For the first time since 2007, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic will return to the UFC this Saturday, June 13, in Cologne, Germany where he will face fellow heavyweight Mostapha Al-Turk. The 34-year-old Croatian was excited about the prospect of fighting at UFC 99 due to Germany’s high Croatian population.
UFC President Dana White made it clear when Cro Cop left the promotion two years ago the door to the Octagon would remain open to him if the day came he wanted to return. Cro Cop earned his name as the most fearsome striker on the planet during his four year tenure with the Pride organization in Japan.
However, something was amiss when he arrived in the UFC in 2007. He won his first fight but was brutally knocked out in his second fight and lost a unanimous decision in his third. Something was different. Cro Cop tried to explain it during Tuesday’s UFC 99 conference call, “I just think I wasn’t the old Mirko Cro Cop that I used to be. I don’t know the reason. I spent so many times thinking about it. I don’t know, maybe I was just empty right after I won the Pride Grand Prix, I don’t know.”
Mirko said it was not a problem with his training or conditioning, but rather it was a problem with his head, “Maybe I wasn’t hungry enough, I don’t know. I just couldn’t smell the blood like I did in my previous fights… It was only a head problem, not body, nothing with body, not with condition, it was a problem with my head. Why I wasn’t motivated it’s hard to say.”
After his setback within the UFC Mirko went back to his MMA roots in Japan. He needed to find that hunger again that was missing. He needed a renewal of the spirit. In 2008 Cro Cop put together two straight wins. It possibly could have been three wins but his fight against Alistair Overeem was ruled a “no contest” after he received a knee to the groin and could not continue.
Early in 2009 Mirko underwent a knee surgery. The time off provided the perfect opportunity for introspection and it seems to have triggered something within him, “I had surgery in January and had a lot of time to think and I decided to return… Why I wasn’t motivated it’s hard to say, but definitely it is behind me and I’m 100% motivated, I’m very good condition, I am hungry for fighting and that’s most important thing for a fighter. And I’m very happy and I can’t wait for this Saturday night.”
Dana White noticed the change in Cro Cop’s attitude, “I’ve been in the fight business a long time and talked to a lot of different guys throughout different points in their careers and when I talked to Mirko and talked to him about putting him on this Germany card, he was fired up and wanted to come back bad.”
Cro Cop considers his first run in the UFC as the low point of his career. It was the only time he ever lost back-to-back fights. He wants to prove to everyone he is not done and still belongs among MMA’s elite, “I have maybe the strongest and best motivation. I just want to return on the top and I just want to prove to everyone, they were wrong. They were wrong you know. I just hope that God will give me the strength that I can prove my worth… Definitely I have a very very high motivation. I was never motivated like this in my career. Never. Definitely, never.”
Cro Cop talked about wanting to make a run for the UFC Heavyweight Title. And although White would not confirm any fights past UFC 99 for the Croation, Cro Cop promised he would be back.
Every sports fan loves a great comeback story and with Cro Cop’s new found hunger and confidence UFC fans may finally get to see the “old” Cro Cop, the Cro Cop Pride fans raved about and said would become UFC Heavyweight Champion, the Cro Cop that sent shivers down the backs of fighters at the very mention of his name.
Cro Cop was never one much for words and knows it all boils down to how he performs Saturday night in the cage when he stands face to face with Al-Turk, “I don’t like to talk too much now on the phone about it because I have to prove my worth in the cage and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
The Pride organization may be gone, but there will be plenty of nostalgia going around Saturday night if the “old” Cro Cop walks into that Octagon.
To listen to everything Dana White and Mirko Cro Cop had to say about UFC 99 and Cro Cop’s return to the UFC you can check out our recording of the UFC 99 conference call.
By: Jack Bratcher