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Left leg; cemetery: Revisiting the legendary career of Mirko Cro Cop

Left leg; cemetery: Revisiting the legendary career of Mirko Cro Cop

A pensive Mirko Cro Cop of Croatia walks to the octagon before fighting Gabriel Gonzaga

The sport of mixed martial arts is young. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the world’s leading MMA organization, only last year celebrated its 25th anniversary. As such, there are far fewer legends – and much less consensus surrounding them – than in other, more established sports. There are only a rare few, a select group of undeniably great fighters, that are widely considered to be legends of the sport. Among that esteemed group is the Croatian striking legend, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović (better known as Mirko Cro Cop).

Last week, the career of the 44-year-old ex-special forces policeman has finally come to an end.

Appearing on Croatian television station Nova TV, Filipović announced his lasting retirement from the sport of mixed martial arts. The heavyweight cited a series of medical ailments, including a stroke, as his reasons for retirement.

The legacy of Mirko Cro Cop is one that will stand the test of time. This is his story.

Humble beginnings and an introduction to combat

Mirko Filipović was born to a working-class family in Vinkovci, an eastern Croatian city, on September 10, 1974. Filipović quickly showed an interest in athletics, participating in track and field events, particularly short distance running.

However, Filipović transitioned to mixed martial arts at a young age.

Inspired by the on-screen heroics of legendary actors Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme, “Cro Cop” took an interest in martial arts. At the age of seven, Filipović began training in Taekwondo, a renowned Korean striking art. He would later segue into karate, kickboxing, and various other striking disciplines.

At home, Filipović was unable to train at a sophisticated gym. In a 2015 interview with UFC commentator John Gooden for The Independent, Filipović recounted his humble beginnings.

“I was training in an old garage –  just a roof. And when its snowed it would cover the floor so I would have to clear this first. I didn’t have a punch bag. There was no place to buy it so I managed to get a speed ball, but it didn’t have the swivel mechanism, so I just nailed it to the ceiling and started kicking.  I couldn’t box with it as it was so light and small. I was just training my high kicks. A few hundred everyday.  That’s how I developed myself. That’s how everything started.”

When “Cro Cop” came of age, he joined the Croatian army as a radio telegraphist. Filipović would receive and transmit messages between various sectors of the nation’s forces.

However, in 1993, Filipović received unlikely permission from a superior officer: he was allowed to train with the national kickboxing team.

According to Filipović’s Independent interview, his commander said, “‘I don’t think you will be a special soldier, but I believe you will be a good fighter one day. So you don’t have to learn [with the radio telegraphists]. I release you and I want you to train twice a day. And I want you to make your country and your homeland proud one day.'”

“Cro Cop” did.

He began his professional kickboxing career in 1996 at the age of 22 after a 48-8 (31 KOs) amateur career as a boxer, one that saw him capture three national amateur championships.

Filipović would even compete at the 1997 World Amateur Boxing Championships, but fell to 1996 Olympic bronze medalist Alexei Lezin in his first match of the tournament.

In the first event of the Hong Kong-based kickboxing promotion’s, K-1’s, 1996 campaign, Filipović faced Pantheon of Sports and Martial Arts Hall of Famer and International Sport Karate Association (I.S.K.A) Full Contact Intercontinental super-heavyweight champion, Jérôme Le Banner.

Le Banner, 46, is one of the most decorated French kickboxers in recent memory. Yet, a debuting Filipović took a close, unanimous decision victory, even knocking down the taller fighter once with a hard straight left.

In his second pro kickboxing match, Mirko Cro Cop faced one of the greatest kickboxers of all time, Ernesto Hoost. Filipović succumbed to a barrage of low kicks, which Hoost had used throughout the match to batter Filipović’s famed left leg.

The birth of a namesake and out-of-ring exploits

Filipović would then join the Lučko Anti-Terrorist Unit, a special forces unit of the Croatian police department. The unit is one of an elite nature, having the distinction of being the lone police unit to fight in the late ’90s Croatian War of Independence.

