Mirko Filipovic (24-6-2) is back for a second run inside the Octagon with Mustapha Al-Turk preparing to welcome him at UFC 99 on June 13. Aptly titled "The Comeback," the Cologne, Germany event will begin Filipovic's quest to erase the memory of a limp 1-2 run with Zuffa that started and ended with three fights in 2007.
"Cro Cop" was successful in his UFC debut, beating an unheralded Eddie Sanchez via technical knockout in the first round at UFC 67. But unfortunately for the former PRIDE Grand Prix Champion, his next two UFC outings, both in England, were not so savory.
At UFC 70, in the most ironic kick in MMA history, Filipovic nearly had his head taken off by Brazilian Yeti Gabriel Gonzaga. In Mirko’s third and final UFC fight, French Kickboxer Cheick Kongo handed the Croatian sensation a lopsided unanimous decision loss at UFC 75.
Now we can officially "Call it a Comeback." The former Croatian cop made his presence felt earlier this afternoon during a conference call with UFC President Dana White to talk about his aforementioned return.
Right out the gate, Cro Cop was questioned about his previous struggles inside the Octagon and what preparations he was making to ensure his second go-round would yield different results.
"To tell you the truth, it is hard for me to say. I am not 100-percent sure exactly. I have spent a lot of time thinking about it. I wasn’t the old Mirko Cro Cop, that is for sure. I wasn’t adapted for the cage as well as I would have liked. Maybe I wasn’t hungry enough, I don’t know. I think I went through a phase where I didn’t smell blood in a fight at the level I used to. I know I over thought things too much."
Cro Cop pushed past his previous UFC tenure, stating he is now completely motivated and injury free, after opting to have surgery earlier this year to correct nagging injuries.
"I am hungry, I am focused and I am in great shape for this fight. The surgeries are behind me. I am completely focused on my training. I have let go of my police officer duties. I am not returning just to return. I will prove this in the cage. You will see a very different Mirko Cro Crop at UFC 99. My goal is to come in, win a few fights and work my way toward a title fight."
Cro Cop cited unfinished business as the biggest reason for his return as well as being able to deliver for the UFC fans who may not have gotten what they were expecting back in 2007.
UFC President Dana White, himself a Cro Cop fan, knew that Filipovic would one day make good on his promise to return.
"He expressed to me just how bad he wanted to return. He talked about the success of his surgery, how hard he has been training and his interest in making a run at the title. When I talked to him about fighting in Germany he was so fired up. I have always said I respect Mirko…that his return was a phone call away and there it was."
When talk turned to his UFC 99 opponent, Mirko expressed nothing but respect for Mustapha Al-Turk.
"For me every opponent is a dangerous opponent. (He) showed courage accepting the fight with only three weeks to go. We are both coming in on short notice and I respect Al-Turk for that. I will be ready for him though. I will be ready for his ground work, for his clinch, for whatever he is going to do."
When asked about the difference between fighting in the ring versus the cage, Mirko admitted that each was unique in their own way and that he may have underestimated the importance of understanding the cage back in 2007.
"They are definitely different. I know very well because I spent my whole career in the ring and I just entered the cage and underestimated it. It’s much easier to go from the cage to the ring then from the ring to the cage. The cage is set and many experienced UFC fighters like to use the cage; they like to use the wire.
It can be hard to escape from against the wire and fighters can use elbows there. In the ring you can put your head out of the ropes and they put you back in the middle of the ring. If you don’t know how to escape the wire you are in trouble."
Beyond the cage, a big question concerning Cro Cop’s return to the UFC was the type of contract he had negotiated. There was speculation that it was a one-fight deal and when Dana was questioned about the topic, he offered no definitive answers -- but did reveal the free-spirited nature of their transaction.
"Mirko and I are still sorting out the details of the contract. He ended up on this card last minute -– just a few weeks before the event. This whole deal was done verbally over the phone between me and him. In the history of the company, I have never done this with any fighter. I know how I feel about Mirko and how he feels about me. I respect his goals. We have a great relationship so we'll see what happens."
White was also asked if Cro Cop's UFC future was contingent on a win at UFC 99.
"I can’t say for sure yet. Cro Cop and I have a great relationship so it’s something we will discuss together. Just because you lose one fight in the UFC doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to leave. There are a lot of different factors. Mirko will fight this fight and we will talk after this fight and see what happens.
While betting lines fluctuate, one thing is for certain: Cro Cop’s UFC legacy is riding the line. Right now, putting his illustrious career into perspective is a precarious endeavor.
Obviously the lore of Filipovic will forever live on in the hearts and minds of hardcore fans with memorable wins over elite names like Josh Barnett, Wanderlei Silva, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Aleksander Emelianenko, Kazuyuki Fujita and Heath Herring.
Even in losses to Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, he proved he could battle with the "best of the best" in their prime.
Only one thing matters now for the accomplished fighter: Cro Cop’s last stand in the UFC. It’s a stand he chose to take and one that will solidify -- or jeopardize his lasting legacy.