Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White has been raving recently about the quality of the promotion's heavyweight division.
And with promising newcomers such as Cain Velasquez, Shane Carwin and Junior dos Santos, it's not difficult to understand why.
But a recent addition to the division has been largely overlooked, though he's far more well-known and far more proven than Velasquez, Carwin and dos Santos.
The last time Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was in the UFC, however, he was a total flop. He arrived at UFC 67 in 2007 amid as much fanfare as any man had ever received. Yet he struggled to a lackluster win over Eddie Sanchez, then was knocked out by Gabriel Gonzaga and lost a decision to Cheick Kongo.
Filipovic, who blamed his poor performances in the UFC on injuries and fatigue, is back for a second crack. He'll fight Mostapha Al Turk on Saturday at Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany, in the opener of the pay-per-view broadcast of UFC 99 in a far-less ballyhooed return.
"I am very happy and excited to be back in the UFC," he said. "This time is going to be different, a different Cro Cop than was in the UFC in 2007.
"Last time, I had injuries which prevented me from fighting to the best of my abilities, old injuries from PRIDE. But most of all, I felt like I had given everything of myself in my fights in PRIDE. I felt tired, I was empty inside and I should have taken a longer rest before coming into the UFC. I think maybe I came into the UFC too early. I should have waited for my injuries to heal and to take a break for myself before coming in."
He insists he's 100 percent and looking to show UFC fans who didn't know him from PRIDE what he is capable of doing. And though it might be hard for those who saw him struggle in his three previous UFC appearances, he's talking about working into title contention, as well.
In his prime, he was one of the game's most feared strikers and known for his devastating head kicks. A healthy Cro Cop who can return to his PRIDE form would be a huge boon to the UFC.
"I will fight this fight first and then sit down with Dana to talk about the future," he said. "I can tell my fans and UFC fans, I don't know if I will win the UFC heavyweight title, but I will give absolutely everything trying to get that belt. I am coming back to earn my shot at the UFC title."
Before we get to your questions and comments in the mailbag, please note that I'll be traveling to Germany and will provide complete coverage of UFC 99, including from the fighters' media day workouts and the prefight news conference. On Saturday, you can follow my live fight updates on Twitter.
And with that, let's get to the mailbag.
This was an obvious setup. Andrei Arlovski took a dive in that fight on Saturday in St. Louis against Brett Rogers. And it is a shame that this type of fraudulent, so-called "competition" has found its way into mixed martial arts. These two need to be performing in a pro wrestling arena.
You couldn't be more incorrect, Nick. I was sitting cageside and I can tell you that Rogers connected with four very hard punches to the cheek. Why not give the man credit for what he accomplished instead of attempting to denigrate it?
Is there a chance we could see Brett Rogers in the UFC? It would be interesting to watch Rogers versus UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.
Of course there is a chance, but he is under contract to Strikeforce. But if he keeps winning, I'm sure the UFC will be interested if/when he becomes a free agent.
Arlovski is a lot older now and battle worn from his extensive MMA record. On the other hand Rogers, who is very ambitious (agreed upon), had an opportunity and took it during the fight. The bottom line is that MMA cannot be judged solely on one fight since there are too many variables. Arlovski went from recently fighting people like Fedor Emelianenko to losing to a smaller name like Rogers (not discrediting him because he has awesome hands). My question to you is, out of 10 fights between Rogers and Arlovski, who would win a majority? In my opinion, Rogers is exciting to watch but being one-dimensional is something Arlovski should be able to adjust to quite quickly. This is not boxing; this is MMA. I would choose Arlovski.
Paul, the problem with your theory as I see it is that Rogers is only going to get less one-dimensional as time goes by. Unless he's a total fool, which I don't believe he is, he realizes he needs to improve other aspects of his game, particularly his ground game. By your theory, he would have been as vulnerable as possible Saturday. I'm not saying Arlovski is through, but he's got a lot to prove and a lot of questions to answer at this stage. The knockout was definitely no fluke.
Dana's take on things
I was surprised to see all of the Affliction promotion during the Strikeforce event on Saturday. Putting the oddness of one fight promotion promoting another aside, I'm curious how you think Dana White felt about this. I know that Dana and Scott Coker of Strikeforce have a mutual respect for one another and aren't trying to take each other out, but Dana's disdain for Todd Beard and the Affliction promotion is well known. Could this signal a potential merging or partnership between Strikeforce and Affliction? How might this apparent partnership affect Dana's views on Coker and the Strikeforce promotion as a competitor?
I don't think now he has an issue with it, but if there were some sort of merger, he'd feel differently. Strikeforce used Arlovski, who is under contract to Affliction, and part of the deal was to give Affliction some promotion. If Coker were to merge with them and the current Affliction management stayed in place, I believe White would then, and only then, look differently toward Strikeforce.
We have a big debate going on here as to how much money MMA fighters make a year, say Gina Carano or Brock Lesnar, or guys like Tim Sylvia or Cris "Cyborg" Santos. Can you even give us a ballpark figure?
San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
The top UFC fighters like Lesnar make more than $1 million a year, though I don't have access to the exact figures. Tim Sylvia made $800,000 for his fight last year with Fedor Emelianenko. I'm not sure what Carano and Cyborg make, but I'd hope that Carano is paid well. She is one of MMA's best draws outside of the UFC.
Sanchez for a title shot?
If Diego Sanchez beats Clay Guida on June 20 at The Ultimate Fighter 9 finale in Las Vegas, where do you think he stands in terms of getting a title shot? Should his past victory over current title contender Kenny Florian be taken into consideration? Also, do you think jumping down to lightweight was a good move for him? It seems to me that he could have been one win away from a title shot at welterweight (that is, if he were not injured and had beaten Alves). What do you think?
I think you make a leap, Tanner, when you suggest he'd be one win away from a title shot at welterweight had he stayed. The Alves fight, which was scheduled for UFC 90, would have been very difficult and it's not easy to say he would have won. I think he'll have a better chance at lightweight, to be honest. He's certainly in the mix if he beats Guida, but I think the UFC would wait to see what happened with the fight between Florian and B.J. Penn at UFC 101 in August before deciding who gets the next crack at the belt. Sanchez would have to be considered, along with guys like Gray Maynard, Tyson Griffin and Frankie Edgar, among others.
I was surprised to see so many knocking Quinton "Rampage" Jackson for passing on a UFC light heavyweight title shot against Lyoto Machida. Anyone who follows MMA and knows anything about Jackson can read between the lines here. This is about one thing: Money! Rampage has never been shy talking about it and he's made it a point to let people know he has a family to support. Now, you have MMA's most charismatic fighter on Spike TV working with a grudge and you add Kimbo Slice into the equation, as well. This will be a cash cow for Rampage. He's going to be the coach on the highest-rated TUF ever, promoting a "grudge," which could lead to Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock-like numbers. This is a no-brainer for Jackson. It blows my mind that people can't see the big picture here.
I totally agree with you, Mike. A lot of fans forget it's a business and treat it as some sort of reverential exercise. While the fighters have great love and respect for the martial arts, the reason the overwhelming majority of them do it is because they either get paid very well or they hope to make it to the top so they can get the big money. Rampage is going to get free exposure on basic cable for more than two months. Then he fights a bout that will be heavily watched against Rashad Evans. And at that point, he'll be a much more significant commodity than he is now. Plus, he'll be able to heal during the taping of the show and further study Machida. I'm with you 100 percent.