Rumor Is Fedor and Cro Cop Are Rematching in September—but Don't Go Celebrating Just Yet

Fightland Blog

By Tom Taylor

If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, as the old adage suggests, then the picture posted to the official Facebook page of Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic on Thursday morning weaves a thousand-word story that is initially exciting and nostalgia-triggering, but ultimately unoriginal and sad. The picture, you see, shows the scarred mugs of Cro Cop and Fedor Emelianenko—both legendary heavyweights from the long-gone Pride era—side-by-side, and accompanied by the date: September 25, 2016.

Given that two fighters being positioned side-by-side on a poster almost always means those two fighters are going to fight, we can assume these two aging legends are going to do just that. Given that the poster suggests the fight will be promoted by Japan's Rizin Fighting Federation—an organization that, in less than a year of existence, has already established itself as a geriatric-fighter-recycler by sending Kazushi Sakuraba and Kazuyuki Fujita to their doom against far younger fighters—we can be almost certain that, despite their being well out of their primes, Fedor and Cro Cop are indeed poised to pummel one another's broken bodies into further disrepair this September.

Of course, I did begin this article by mentioning the excitement and nostalgia that would be stirred up by this potential bout. There's no denying that this showdown will provide big forkfuls of both.

If this fight really is happening, it'll be a rematch of one of the biggest fights in the history of the heavyweight division—dare I say in the history of MMA as a whole. To remind: Cro Cop and Fedor first met in Pride, a league that was helmed by current Rizin FF boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara, back in 2005 in Japan. It was one of those fights that pushed the whole fight game into a wild, anticipatory frenzy. It was a collision between two stoic destroyers who also happened to be the two best heavyweights on the planet. Nobody could wait for it to happen, and when it did happen, it delivered as one of the best heavyweight bouts ever. So, news that these two legends could be fighting again, in Japan, in an organization helmed by the former Pride president, is undeniably thrilling when it first reaches your ears. 

"Pride never die, baby!" The words almost spill from your lips as your eyes scan over Cro Cop's Facebook post... 

But then, you remember: this isn't the year 2005, or 2006, or even 2007. No, we're more than half way through the year 2016, when the heavyweight savannah is ruled by apex predators like Stipe Miocic, Alistair Overeem and Cain Velasquez, and battle-scarred fighters like Cro Cop and Fedor struggle against middling opponents like Gabriel Gonzaga and Fabio fucking Maldonado.

Now, you might choose to rationalize the possible booking of this rematch by noting that, if the shopworn, 2016 versions of Cro Cop and Fedor are too stubborn to retire, it's better they fight each other than some mortar-fisted heavyweights 15 years fresher than they are. You might argue that this nostalgia-triggering fight is a good way to keep these two fading legends busy until they finally do agree to retire for good.

Yet while some things do get better with age—like whisky, the music of Hall and Oates, and apparently Pokémon video games—fighters do not. Some aging fighters hang in there and keep our faith alive with massive, late-career wins—we're looking at you, Dan Henderson—but the unfortunate truth is that the older a fighter gets, and the longer that fighter's career lasts, the more fragile that fighter becomes.

Say what you will about the UFC's treatment of its fighters, but the organization does have a pretty commendable history of telling fighters when it's time to retire. When it was time to spare declining stars like Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes from any further punishment, the UFC's decision makers sat them down for "the talk" and even gave them desk jobs to help them cope with the financial strains of hanging up the gloves. Unfortunately, however, not many other organizations share this applause-worthy track record of shepherding aging fighters into retirement. In fact, most other organizations seem content to let declining competitors pummel each other into completely unrecognizable stacks of bones so long as there's a buck or two to be made in doing so. Bellator is perhaps the worst offender in this regard, having infamously pitted a 49-year-old Royce Gracie against a 52-year-old Ken Shamrock earlier this year.

When these fights are booked, they're always promoted the same way. We're in for a treat, we're told, as two legends from the halcyon days of groin shots and soccer kicks will settle a long-forgotten score for our entertainment. And yet these fights are so rarely entertaining. What we usually get instead is the evil twin of entertainment, as one fighter is brutally KO'd or injured, and the other, in victory, suddenly has a bit of momentum with which to leverage additional ill-advised fights. This is unfortunately what we're likely to get if Fedor and Cro Cop fight in September. Of course, it's possible that these two Pride heroes, with their combined 36 years of pro combat sports experience, deliver another war for the ages—anything can happen in MMA. More likely, however, is that one fighter is badly knocked out, giving the other the belief that they've still got it, which will only set that fighter up for ugly knockout losses of their own down the road. No, for all the nostalgia this rematch would churn up, it just doesn't seem like a good idea for either fighter.

Of course, if Rizin actually does book this fight, as Cro Cop's Facebook post suggests they will (or perhaps already have) their reasons for doing so will be abundantly clear.

Despite being shadows of the mighty annihilators they once were, Fedor and Cro Cop remain the kind of massive names that will ensnare viewers by the hundreds of thousands. Should this fight go down in September, you, I, and throngs of fight fans like us will have a very hard time resisting the urge to tune in and watch. Just as Bellator knew this would be the case when they locked Gracie and Shamrock in the cage together, Rizin knows it'll be the case if they plunk Fedor and Cro Cop in the ring for a decade-late do-over. Why shell out the big bucks building new stars, after all, when you can just pull old stars out of the closet, dust 'em off, and chuck 'em in the ring together for the same end result? It's that simple, and until we learn to resist the urge to watch these unnecessary fights between down-and-out legends, they're going to keep happening.


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