By: Michael Gilman @mikeygilz
This Saturday, live on WWE Network Jr. The Ultimate Fighting Championship brings its particular level of violence to Krakow, Poland with the biggest rematch since Hogan/Warrior 2. That’s right, the return of Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic is upon us, and here to welcome him back is the man most responsible for ending the effective part of his career, Gabriel Gonzaga.
For the fans who are unfamiliar with “CroCop,” once upon a time he was one of the most feared men on the planet. A muscle-bound heavyweight striker from Croatia with elite, K-1 level striking. Before making the transition over to the UFC, CroCop was last seen winning the 2006 PRIDE Open Weight Grand Prix, a four round tournament where he defeated both Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett on the same night to capture the title.
His debut in the UFC was met with heavy fanfare and anticipation. His first fight against Eddie Sanchez was a breeze, which the referee seemed to stop the fight based on fear of what was coming next rather than what had actually happened.
But everything would change in Mirko’s next fight.
Enter: Gabriel Gonzaga.
Gabriel “Napao” Gonzaga was seen as little more than a body to add to CroCop’s highlight reel for Mirko’s much-anticipated future showdown with division kingpin, Randy Couture. Gonzaga was in the 5th fight of his undefeated UFC career, but few saw him as a legitimate threat to the legendary Croatian. But then the fight started…
From the opening bell, the unbelievable was happening before our very eyes. And then “The Kick” happened…
As the final seconds ticked down in the very first round, Gabriel Gonzaga unleashed a head kick that was straight out of a video game that connected flush against the side of Mirko’s skull. The Croatian fell into a pile of him self on the mat and lay there unconscious for quite some time with his leg grotesquely twisted underneath his crumpled frame.
The crowd was stunned; fans around the world were silent. The time of CroCop had ended.
For Mirko, it seemed as if nothing was ever the same. His trademark aggression was rarely ever seen again. His off and on UFC career ended up earning him a 4-6 record in the promotion, low lighted with three more knockout losses and unimpressive victories over sub par competition. However, he has fared better outside of the UFC, winning his last several MMA fights, and most notably capturing the K-1 Grand Prix Kickboxing title in 2012.
For Gonzaga, after capturing the soul of Mirko, his career had its ups and downs. He would go on to lose his bid for the title in a one sided loss to Randy Couture and split his next 16 fights with eight wins and eight losses. Recently, Gonzaga suffered a loss to fellow Croatian and trainer partner of CroCop, Stipe Miocic.
It’s been over 8 years since their infamous first meeting. Neither fighter has gone on to accomplish anything of significance in the sport since then and this fight is of little consequence in terms of divisional ranking. So for me, the question is “Why the rematch? Why now?”
For CroCop, perhaps he’s just fueled by good old-fashioned revenge. Like Jason Vorhees rising from Camp Crystal lake, he must now rise out of the Vistula River to reclaim his pride from the man who stole it so many years ago. Perhaps CroCop can finally add one of those legendary “left-leg-cemetery” kicks to his UFC reel.
For Gonzaga, this is a chance to prove that the first time around was no fluke. It’s a chance for him to put a stamp on the victory and show all of the fans around the world that he is simply the better fighter. It’s a chance to add one more highlight to cap off a career spent fighting at the sports highest level.
For the fans, this is a chance to see one of the most legendary men in the sport avenge a loss that crushed the hopes of all of who witnessed it. I know I’m not alone in saying that the loss affected me personally. CroCop was one of my favorite fighters during his run in PRIDE. The loss to Gonzaga, while shocking and amazing in its own right, made the sport less fun overall as one of the greats was never the same again.
Does this rematch mean a lot for the sport? No. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s for the fans who want to see if CroCop can still bring it. It’s for the fans who need to see if it was a fluke the first time around. This fight is for everyone.
UFC Fight Night: Krakow takes place this Saturday, April 11th on UFC Fight Pass.
Image credit:Zuffa,LLC/Low Kick MMA