As a result of Filipović’s service in the unit, and his Croatian nationality, the name “Cro Cop” was born. It has become such a part of Filipović’s identity, that the majority of listings for his name exclude Filipović in favor of Mirko Cro Cop. It has joined the lexicon for names that have overtaken fighters’ names, such as “Bigfoot” Silva, Cris “Cyborg”, and many others.

“Cro Cop” served in the unit for six years, but that wouldn’t be the end of his public service in his native Croatia.

In 2003, Filipović took office in the Croatian parliament, the Sabor. The Sabor is the unicameral house of representatives of Croatia, and today comprises of 151 legislators.

Filipović represented the nation’s first electoral district, which houses Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb. “Cro Cop” was elected as an independent aligned with the Social Democratic Party of Croatia, one of the nation’s two major parties and the nation’s leading liberal party.

Filipović’s service in the Sabor ended after his four-year term, in 2008. Over the course of those four years, Filipović fought as a professional mixed martial artist 20 times.

The exposition and rising action of a legendary MMA career

Mirko Filipović’s kickboxing career lasted from 1996 to 2003 (and would later resume in 2012) and was highlighted by prestigious honors, such as the K-1 World Grand Prix championship, two K-1 World Grand Prix runner-ups, I.K.B.F. World heavyweight full contact championship.

Throughout his striking career, Filipović faced famed and legendary figures, such as Le Banner, Hoost, Andy Hug, Peter Aerts, Mark Hunt, Bob Sapp, and Ray Sefo, among dozens of others.

However, despite a star-studded and highlight-reel friendly career as a kickboxer, “Cro Cop’s” legacy is best defined by his career as a mixed martial artist.

Filipović made his MMA debut in 2001, competing in a super fight at the K-1 Andy Hug Memorial event. He would face Japan’s Kazuyuki Fujita, a grappler.

“Cro Cop” was a relative unknown at the time, a pure striker in an era in which grappling – led by the Gracie’s and Sakuraba’s of the world – reigned supreme. Despite Filipović’s lengthy, decorated boxing and kickboxing accolades, the consensus was that the eminent wrestlers and grapplers of the time would negate those skills with their games.

Filipović recounted the Fujita victory with Gooden during the same Independent interview, noting the odds that were seemingly stacked against him.

“The biggest shock was the first fight.  I didn’t know what to expect. I fought Fujita. At that time he was one of the most dangerous PRIDE fighters. He was a complete beast and with 130 kilograms of pure muscle. A guy without a neck…he was all connected (laughs). I knew he was going to take me down and that what I was training for. I would counter with the knee and exactly that happened. I caught him with a good knee to the head and the fight was finished and that’s how everything began.”

In his next eight MMA bouts, Filipović would go unbeaten, improving his record to 7-0-2. Filipović drew with Nobuhiko Takada and the Brazilian beserker, Wanderlei Silva; and beat Yuji Nagata, the legendary grappler, Kazushi Sakuraba; Kazuyuki Fujita, UFC veteran Heath Herring, fellow legend Igor Vovchanchyn, and former WWE wrestler and current Combate Americas announcer, “Alberto El Patron” (José Alberto Rodríguez/Dos Caras Jr.).

As a result of Filipović’s sniper-like accuracy with devastating head kicks, an ominous slogan emerged. When facing “Cro Cop,” the saying went, it was “Right leg, hospital. Left leg, cemetery”.

A first bid for PRIDE gold

Next, Mirko Cro Cop faced Brazilian star, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, affectionately known as “Big Nog,” for the interim PRIDE heavyweight championship at PRIDE Final Conflict in 2003.

Nogueira, then the former PRIDE heavyweight champion, held a staggering 20-2-1 professional record. The jiu-jitsu black belt had battled the best of the best, including Jeremy Horn, Volk Han, Gary Goodridge, Mark Coleman, Enson Inoue, Dan Henderson, and more.

Notably, “Big Nog” took out 400-pound behemoth, Bob Sapp, in a classic ‘size vs. technique’ match that exemplified both the power of jiu-jitsu and the sophistication of Nogueira’s.

