Two of the UFC's most beloved heavyweights will do battle this Saturday night (October 29, 2011) as Pride legend Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic takes on The Ultimate Fighter season 10 winner Roy "Big Country" Nelson on the UFC 137 main card.
Coming to the UFC in 2007 behind a tremendous wave of hype that was unparalleled at the time, "Cro Cop" has never lived up to the ridiculous expectations for him. His legacy in Japan is secure, but with one fight left on his UFC contract and at 37 years old, he'd love to go out with one last highlight reel stoppage against Nelson.
Roy Nelson, just two years younger than his Croatian opponent, was only 6-0 and competing in the local circuit when Filipovic was on top of the world in 2006. Both men's careers have taken a different trajectory since that point, but with two losses in a row, Nelson is in need of a big win to get back on track and perhaps even keep his job.
Can "Cro Cop" hearken back to his 2006 self for one night and perhaps end his UFC career with a bang? Will a slimmer Roy Nelson be the key he needs to get back on track in the division? What is each fighter's path to victory on Saturday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 27-9-2 (1 No Contest) overall, 4-5 in the UFC
How he got here: Right leg hospital, left leg cemetery. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was once the most feared man in mixed martial arts. His ability to blast his opposition with powerful leg, body and head kicks made him a legend in Japan's Pride organization, where he, alongside Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, stood on top of the world in the heavyweight division for a span of four years from 2002-2006.
"Cro Cop" solidified himself when he won the Pride 2006 Open-Weight Grand Prix, stopping both Josh Barnett and Wanderlei Silva in the first round on the same night. When Pride was purchased by the UFC, he was expected to instantly come to the promotion and challenge champion Randy Couture for the title, but then everything went awry.
After winning his Octagon debut against Eddie Sanchez, Filipovic would get knocked out cold in ironic fashion by a Gabriel Gonzaga head kick, one of the most brutal knockouts in MMA history, and he's never truly been the same since. Filipovic has gone 5-5 with 1 no contest in his last 11 fights and has been brutally knocked out in his last two Octagon appearances against Frank Mir and Brendan Schaub. His upcoming bout against Roy Nelson is the final fight on his UFC contract.
How he gets it done: Range is key for "Cro Cop" in this fight. As evidenced by his fight against Pat Barry, he can still be dangerous if allowed to find his range and land his full repertoire of kicks. He's not just a one-trick pony with his left head kick, he can all sorts of them from axe kicks to Brazilian kicks.
The key for the Croatian kickboxer is to keep Roy Nelson on the outside. If he allows him to get inside with his punches or clinch with him, he's going to have issues. Filipovic has held his own in his last two fights against Frank Mir and Brendan Schaub before getting blasted with a huge knockout blow. The key for him is to not have that breakdown in his defense and allow his opponent to be aggressive.
Filipovic should be prepared to underhook and push off every time Nelson comes in with a clinch attempt and should utilize side kicks, push kicks and his jab to keep his opponent at bay. If at some point he does enter the clinch, he can land some short elbows before backing away, potentially open up some nice cuts as well.
Record: 15-6 overall, 2-2 in the UFC
Key Wins: Brendan Schaub (Ultimate Finale 10), Stefan Struve (UFC Fight Night 21)
How he got here: Roy Nelson made his mark outside the UFC, most notably as the inaugural IFL heavyweight champion. After defending the strap twice, the promotion folded and "Big Country" stepped in on 10 day's notice to take on former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski under the Elite XC banner. Nelson was in control of the bout but a horrible stand-up ruined his night and allowed Arlovski to score a knockout victory.
The beer-bellied brawler would redeem himself on TUF 10, easily grappling his way to the finale where he would blast Brendan Schaub in the first round of the championship fight to win the show's title. He followed it up by taking out "The Skyscraper" Stefan Struve with another first round knockout.
Nelson earned a number one contender fight with Junior dos Santos at UFC 117 for his efforts and would give his best Homer Simpson impression, absorbing enough punishment in three rounds to baffle physicists. After losing a unanimous decision to "Cigano," he would eventually fight former UFC champion and friend Frank Mir at UFC 130 this past summer. Nelson, battling walking pneumonia, would get physically dominated by Mir over the course of three rounds en route to losing a unanimous decision. "Big Country" is in serious need of a victory.
How he gets it done: The most important thing of all for the Las Vegas native is to get inside. Roy Nelson has absolutely nothing for Mirko Filipovic on the outside other than being a huge punching (and kicking) bag. Whether he can close the distance and land his brutal overhand right or simply initiate a clinch and work for a takedown, "Big Country" must do everything in his power to get in the former Pride legend's grill all night long.
Footwork will be key. If Nelson can maneuver Filipovic towards the fence, he can lunge forward with a hook and then close it off with a clinch and a takedown attempt. Nelson has some serious power in both hands, especially his right. If he can connect flush, "Cro Cop" will be going to sleep. Once in the clinch, expect to see Nelson work very hard for takedowns. He hasn't really had an opportunity to showcase his ground game since season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter but Nelson is a highly accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Renzo Gracie.
Don't be surprised one bit if Nelson tries to take this fight to the ground and either utilize his ground and pound or simply wear Filipovic down by making the Croatian carry his weight for a couple rounds. It will be very exhausting to have a huge man like that on top of you, holding you down and putting pressure on your core.
Filopovic has only ever been submitted once in his career by "Big Nog" so a submission finish is unlikely, but he definitely could be controlled by "Big Country" en route to a unanimous decision as Nelson puts it, "GSP-style."
Fight "X-Factor:" There X-Factors for this fight. The first is the chin strength of both men. Roy Nelson has survived some serious beatings in his career and come out looking fine. Filipovic, on the other hand, has been stopped four times in his UFC career alone, three by brutal knockout. If it comes down to Nelson having to take a blow to give one, he'll be the one that comes out better for it.
The other factor is "Cro Cop's" ability to keep the fight standing. His ground game is underrated, sure, but he's only scored submission victories against fighters inexperienced in jiu-jitsu. He will need to stuff every one of Roy Nelson's takedown attempts if he wants to win this fight because "Big Country" will certainly be trying to utilize his full skill-set in this fight. If Filipovic finds himself on his back early in a round, he could be in for a world of hurt.
Bottom Line: This is a battle of two highly experienced heavyweights that are both desperate for a victory. Both Filipovic and Nelson have lost two straight, so they could either try to go guns blazing or be extremely tentative in trying to remain employed. This is the final fight in "Cro Cop's" contract so he appears to be the one most likely to take risks and look to either score a dramatic stoppage or go out on his shield while Roy Nelson has a bit more pressure on him to score a big win and get back on track in the division. There is potential for this fight to be great, but it all depends on if both men are willing to engage in that type of fight.
Who will come out on top at UFC 137? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!