions. You could tell Brendan’s gameplan was to take “Cro Cop” down every time he tossed up his pasty, consciousness-separating appendages into the air.
And yet, once “Cro Cop” got his TD defense game going, you could tell Schaub was scared. Or at least hesitant.
“Cro Cop” was back. For all the guff we give the PRIDE Open Weight Grand Prix Champion, for all the talk of Mirko being “done” and his career being “over”, I think the PRIDE legend was only a few minutes from proving his doubters wrong. Did he dominate Brendan Schaub like he dominated so many of his PRIDE and K-1 contemporaries? No, he didn’t. But Brendan Schaub is a new level of martial artist, a multi-talented game planner in the Greg Jackson mold.
That’s how “Cro Cop” stacks up against the competition of today. It’s that simple folks. We saw from his everything that made him a killer in his PRIDE days, except perhaps for his opponent being cowed or intimidated by the name he was facing.
Ok, so Mirko also used to set his vaunted high kick KO up better. But not that much better. Even at its best, it was rarely the last hit of a complicated combo. More often then not, he flung his leg out suddenly and viciously, like a sniper on the Croatian SWAT Team (which “Cro Cop” happens to be a member of).
This was as close to a “vintage” performance from the Croatian as you’re likely to get now that he’s almost in his middle age, with nothing left to prove to anyone. This was an inspiring performance that gave the impression that Mirko could at least be competitive, if not victorious, against the new generation of MMA heavyweights.
Until the 3rd round.
Just like the “Cro Cop’s” fight vs. Frank Mir, Mirko kept his legion of die-hard fans waiting, anxious, until the third round — when he gets knocked out colder then an Atlantic salmon.
That knockout was a death knell to the “PRIDE never die!” crowd. And just like the Frank Mir KO, it was out no nowhere. More then halfway through a round “Cro Cop” isn’t fairing too badly in, and all of a sudden he’s unconscious on the mat, staring up at the ref, wondering what went wrong. Call it karma coming home to roost, for all the head trauma he dispensed during his days as PRIDE’s resident killer.
So long, “Cro Cop”. It’s been one hell of a ride. But now, I think even your most diehard, hardcore fans would admit that your days as an elite (or even mid-level) fighter are over. I take no pleasure in writing those words. No one commanded the kind of clout and respect that Mirko commanded around 2004-2005.
But the facts are the facts. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic is done as a serious, top-level UFC heavyweight. And he should take not one ounce of shame in that fact. He’s a legend. He’s a national hero. He’s a combat sports icon.
Time to hang it up, Mirko.
By Elton Hobson