Filipovic finally finds passion
LAS VEGAS – If there is one thing that has been lacking from Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic since he joined the UFC in 2007, it has been visible passion.
He remains one of the sport’s most popular fighters despite a decidedly average record in the last four years. Filipovic has lost two in a row heading into his heavyweight bout Saturday against Roy Nelson on the main card of UFC 137 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, and likely needs a win to keep his job.
Filipovic has always had a stoic demeanor, but there has been the perception among many since he joined the UFC after leaving the now-defunct Pride Fighting Championship that he was doing little more than going through the motions.
However, nobody can accuse him of that heading into his bout with Nelson.
A reporter prefaced a question about whether he’d be able to regain his past success by noting “you’re not an old man.” Filipovic, though, misheard the question, and he reacted quickly.
“Are you saying I’m an old man?” he asked, his voice flaring angrily.
He’s only 37, old for a fighter, perhaps, but definitely not an old man. And Filipovic, who is only 6-5 with one no contest since leaving Pride, doesn’t feel like he’s an old man.
He’s likely to get cut if he loses to Nelson, and he knows it. But he is adamant that when he leaves the UFC, it’s going to be on his own terms.
“Right now, I feel this isn’t my last fight,” he said. “Definitely not. I am going to beat Roy Nelson. I don’t feel this is the end. Not at all. I am still Cro Cop. I am fighting for victory. I am fighting to show the people who buried me alive after I lost two fights in a row that I can ‘raise from the grave.’
“I won’t lose three fights in a row. I am still me, I am still Cro Cop. I know I must win this fight to still be in the UFC. I have to win. I don’t underestimate Nelson. He hits hard with wild hooks and has a chin of iron, but I know I will beat him. If I lose, I will apologize for wasting everyone’s time.”
Filipovic has been fighting in one form or another since he was a teenager in Croatia. His powerful leg kicks helped him become one of the most successful and feared heavyweights on the planet and led to the classic line, “Right leg, hospital. Left leg, cemetery.”
It’s been a long time since he’s had a signature knockout, though. He submitted Pat Barry at UFC 115 in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010, and won on a doctor’s stoppage over late replacement Anthony Perosh at UFC 110 in Sydney, Australia. But he hasn’t knocked out an opponent with punches since 2009 – a span of six fights.
Filipovic, though, is fighting with a sense of urgency because he realizes that not only is this perhaps his final shot in the UFC, but he may be looking at the end of his career, period.
And for a guy who has scaled the heights that Filipovic has, that’s unacceptable. He wants to leave on his own terms and is terrified of being shown the door.
“[Next] June will be 20 years since the first time I have trained for a fight,” he said. “That was for a Croatian boxing tournament. But even before then, I would be boxing, kicking, from the age of 10 in a gym or in my garage. I love this. The best feeling in the world is a hard workout, a shower and a protein shake. This is my life and I don’t want to give this up. This is my life. Martial arts gave me everything in life. It is not about a paycheck, it is about how I live my life. I don’t fight for free. I am not an idiot, but it is about fighting for victory.
“People say people who spend too many years in prison don’t know how to act when they get free. I don’t know how I am going to act, how I am going to kill time, once I am not a fighter,” he continued. “Retirement scares me, and I have to think about how I am going to handle it. But right now my body is fit and healthy. My body allows me to train hard all week. If I was old I couldn’t do that. Some people are old at 30, some 33. [UFC Hall of Famer] Randy Couture wasn’t old until he was nearly 50. Right now, I am not old. When I am, I will retire.”
Not only does he insist he’s not an old fighter, he resents insinuations that he’s too one-dimensional to succeed in the current environment, where the best fighters are competent, or more, in all disciplines. He’s clearly a hard puncher and a kicker, but he’s been besieged with questions about how he’d handle elite wrestlers or top-level jiu-jitsu fighters.
Though he lost to former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir at UFC 119 in a dreadful affair, he wasn’t submitted and never was close to it. Mir has arguably the best jiu-jitsu among heavyweights in MMA, but it took a punch to knock out Filipovic.
Filipovic said he’s not simply a kick boxer, though that’s how he’ll be introduced Saturday in the Octagon by ring announcer Bruce Buffer. He said he is a multi-dimensional fighter and insisted he will have no concern grappling with Nelson, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, if the fight winds up on the ground.
“I think it’s stupid to say a guy who has trained in jiu-jitsu for as long as I have is just a stand-up fighter,” Filipovic said. “I have trained with some of the best black belts in the world. I am comfortable on the ground. I can fight wherever the fight goes and not be concerned. Who has submitted me?
“I’m ready to prove that I am a complete fighter and that I have a lot of good fights left. Of course I’m fighting for my job, and I know this, so I am prepared to win no matter where the fight goes.”
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