For two rounds in the Krakow Arena Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic fought tentatively against former conqueror Gabriel Gonzaga. When he did commit to strikes, he was invariably taken down.
By the time the second round came to a close, Cro Cop had been mounted, and a deep cut had been opened up over his left eye. It seemed he had no answer for his opponent’s skill set.
When Gonzaga backed Cro Cop up against the fence in another clinch midway through the third round, it made sense that the Croatian would end up on his back again.
Instead he threw a left elbow that connected with Gonzaga’s skull. A second saw Gonzaga’s legs start to give way.
The 10,000 strong crowd started to cheer. For the first time since the opening bell there was a feeling, one that was growing at an incredible pace, that maybe Cro Cop actually could win this fight.
Uppercuts followed, Gonzaga was hurt and driven to the mat as fans started to get to their feet. Cro Cop would wind up on top, with elbows and punches raining down.
By the time referee Leon Roberts leapt across Gonzaga’s chest to wave off the fight, the Brazilian’s forehead looked like it had been hit with an ax, his dazed expression hidden beneath a crimson mask.
The UFC portion of Cro Cop’s career had been indifferent, this was arguably his greatest moment inside a UFC cage.
For Mirko Cro Cop there was a sense of redemption and closure. For the UFC there was another reminder that not every notable fight has to feature two top ten fighters in their prime.
It was announced at the post fight press conference that the fight had earned both men fight of the night bonuses, while Cro Cop quantified its significance.
“This was must win situation for me, not because of my future status in UFC but because of my whole career ya know, and I just knew I had to beat him.”
Cro Cop had beaten Gonzaga and the manner in which he did so made for exciting viewing.
“This was one of the most important fights in my career, not just rematches.”
While Bellator’s reported interest in Mirko Cro Cop may have played a part in the UFC signing him to make his return, the exciting, crowd pleasing finish was made possible by smart match making.
People scoffed when the fight was announced. I admit, I was one of them, but like many as the show got closer, with each passing day, each chance to review the history, to listen to another interview, the interest grew. Even at 40-years-old he’s still Mirko Cro Cop, and as we saw in Krakow on Saturday that still counts for something.
Sometimes fights make sense simply because people are close in the rankings and are on similar winning or losing streaks. Sometimes someone is undeniably the next in line for a title shot.
This was neither of those things. It was barely about rankings, it had little to do with getting back into contention for titles. It mattered who won and who lost, but not because one man would move into the top ten as a result.
This was simply two men with a back story, and a compelling one at that. It was the perfect reminder that there are other ways to make fights, and every once in a while it makes for a refreshing change when the UFC capitalize on them.
By: Steven Rivers
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