Right leg hospital, left leg cemetery. These are the words we think of whenever we hear the name Mirko Cro Cop. Cro Cop enjoyed a long-lived career in combat sports, including around 142 bouts in MMA, kickboxing, and boxing. So join us as we journey through the life and career of the Croatian kickboxing legend! There is a lot to get through so please hold on tight for the rollercoaster ride that is Mirko Filipović’s life.
The Early Life
Cro Cop was born in 1974 on September 10th in Vinkovci, Eastern Croatia, which was then part of Yugoslavia. Cro Cop was brought up in a working-class family with his sister and he always had an athletic taste and was constantly being active. He ran track and field but he only competed in shorter distance events such as the 100m, 200m, and 400m dashes.
His introduction to combat sports came through the legendary Jean-Claude Van Damme in his performance in the film Bloodsport, a 1988 combat sports movie. Van Damme inspired Mirko to start training and he spent a lot of his childhood lifting weights and using his father’s boxing equipment in their family garage. Cro Cop’s proper training started at the age of seven, where he started taking Taekwondo lessons, later picking up karate as well.
Unfortunately, Cro Cop lost his father in 1994 at the young age of 19. He had already joined the Croatian military at this point in his life and he then wrote a request to his commander asking to begin professional Kickboxing training for the national team.
His request was approved and the colonel said to Cro Cop, “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 radiotelegraphists). 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.” This is where Filipović’s professional life in combat sports began.
Before Mixed Martial Arts
Cro Cop started his professional career in 1996 and went into kickboxing with an impressive run as an amateur boxer, holding a record of 48-8 (31 KOs). He beat Jérôme Le Banner in his debut, but then after a loss to Ernesto Hoost, he not only returned to the boxing scene but also his career in law enforcement.
Mirko held the Croatian national amateur boxing championship three times. Then, after feeling fully accomplished in boxing, he decided to join the Lučko Anti-Terrorist Unit where he served for six years and was even elected to the Croatian parliament. During his second stint in a separate anti-terrorist unit as a commando, Cro Cop competed in the 1997 World Amateur Boxing Championships where he lost in the first round against Alexei Lezin.
Mirko Cro Cop made his mixed martial arts debut in the Japanese promotion Pride FC after financial struggles in kickboxing competitions, leaving his job at the Anti-Terrorist unit to fully commit to MMA soon after.
In his first six fights, he defeated Kazuyuki Fujita (x2), Kazushi Sakuraba, and he drew against Pride middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva. In his early time with Pride, he made sure to be a threat to all athletes who would step in the ring against him and his third victim was Heath Herring, whom he defeated via body kick.
Mirko also became the first man to finish Igor Vovchanchyn by KO and this was the moment that many fans saw as a passing of the torch. After another win, Cro Cop finally suffered his first loss at the hands of Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira via armbar submission in a fight for the Pride Interim Heavyweight Championship.
A two-fight comeback streak put Filipović in the 2004 Pride FC Grand Prix, where he faced former UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman and was defeated via KO. This result was one of the biggest upsets in MMA at the time.
Cro Cop went on to face many competitors but really started jumping into the title picture after knocking out Alexander Emelianenko and former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett. He also managed to avenge his loss to Randleman. After defeating another former UFC heavyweight champion in Mark Coleman, Mirko then called out Pride FC heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko.
Cro Cop vs Fedor
With years and years of speculation and excitement of this matchup, it finally came to fruition in 2005 and was one of the most exciting matchups to ever take place. Both fighters had major success, but with more time and top pressure came the downfall of Filipović. Fedor became extremely dominant towards the end of the fight and would go on to win the fight by unanimous decision.
The fight won Fight of the Year honours and also Fight of the Decade by Sports Illustrated Magazine. Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko Cro Cop showed pure heart, grit, and determination. This is a fight that many fans look back on and smile. It was the epitome of violence at the time and is one of the best showcases of styles in mixed martial arts.
The Ending of Pride
Cro Cop faced Josh Barnett two more times and finally won his first professional belt in combat sports. He won this belt on his 32nd birthday and delivered a heartfelt speech about what it meant to him to be champion. Mirko described this as the happiest day of his life and then went on to try for a rematch against Fedor that unfortunately did not materialize. Zuffa then bought ownership of Pride FC and the rematch became lost, almost forgotten in the debris of the fall of Pride.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship
After Zuffa bought ownership of Pride FC, Cro Cop found himself signing with the UFC and made his debut on the same card as Lyoto Machida, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and Frankie Edgar. Filipović became the biggest betting favorite in UFC history at the time in his debut against Eddie Sanchez.
He then went on to face Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 70, where the winner was almost guaranteed a title shot. To the shock of almost every MMA fan around the world, Gonzaga knocked Cro Cop out cold with his very own head kick and many had concluded that Mirko was finished in combat sports. However he wasn’t done yet, and his next fight was a unanimous decision loss against Cheick Kongo.
Return To Japan!
Cro Cop went back to Japan after being cut by the UFC and joined Dream FC, a promotion that many saw as the rebirth of Pride. He fought Tatsuya Mizuno, winning by TKO, as well as Allistair Overeem, with that bout ending in no contest due to illegal knees to the groin by Overeem. Filipović had one more fight in Japan outside of Dream before returning to the UFC. In this fight, he faced Hong Man Choi and won the fight by TKO via leg kicks. A little under a year later, Mirko returned to the US and was finally back where many fans thought he belonged, though that wasn’t quite the case.
The Final Stand
In his long-awaited return to the UFC, Cro Cop won his first fight back but then lost to rising contender Junior Dos Santos. He would then go on a two-fight win streak before Frank Mir, Brendan Schaub, and Roy Nelson knocked him out. This was becoming an all too common theme, which worried fans around the world.
He suffered one more career loss against Alexei Oleinik via a scarf-hold choke before finishing at an all-time high with two wins against Satoshi Ishii, a rematch against Gabriel Gonzaga where Cro Cop won by TKO, and then a stint for the Japanese promotion RIZIN, winning all of his fights with the promotion by either submission or KO/TKO.
His last fight was a rematch against Roy Nelson, where he won by unanimous decision. Two weeks after the fight, Cro Cop suffered a stroke at the age of 44 which forced him into retirement. However, many fans thought this was long overdue. Despite the stroke, Cro Cop continues to train at the legendary Mirko Filipović hall.
Mirko Cro Cop is one of the most legendary names in all of combat sports. He put Croatia on the map and put the MMA world on notice, bringing in hundreds of thousands of new fans. His legend will always live on, despite his downfalls in the UFC. He has become one of the most beloved fighters of all time and rightfully so. Despite his career being over, Cro Cop is training his son Ivan Filipović, who looks like a promising athlete to hopefully one day become as decorated as his father, though that will be no easy feat.
What are some of your favorite Mirko Cro Cop memories? Let us know in the comments below!
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Featured Image Credit to Embed from Getty Images.