At PRIDE 25, Nogueira lost the PRIDE heavyweight title to the mythical Fedor Emelianenko but rebounded with a win over eventual UFC heavyweight champion, Ricco Rodriguez. It was after the Rodriguez win, a unanimous decision, that Nogeuira faced “Cro Cop.”

What resulted was one of the best fights of PRIDE’s history. As the old adage goes, styles make fights. Such was the case in Filipović vs. Nogueira.

Filipović’s world-class striking prowess was on display early as the Croatian outstruck the Brazilian in dominant fashion in round one. At the end of the first round, “Cro Cop” was even able to drop Nogueira with a trademark left high kick.

However, in the second, Nogueira would storm back. The jiu-jitsu legend took Filipović down, rolling into an armbar from mount, winning the title and handing Filipović his first MMA defeat.

The Fedor fight

In the years following the Nogueira loss, Mirko Cro Cop would revert back to his dominance in Japan.

Filipović would go on to defeat Fedor’s brother, the controversial Alexander Emelianenko; wrestling monster, Kevin Randleman (following a loss in the pair’s first bout); former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett, and ground and pound godfather, Mark Coleman. All four men were finished in the first round.

Eventually, in the summer of 2005, Filipović would get another chance to win PRIDE gold. He would face Russia’s own Fedor Emelianenko, then on a nineteen-fight winning streak, for the PRIDE heavyweight title.

The fight was one of the most anticipated of all time. It pitted Emelianenko, a Russian Terminator, a fearless, all-around threat with the ability to impose his will without discrimination, against MMA’s most feared pinpoint knockout artist, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović.

The fight met – and exceeded – expectations.

Emelianenko began pressuring early, but it was Filipović who landed the better shots early. He stunned Fedor with doubled-up straights but stumbled after attempting a wayward high kick. The ensuing scramble led to Emelianenko establishing control on the ground.

At the end of the first round, Emelianenko was in control. Filipović was tired from giving chase, along with being battered by Emelianenko’s seemingly endless barrage of flurries. From the second round onwards, it was Emelianenko’s fight. In what was a masterful display of dominance, the Russian was able to thwart “Cro Cop’s” second bid for a PRIDE title.

The bout is considered to be one of the best in mixed martial arts’ history. It earned 2005’s “Fight of the Year” honors from a variety of news outlets, but, more impressively, also earned “Fight of the Decade (2000s)” honors, as well.

The 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix

Following the Emelianenko loss, “Cro Cop” competed twice before the 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix. He scored a second win over Josh Barnett but fell to former kickboxing foe, Mark Hunt.

Then, in May of 2006, “Cro Cop” took the first step in the 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix.

Grand Prix tournaments were a defining characteristic of PRIDE FC, often pitting some of the promotion’s best and most popular fighters against one another in the original bracketed format.

In 2006, that was no different. The tournament featured the aforementioned Barnett, Aleksander Emelianenko, Hunt, and Silva, along with ADCC and UFC heavyweight champion, Fabricio Werdum; K-1, DREAM, and Strikeforce champion, Alistair Overeem; and others.

Filipović walked through Japan’s Ikuhisa Minowa, stopping the MMA fighter and pro-wrestler with strikes in the first round.

The Croatian then battered the legs of 1992 Olympic gold medalist judoka, Japan’s Hidehiko Yoshida, in the tournament quarterfinals, scoring a first-round TKO.

At PRIDE Conflict Absolute, the tournament finale, “Cro Cop” obliterated Wanderlei Silva in the pair’s rematch in the first round. The knockout, widely featured on highlight-reels and compilations, won multiple outlets’ “Knockout of the Year” award.

With the semi-final win, Filipović advanced to the tournament finals. There, he defeated Josh Barnett for the third time, adding a submission due to punches to his then 20-4-2 record.

UFC: Act I

After years of competing in Japan and rampant speculation, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović finally joined the ranks of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

By 2007, PRIDE had completed its precipitous decline. The promotion’s parent company, Dream Stage Entertainment, sold PRIDE to Zuffa, the UFC parent company run by Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta.

