There was once a time Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was the most feared fighter on the planet.
He wasn't hugging opponents or clapping hands on the way to the ring. This once cold-blooded warrior was emotionless and decapitating domes off of countless of challengers who dare step into the ring with him.
UFC 137 could symbolize the end of one of the most storied careers in MMA history. UFC President Dana White has given Mirko every chance to find himself and once again become that legendary knockout artist that longtime fans remember.
Coming off of back-to-back devastating knockout losses to Frank Mir and Brendan Schaub, Mirko understands that he has only two options in his upcoming bout with Roy Nelson––win or disappear into the pages of history. He doesn't plan on doing the latter.
"I must win this fight," Mirko said over and over again to MMAFighting.com. "...I will have to beat him, and I will do it. I trained six months for this fight. I will do it."
Mirko has seemed like a shell of his former self since arriving to the UFC in early 2007. He is 4-5 in the octagon, and four of those losses have ended in highlight-reel knockouts.
It isn't just a physical decline either. Mentally, Mirko just doesn't seem like the same fighter anymore.
"Some people, many people, buried me alive because I lost twice in a row," said Mirko. "I just want to prove to everybody that I'm still Cro Cop. I want to raise from the grave. That's what I want to prove to everybody. That's my motivation."
Mirko also points to the current situation of fellow MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko as motivation. The former Pride heavyweight champion was recently released from the Strikeforce promotion after dropping three straight losses.
Before he suffered consecutive losses, the media was all about Fedor. Now, you would be hard-pressed to find him in the headlines.
"Look at [Fedor Emelianenko]," said Mirko. "Fedor was untouchable until one year ago, and today nobody's talking about him. He lost three times in a row. He was a great champion, great fighter, but he lost three times in a row and nobody talks about him. Only the fans who followed him his whole career respect what he did with his career, but that's the name of the game. I don't want it to happen to me."
A loss to Nelson could set the wheels in motion for the same thing to happen to Mirko. Unlike Emelianenko, he still has an opportunity to make some noise on a mainstream stage.
Will longtime fans be blessed with some Pride-like nostalgia at UFC 137?
It won't be easy. Currently on a two-fight losing streak, "Big Country" is also fighting with his back against the wall. Unless Mirko finds a way to rise from the ashes, he's going to be in for a long night.
"I want to feel that feeling when the referee raises my hand," Mirko said. "I want to take that shower. It's a special moment for me, taking that shower after my victory, and I'm so happy. I go back to the hotel, and the next day I'm so happy. I don't even think about [money] until the UFC bookkeeper calls me a few days later to transfer the money."
"I want to retire as the old Cro Cop. I don't know if I will be able to do it, but I will die trying. Nothing is hard for me. I will die trying."