Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic is about twenty-four hours away from fighting in his hometown of Zagreb, Croatia, and his schedule until then will be basic. “Tonight, I will weigh in, eat, then nap and then go train,” he tells Yahoo! Sports Friday, shortly before weighing in to fight fellow legendary kick boxer Remy Bonjasky tomorrow at Glory 14.
“I always train the day before a fight. I will do three, three-minute rounds of fighting and then three, three minute rounds of pads.”
A decade ago, “Cro Cop” was at the height of his kick boxing career, having beaten multiple K-1 Grand Prix Tournament winners and achieving massive fame in Japan. Then, he gave it up to try MMA.
His fearsome combination of punching and kicking power led to great success in the Pride organization, coming just short of the organization’s heavyweight title twice. Even before he left Pride for the UFC, the Croation fighter had become the most successful top kick boxer to transition to MMA.
Now, at 39 years of age, “Cro Cop” is back in kickboxing, fighting for the organization that has replaced K-1 as the top promotion in the sport – Glory. Bonjasky says he will retire after this rematch with Mirko (the two fought before in 2002 and “Cro Cop” took the decision win) but it is the former Croatian military special forces soldier that is getting most of the attention on account of being the home town kid.
Most fighters fight near home often on their way up the ladder but because of his meteoric rise, fighting at home is still a pretty novel event for “Cro Cop.”
“Unfortunately, [fighting at home] is something I missed in my career,” he says.
Mirko fought in a teen boxing championship, then once more in a fight he calls, “open sparring,” both in Croatia, and then was thrown to the sharks abroad in his third fight.
“After two fights, one and a half, really, I fought Jerome LeBanner,” he remembers, perhaps still in disbelief.
The French LeBanner is recognized as one of the very best heavyweights in kickboxing history. That “Cro Cop” would fight LeBanner, already a star at that point in 1996, in just his third fight, is astounding.
That “Cro Cop” proved worthy of that challenge so soon, was even more amazing.
“I fought LeBanner in my third fight and the rest of the story just went like that,” he continues, humbly.
That story was one of a career made up, almost exclusively of international competition, for Mirko. With Glory 14 taking place in his home of Zagreb, “Cro Cop” is now the center of attention.
And, while that’s certainly a good thing for a professional fighter, it isn’t without it’s own particular challenges.
“The good part of fighting at home is that you don’t have to travel around, you get to sleep in your own bed, eat your normal food,” Mirko says when asked to discuss the positives and negatives, both, of fighting at home.
“At home, I’m used to sleeping on a very, very hard surface. In hotels, the beds are always terribly hard. So, I wake up with a stiff back. It’s great to sleep at home before a fight.
“The bad parts are that you have so many people asking you for tickets. Everyone expects tickets and everyone expects front row tickets. The way the stadium is set up, not every ticket can be front row but that’s what people want. So, I’m running around trying to get tickets for everyone now. And you always forget someone, you always forget someone. Just today, I got calls asking me about their tickets, and I had forgotten. So now, I’m running around, trying to find them tickets.”
The mental image of the former special forces soldier, national parliament member and fearsome professional fighter harried and stressed about pleasing friends and family in the days and hours before he squares up against a lethal opponent is so incongruous and endearing that it’s almost comical. Of course, the rush to please people when fighting at home is one that all fighters know quite well.
There is something that makes all the distraction and stress worth the while, however.
“The good part is when you step out into the arena to walk to the ring, and the crowd roars. It’s a great feeling,” Mirko explains.
That thrill, and others like it, might explain a great deal of why “Cro Cop” is still fighting at all. With all his accomplishment and fame, he certainly doesn’t have much to add to his legacy as a professional fighter.
Additionally, he’s already shown that he can do other things with his life, notably political and government work. Furthermore, 39 is young in mortal years, but borders on ancient in the world of professional fighting.
“Cro Cop” has taken his bumps and lumps over the years in training and fights, to be sure, yet he insists on continuing that rough journey with no particular end in sight. What is it, specifically, about fighting that Mirko loves so much and keeps him coming back for more?
“I don’t know,” he begins, thoughtfully.
“This is something that I’ve chosen as my career, and I love it. I mean, days like today and tomorrow are bad because you’re stressed. There are lots of things, like media, weigh-ins and waiting to fight that are hard but I love training and I love the fight itself.
“People keep asking me when I will stop, because I’m 39, but I don’t know. It could be that after this fight I will stop or it could be I could fight three, four, or twenty times more.”
“Cro Cop” loves being a fighter, and he’s still in-demand. When he puts it like that, it’s easy to see the appeal.
“So, I love what I do, and if I’m honest, I’m also well-paid,” he admits.
“Lots of people work hard so that isn’t a big deal, but I’m fortunate enough to be paid well for working. People, of course, like to get paid well for what they have chosen as their career."
As of now, the Croation fighting legend still enjoys the process of preparing for battle and relishes the battles themselves. If and when the whole process begins to feel like a grind, he says that’s when he’ll know it’s time to stop competing.
He is quick to point out, however, that his disciplined fighter lifestyle will endure long after he stops getting paid to live it.
“When it gets to the point that I don’t enjoy training for fights, then it will be time to stop. But, as long as I enjoy training and I’m sharp, why stop,” he asks rhetorically.
“People think I am torturing myself but I am not. I love training and I love fighting. Even when I do stop fighting, training is something that I will do every day. Every day. I will never stop training. Perhaps it will be with less intensity but training is my life. “