Initially thought to want to merge with PRIDE, in a combination akin to the American football merger between the AFL and NFL, Zuffa ultimately folded PRIDE. Various fighters from the promotion, like “Cro Cop,” joined the UFC.

In his UFC debut, Filipović faced then-undefeated finisher, Eddie Sanchez. Sanchez, then 6-0, had finished all six of his wins, all but two of which occurred in the first round.

Filipović made quick work of Sanchez, finishing him in the first. The victory, coupled with Filipović’s lengthy, successful track record, prompted many to think his reign would continue into the UFC’s ranks.

However, Filipović’s next fight could not have been more stunning.

“Cro Cop” drew Gabriel Gonzaga next, the 2006 IBJJF ultra-heavyweight world champion. Gonzaga, a Brazilian, was 7-1 at the time. He had lost to Werdum in a Brazilian regional and beaten Fabiano Scherner before facing Filipović, and he was a perfect 3-0 inside the Octagon.

Despite those accolades, and even though the match with Filipović was a title eliminator, Gonzaga was a sizable underdog. Oddsmakers, pundits, and fans were sure that another lethal “Cro Cop” head kick would stop the show.

Well, it did, in a way.

Gonzaga shocked the world, separating Filipović from his consciousness with his own move. A high kick from Gonzaga in the first round gave Filipović his first UFC loss in what was a consensus “Knockout of the Year” for 2007.

“Cro Cop,” just five months later, would compete again in the cage. He faced Frenchman Cheick Kongo at UFC 75 in London, England. Filipović would drop a unanimous decision to Kongo in disheartening fashion, dropping consecutive fights for the first time in his career, leading many to speculate that the once-mighty striking phenom’s career was coming to a close.

Back to Japan

In fact, after the Kongo loss, Mirko Cro Cop admitted the thought of hanging up the gloves had crossed his mind.

Instead, he would return to Japan, joining newly-formed MMA promotion, DREAM.

DREAM, founded in 2008, was formed by executives from the PRIDE and K-1 promotions during the dissolution of HERO’s, another Japanese promotion.

DREAM launched as the final PRIDE show, Yarennoka!, and was expected to be a one-off show. The wide success of the show, however, prompted a renewed focus as a stand-alone promotion.

“Cro Cop” was reportedly at odds with the UFC over the contract and financial disputes, and he left the promotion February in 2008 in favor of DREAM.

Filipović returned to his winning ways at DREAM 1, defeating Japan’s Tatsuya Mizuno in under a minute.

Six months later, “Cro Cop” would return to the DREAM ring to face a fellow knockout artist and heavyweight legend, Alistair Overeem. Their fight would end in a no contest, as Overeem landed multiple knees to the groin of the Croatian, leading to a cringe-worthy injury.

Filipović’s DREAM career would end at the co-promoted Dynamite!! 2008 event, a year-end event put on by DREAM and K-1. “Cro Cop” drew Hong-man Choi, the 7’2″ Japanese colossus.

Choi had competed against a who’s who of notable strikers across his 12-7 kickboxing and 4-5 MMA careers, including Emelianenko, Goodridge, Badr Hari, Ray Sefo, Sapp, Le Banner, Semmy Schilt, and others.

Against the much taller man, “Cro Cop” chopped at the tree trunk-like legs of Choi, stopping him in round one with leg kicks.

UFC fighter Anthony Perosh (L) battles UFC fighter Mirko Cro Cop

UFC: Act II

In 2009, following his win over Choi, Filipović re-signed with the UFC. His first stint, a 1-2 run outlined above, had left a bad taste in both his and his fans’ mouths, and a second chance in the UFC after a successful return to Japan seemed to offer a fresh start for the Croatian-born striker.

That fresh start got off to a good one at UFC 99, as “Cro Cop” walked through Mostapha al-Turk, blitzing and finishing the Lebanese-English grappler with ease.

