Eight years after Gabriel Gonzaga shut him off with the one of the most thunderous kicks in combat sports history, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic has finally evened the score. He found his vengeance—the vehicle for which was a beautiful series of elbows—in the main event of UFC Fight Night 64, which went down in Krakow, Poland last Saturday. The come-from-behind, third round TKO marks the Croatian legend’s successful return to the UFC after four fights outside the organization. It was a win for the ages.
Not surprisingly the victory has blown some wind back into Cro Cop’s sails. Having corrected one of the most severe slips of his of storied career, fans are clamouring for more, eager to see what this patient yet predatory version of the legendary striker is capable of. To that end, as is so often the case with the world’s top fighters (he’s now ranked among the UFC’s top-15 heavyweights), he’s got plenty of options. Let’s take a look at them.
Perhaps the most notable of Cro Cop’s options follows the story of his win over Gonzaga: having avenged the worse loss of his career, many fans are interested in seeing the legend avenge his other recent losses. Call it the Cro Cop revenge tour.
In this regard, rematches with Brendan Schaub, and Roy Nelson, both of whom have defeated Cro Cop in the last few years, are fairly appealing (Frank Mir gets a pass because, let’s get real, his win over Cro Cop was a stinker for the ages). Considering the Croatian striker is an impressive 6-0 in rematches, there’s no reason to believe that he couldn’t, in theory, even the score with both Schaub and Nelson.
Yet it’s important to stay realistic when weighing the options MMA veterans. Yes, Cro Cop looked impressive in Poland, but the man is 40 years old, and while he managed to protect his chin from most of Gonzaga’s offense, that chin remains fragile. Against men like Schaub and Nelson who, even in decline, punch like battering rams, that could be a real problem. And then, of course, there’s the problem that, even if it proved initially fruitful, a Cro Cop revenge tour would eventually lead the Croatian back to Junior Dos Santos, who knocked him senseless in 2009. Unless your name is Cain Velasquez, that’s a scary place to be.
So perhaps, instead of pairing Cro Cop with the men who so recently pummeled him into unconsciousness, it’s better to focus on legacy fights—the kind of fun-first, rankings-second battles that have been afforded to so many of the sport’s legends. Matchups of this kind, not surprisingly, exist in multitude for the heavyweight icon.
The most obvious of all those matchups, of course, is clash with fellow PRIDE veteran and MMA legend, Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira. The pair first met at a in 2003, in one of the most memorable heavyweight battles ever, and considering Nogueira has also been on a fairly substantial downslide over the last few years, the time for the rematch is now or never. Unfortunately, however, the Brazilian is currently booked to fight towering heavyweight Stefan Struve at UFC 190 in August. So, unless Cro Cop is willing to sit on the shelf—an unlikely thing at his age—a rematch between the two legends will have to wait.
The good news is that there are several other heavyweight veterans who would make excellent opponents for the version of Cro Cop that appeared in Poland. One such fighter is former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski. Because Cro Cop and Arlovski spent the majority of their careers in different organizations, the two never had a chance to meet in their primes. Yet today, after very nearly fading into obscurity, the two vets have re-entered the frenzied UFC heavyweight division, and against all odds, emerged once again as real players in its perilous ranks. Moreover, the striking accolades of both men make this one an almost guaranteed barnburner, and because both are European, it would make an exciting headliner for a future European card. This means that no matter the outcome of Arlovski’s May bout with Travis Browne, this fight remains an intriguing option.
Another interesting opponent for Cro Cop is Alistair Overeem. Given the tremendous power of the Dutch veteran this would obviously be an extremely dangerous task for the Croatian. Yet Overeem’s own deficiencies in the chin department give the bout a very intriguing x-factor. Furthermore, this fight would provide some closure to a 2008 bout between the two that ended in a disappointing no-contest after a knee to the groin.
And then, of course, there are the ridiculous matchups, the farfetched fights that in all likelihood will never happen, but are fun to think about anyway. In this regard, there’s perhaps no bout more intriguing than a pairing of Cro Cop and Dan Henderson. Yes, Cro Cop is a heavyweight. Yes, Henderson is currently competing as a middleweight. Yes, both are years removed from their primes. But Cro Cop is a relatively small heavy, and Henderson would probably fight an elephant if the money was right. More than anything, however, one has to wonder what would happen if Cro Cop’s left high kick and Dan Henderson’s right hand collided—we’re not astronomers or anything, but isn’t that how stars are born?
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic may be 40 years old. He may have been knocked out several times in recent history. He may have slowed down substantially. Yet even today, the Croatian possesses the kind of striking that can end any fighter’s night, and now that striking is accompanied by the kind of experience that only the fight game’s most storied vets possess. So while his contending for the UFC heavyweight title at this stage would probably qualify as a miracle, the owner of MMA’s most feared kick still has plenty of exciting options ahead of him—and it’s good to have him back.
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