The Head Kick Heard Round the World: The Legacy of Mirko Cro Cop

March 29, 2011

Cro Cop at UFC 128

Cro Cop at UFC 128

He may always be remembered as the man with the most devastating kick in the history of mixed martial arts. He holds knockouts over fighters like Heath Herring, Igor Vovchanchyn, Aleksander Emelianenko, and Josh Barnett.

Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic may have seen his UFC and possibly his fight career come to a close last Saturday night when he suffered a knockout at the hands of rising heavyweight Brendan Schaub.

UFC president Dana White commended the legendary Croatian fighter on his efforts at UFC 128, but still believes that he has reached the end of his road with the promotion.

“At his age, and the wars that he’s been in, to see how he gets in there with these heavyweights now that are bigger, younger, and stronger than he is and still holds his own, it’s a testament to what a great fighter that guy was in his prime,” White stated.

“I’d have to say tonight is probably the last time we’ll see Mirko Cro Cop fighting here.”

But how will the MMA world remember Cro Cop if his fighting career truly has come to a close?

A former commando for the Croatian police, Cro Cop was originally a kickboxer who showed vicious power in his hands and feet during his time as a K-1 fighter.

Starting with K-1 at only 22 years of age, Cro Cop battled some of the true legends in the kickboxing world including Ernesto Hoost, Remy Bonjasky, and Jerome Le Banner. He even crushed Bob Sapp in a memorable bout in K-1 when the former NFL player was making his move to martial arts.

Cro Cop slammed Sapp with a nasty punch that broke his zygomatic bone, and the gigantic fighter crumbled to the mat in pain. Injuries always seem to impale his run at a K-1 Grand Prix title. Cro Cop eventually made the decision to try his hand at the growing sport of mixed martial arts instead.

Cro Cop at UFC 128

Cro Cop at UFC 128

He started with some special rules matches against fighters like Wanderlei Silva and Kazushi Sakuraba, but soon dropped the special rules and went full boar into MMA.

Right away, Cro Cop became notorious for his vicious striking attacks like the body shot that put former Pride heavyweight title contender Heath Herring away, or his head lopping kick to end Igor Vovchanchyn’s night back in 2003. Never has a fighter walked down an entrance ramp to a Duran Duran song, only to see the immediate panic in the eyes of the man standing across the ring from him.

Even in defeat Cro Cop almost seemed unstoppable. After battering Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the better part of 10 minutes, he fell victim to his lone Achilles’ heel at the time when he was submitted in the second round of their battle in Pride. The fight went as a loss on his record, but it’s almost guaranteed that Nogueira was the one that had trouble breathing and seeing straight later that night after the punishment Cro Cop doled out.

Cro Cop again came up short when he entered the Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix in 2004, caught by a punch from former UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman. At the time, the Croatian was the heavy favorite to make the finals and battle Fedor Emelianenko, or at worst get a second shot at Nogueira.

Bouncing back from that loss, Cro Cop then reeled off seven wins in a row, which included avenging the loss to Randleman and finishing the younger Emelianenko brother Aleksander with one of his signature head kicks.

It all lead to Cro Cop finally meeting Fedor Emelianenko for the Pride heavyweight title in one of the most anticipated fights of the last 10 years. The pair battled back and forth for the better part of 20 minutes, but in the end Emelianenko kept his title and Cro Cop had to try and work his way back for a rematch.

A rematch that never happened.

Cro Cop did, however, accomplish a lot more even though the second fight with Emelianenko never materialized. He went on to enter the first ever Pride Open Weight Grand Prix where he demolished Wanderlei Silva with one of his head kicks, then proceeded to beat down Josh Barnett for the second time before being crowned the champion of the tournament.

It was after that fight that word came down that the UFC had made the steal of all steals and signed Cro Cop to a longterm deal. Just about everybody felt the Croatian would come to the UFC and run past the competition like a Ferrari racing a Pinto.

It took only until his second fight in the Octagon for the luster to fall off the once great champion. Cro Cop fell victim to his own signature kick, blasted in the head with a shot by Brazilian Gabriel Gonzaga in a fight that was supposed to earn him a title shot against then champion Randy Couture.

Cro Cop’s career got rocky again after that, losing a fight to Cheick Kongo and exiting the UFC, opting to go back to Japan. There, he rejuvenated himself with two solid TKO’s, but also once again ran into a buzzsaw by the name of Alistair Overeem.

Overeem was dominating Cro Cop in their fight, but a series of low blows brought the contest to an end. It was called a no contest due to the illegal shots when Cro Cop was unable to continue.

Soon after his trip to Japan, Cro Cop ventured back to the UFC, but it never felt like he was the same dangerous head kicking machine that had once struck fear into the hearts of Pride heavyweights. Injuries took away Cro Cop’s kicks for virtually all of his UFC fights, and his chin couldn’t hand the punishment it once did after taking so many shots over the years.

Over his last five fights, Cro Cop went 2-3  with his wins coming over Pat Barry and Anthony Perosh. In neither fight did he remind many people of the fighter he was just a few short years before. Cro Cop’s attitude had always remained the same and he never said how long his career would go on for, or which fight would be his last.

“I’ve had a long career and I don’t think any of those fighters had careers like I did. I had altogether 33 K-1 fights, 37 MMA fights, plus 44 amateur boxing fights, which most of them was international. You’re right, I had a really long career,” Cro Cop said before his fight against Frank Mir at UFC 119.

“If you’re asking me how long I still have to fight? I don’t know. I always tell to the people who ask me that, every fight or any fight could be the last one.”

It appears at least where the UFC is concerned, Cro Cop has seen his last fight. The mighty Croatian striker has been one of the most dangerous fighters to ever step foot into the world of MMA, but it’s unclear how his legacy will be remembered.

But for every time someone watches his last few fights in the UFC, go back and watch the fights with Vovchanchyn, Aleksander Emelianenko, or Wanderlei Silva and feel the shivers run down your spine when he lands the left kick from hell that may one day simply be known as the Cro Cop kick.

Damon Martin is the lead staff writer and radio host for
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