Next, Filipović drew future UFC heavyweight champion, Junior dos Santos.

Dos Santos, who would be regarded as one of the best boxing heavyweights in UFC history, thoroughly battered “Cro Cop” from the bell. He outstruck Filipović over the course of three rounds, forcing a stoppage by injuring the area around Filipović’s left eye.

Filipović wouldn’t quit, however, finishing Anthony Perosh and Pat Barry in consecutive fights, the latter of which was a “Submission of the Night” winning performance in what was an extremely competitive fight.

From that point on, Filipović would face the darkest times of his professional MMA career. He dropped three straight fights to Frank Mir, Brendan Schaub, and Roy Nelson, respectively; all three of which came by way of devastating, brutal finish.

“Cro Cop” left the UFC, again, and did not fight in professional MMA for over a year.

Mirko Cro Cop returns to the ring

It wouldn’t be for another fourteen months before Filipović would return to professional MMA. However, he didn’t abstain from other combat sports.

“Cro Cop” would make a triumphant return to kickboxing, ending his nine-year hiatus from the sport, and he would do it in front of his hometown fans, to boot.

Filipović faced 2000 K-1 Grand Prix runner-up, Ray Sefo, at the “Cro Cop”-centered Cro Cop Final Fight, a Croatian kickboxing event promoted by Final Fight Championship in Zagreb, Croatia. “Cro Cop” won by unanimous decision.

He would then go on to face and defeat Loren Javier Jorge, a Spanish kickboxer, in a K-1 super fight in May of 2012.

Then, Filipović would embark on his final quest for K-1 gold. He entered the 2012 K-1 World Grand Prix.

In the opening round of the tournament, “Cro Cop” scored a majority decision victory over American Randy Blake. He would then go on to face undefeated heavyweight boxer, interim WBA-NABA and WBO-NABO heavyweight champion Jarrell Miller.

Filipović defeated Miller via unanimous decision and advanced to the semi-finals.

He would go on to defeat Ukraine’s Pavel Zhuravlev, also by unanimous decision, to reach the Grand Prix finals.

For the first time in history, the K-1 Grand Prix finals would be held outside of Japan. They were held in Zagreb, Croatia.

“Cro Cop,” in front of his hometown fans, defeated the first-ever SUPERKOMBAT heavyweight champion, Ismael Londt, by unanimous decision. Finally, Filipović had won a K-1 Grand Prix.

Meanwhile, Filipović had continued his MMA career, leaving the UFC for a second time.

In December of 2012, “Cro Cop” defeated former sumo wrestler, Shinichi Suzukawa, at Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2012 under the promotion of Antonio Inoki.

Filipović then fought three times from 2013-2014, competing in Russia once and Japan twice. In Russia, Filipović fell to submission ace Alexei Oleinik.

He would rebound from the Oleinik loss with two consecutive second-round TKO wins over future friend and teammate, Satoshi Ishii.

Doping, retirement, and return

After the Ishii wins, “Cro Cop” returned to the UFC for one final time.

In April of 2015, eight years after their initial meeting, Filipović faced Gabriel Gonzaga in a rematch of his most surprising, most devasting defeat.

“Cro Cop” was quoted by the UFC prior to the bout as saying, “I got a chance to, in a sports sense, right some things, if I can do that, great, if not, still good, at least I’ll know that I tried and that I gave it my all.”

Over the course of two rounds, the consensus was that “Cro Cop” was down on the scorecards. Gonzaga had taken mount numerous times and had opened a cut on the face of Filipović.

However, in the third round, “Cro Cop” stormed back. The legend landed a massive elbow, stunning Gonzaga, and rained down an onslaught of elbows and punches. He had avenged his infamous loss, earning “Fight of the Night” honors in the process.

After the Gonzaga win, Filipović was set to take on Anthony Hamilton in November of 2015. Filipović withdrew from the bout, abruptly announcing his retirement from mixed martial arts. But, all was not as it seemed.

Shortly after his announced retirement, the UFC and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), with whom the UFC had just partnered, announced that Filipović’s withdrawal from the fight was due to a provisional doping suspension for human growth hormone.

“Cro Cop” was the first UFC fighter to be suspended under the USADA agreement.

According to “Cro Cop,” a doctor had injected him with HGH after a shoulder injury was failing to heal properly. Six days later, he was tested by USADA. Aware of the results that were forthcoming, “Cro Cop” said he informed the UFC immediately.

In a statement following his retirement, Filipović appeared to take a shot at USADA, unhappy that they intended to – in his eyes – go after him, despite his retirement.

“I might be the first fighter who has ever been suspended after retirement,” Cro Cop said. “Maybe they think it is good for them to sanction someone that is well known.”

At any rate, “Cro Cop” faced a two-year suspension. So when, in 2016, “Cro Cop” announced his intent to return, he was still under UFC contract and a USADA suspension. With the USADA suspension in place, he couldn’t fight in the UFC. And with a UFC contract still in the mix, it wasn’t as if he could go elsewhere.

Mirko Cro Cop wins the RIZIN World Grand Prix 2017

Back in the game: The RIZIN years

Until he could. The UFC released a statement in July of 2016 that changed everything.

“Former heavyweight contender Mirko Cro Cop announced his retirement from the sport of MMA in November, and recently requested that the remaining bouts in his promotional agreement with the UFC organization be terminated. UFC agreed to terminate the remaining bouts in the promotional agreement, however, Cro Cop was advised that UFC does not have any power to reduce or terminate the sanctions imposed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency pursuant to the UFC Anti-Doping Policy.”

As such, “Cro Cop” was free to enter into the 2016 RIZIN Openweight Grand Prix.

RIZIN Fighting Federation, then only in its second year as a promotion, was founded by ex-PRIDE head, Nobuyuki Sakakibara. It is widely considered to be the heir to PRIDE, and the premiere MMA promotion in Japan today.

Filipović faced South Korea’s Hyun Man Myung in the opening round of the tournament, submitting him with an arm-triangle choke inside the first round. The win advanced him to the quarterfinals, where he would face Muhammed Lawal.

Lawal, then 35, was an incredibly decorated American wrestler. He was an NCAA DII champion at the University of Central Oklahoma and later went on to participate in Division I competition at Oklahoma State University, where he won a Big 12 Conference championship and was named an All-American.

Lawal was a three-time Senior U.S. national champion, and just barely missed qualifying for the 2008 Olympics. In MMA, Lawal was coming off of a 2015 RIZIN Heavyweight Grand Prix championship victory and was considered one of the toughest competitors in the 2016 field.

“Cro Cop” finished Lawal with strikes in the second round, thoroughly asserting his re-emergence as a contender, despite being 41 years of age at the time.

Filipović then slaughtered Estonian sumo wrestler Baruto Kaito, devasting Kaito with a knee to the body inside one round. At 41, “Cro Cop” would fight in the RIZIN Grand Prix finals.

He would face Iranian beast, Amir Aliakbari. Aliakbari, then (and since) undefeated, was an even more decorated wrestler. Aliakbari had won two World Championships gold medals in Greco-Roman wrestling (though one was stripped due to a doping violation).

Additionally, he had only missed the 2012 Olympics – and been banned for life by the International Wrestling Federation – for another doping issue.

Aliakbari was thought to be a challenge for an older “Cro Cop”; a wrestler decorated and strong enough to negate the Croatian’s famous ‘sprawl and brawl.’

Filipović put those fears to bed, knocking the Iranian out, again inside the first round. Mirko “Cro Cop” had finished all four of his RIZIN Grand Prix opponents to win the Openweight trophy.

“Cro Cop” would return a year later, facing battle-tested Japanese veteran and King of Pancrase, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, at RIZIN’s 2017 end-of-year show.

Filipović again ended the show early, stopping the then-46-year-old with strikes in Saitama, Japan.

In what would be his last fight with the promotion, Filipović faced Guam’s Roque Martinez, who was riding a nine-fight unbeaten streak.

“Cro Cop” defeated the younger man about five minutes into the first round, slicing Martinez with a sharp left elbow. The doctor’s stoppage was initially contested by Martinez, but Filipović’s win stood.

Filipović would then sign with Bellator for what would be the final fight of his career.

Bellator and finality

In the last fight of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović’s illustrious career, he would face a man he had previously lost to, Roy Nelson.

Nelson, an Ultimate Fighter winner, had TKOed Filipović back in the last fight of “Cro Cop’s” second UFC stint. It was a depressing fight for “Cro Cop,” who was largely taken down and controlled until the finish.

In the rematch, however, it was Filipović who exacted revenge. Though Nelson led the dance in the first round, “Cro Cop” was the one getting the better of the exchanges. Filipović’s second round was split between defending Nelson’s takedown attempts and showing glimpses of his striking prowess.

“Cro Cop” lost the third round on two judges’ scorecards, but walked away with the unanimous decision win.

Approximately two months later, Mirko Cro Cop announced a series of medical ailments that would force him to retire once more, this time for good.

Filipović claimed to have suffered a neck injury – and perhaps a seizure – prior the Nelson bout. After, he said, he suffered a stroke. He was emotional in a television appearance on Croatian airwaves.

“It’s over,” he said. “I hope I’m not going to cry, but it’s the inevitable retirement.”

“Cro Cop” added to the finality of his statement.

“I will never enter the ring again. I cannot let anyone hit me. I have to have [an MRI] in three months, after that I will train again, boxing bags, but there is no such thing as a fight.”

Titles, records, legacy

Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović, 44, retired on top of the world.

The former kickboxing superstar ended his career on an improbable ten-fight winning streak, bringing his career MMA record to 38-11-2, 1 NC. He remains the sole fighter to win K-1, PRIDE, and RIZIN Grand Prix’s, and was an undefeated 7-0 in rematches and one of – if not the only – fighters to defeat three former UFC heavyweight champions in a row (Barnett, Randleman, Coleman).

Filipović was undefeated in RIZIN competition (6-0) and won the promotion’s 2016 Openweight Grand Prix.

The Croatian was the 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix champion and is tied for most promotional finishes (16) with Wanderlei Silva. He holds the PRIDE records for most first-round finishes (15), finishes stemming from kicks (8), finishes stemming from head kicks (4), and the second-most knockouts overall (14).

He has the fourth most fights in PRIDE history (24) and is tied for second in promotional wins (18) with Igor Vovchanchyn and Kazushi Sakuraba.

From various news outlets, “Cro Cop” won two “Fight of the Year” awards (Nogueira, 2003; Emelianenko, 2005), two “Knockout of the Year” awards (Vovchanchyn, 2003; Silva, 2006), a “Fight of the Decade (2000s)” award (Emelianenko, 2005), and was one outlet’s “Striker of the Decade” for the 2000s.

“Cro Cop” sports a 26-8 record as a professional kickboxer, a domain in which he won a K-1 Grand Prix, was a two-time K-1 Grand Prix runner-up, and a one-time K-1 Grand Prix bronze medalist. He was also the I.K.B.F. World Heavyweight Full Contact champion.

Summation

There is very little to be said about Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović that has yet to be said. The Croatian super-striker remains one of the most feared knockout artists in the sport’s history.

Very few sayings are as chilling as “right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery.” Perhaps more terrifying than the saying itself is a perusal of “Cro Cop’s” highlight reel, which all but proves it to be true.

While Filipović never quite put together the UFC run fans expected upon his initial signing, his unimaginable successes in PRIDE and beyond have captivated and awed fans over his twenty-five-year plus combat sports career.

Filipović will go down in the record books as a mythical and enigmatic, fearsome and awe-inspiring fighter, the type that is never forgotten.

Add in a career as an elite special forces, anti-terrorist police officer – and legitimate parliament member – and “Cro Cop” becomes an even more legendary figure.

Thank you, Mirko Cro Cop, for all of the memories. Enjoy retirement.

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