"Right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery."
The idea has been alive since the beginning of the sport: take someone with excellent stand-up, be it boxer, kickboxer or a Muay Thai expert, make him competent on the ground and you have one hell of a fighter.
Mixed martial arts is chock full of fearsome strikers, human knockout machines that electrify audiences with their abrupt and violent endings to fights. Guys like Paul Daley, Melvin Manhoef, and Phil Baroni have made entire careers out of their ability to separate opponents from their consciousness.
Unfortunately, those fighters faltered against the truly elite of the sport because the biggest hole in their skill set, their lack of grappling proficiency, held them back.
After spending most of their life developing and honing their fists to be deadly weapons, not much time is left to become a world class grappler.
Enter Mirko Filipovic.
After spending time in K-1, trading punches and kicks with some of the world's greatest strikers, he decided to trade in the 10-ounce boxing gloves in favor of the four-ounce MMA gloves. But instead of trying to create a ground game overnight, "Cro Cop" decided to sidestep that predicament altogether by developing the best takedown defense this side of B.J. Penn.
He terrorized Japan for years before coming stateside and suffering from the effects of time and the sport's evolution. After his knockout loss at UFC 128 to Brendan Schaub, his second in a row, many feel it's time for "Cro Cop" to hang the gloves up. Should that be the case, the last chapter of one the greatest careers in MMA will have been written.
He first caught the eye of MMA fans at "Shockwave 2002," when he used his gameplan of sprawl and brawl perfectly to earn a technical knockout victory over Kazushi Sakuraba. He broke the Japanese legend's orbital bone in the process.
"Cro Cop's" real coming out party was against Heath Herring at "Bad to the Bone." He pummeled the former title contender for three minutes, forcing the referee to halt the beating after a barrage of punches and kicks. It was only his fifth MMA fight.
For the next two years, he made his left high kick the most feared strike in the sport. Filipovic became a human highlight reel. He even battered the living legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for 10 minutes before the Brazilian was able to employ the kind of come from behind victory that would make Rocky Balboa jealous.
He suffered his first real setback in the sport when he was knocked out by Kevin Randleman at "Total Elimination 2004." His dream of meeting the PRIDE Heavyweight Champion, Fedor Emelianenko, was put on hold as a result. When he returned, less than one month later, he came back like a man possessed. He rattled off seven wins, six by first round stoppage, including vengeance over Randleman.
He finally fought Emelianenko at "Final Conflict 2005," in one of the greatest fights of all time, but came up short. He then split his next two fights, defeating Josh Barnett by decision but dropping a bout to Mark Hunt. When Pride announced their Openweight Grand Prix, "Cro Cop" decided that this was it; this was his opportunity to cement his legacy.
Four fights, four first round stoppages, including a brutal knockout over the Middleweight Champion Wanderlei Silva. In the finals, he met Barnett again but this time, the Croatian beat him into submission. Mirko Filipovic was finally a champion.
He then signed with the UFC and made his much anticipated U.S. debut. A fight against the unheralded Eddie Sanchez was a mere formality and he was booked in a title eliminator against Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 70. It was on this night, April 21, 2007, that "Cro Cop's" career took a turn down a road he could not come back from.
He suffered a first round knockout, the most brutal head kick I have ever seen in this sport. It was a sort of sick irony. The head kick that had become Mirko's signature had also become his undoing.
The fearsome striker was never the same after that. He struggled against or even lost to competition he would have annihilated just a few short years prior. His knockout against Schaub appears to be the final nail in his coffin.
But every funeral shouldn't be solely about mourning the passing of someone we cared about. It should also be a celebration of that person and what they accomplished. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top five biggest hits in Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic's amazing career.
5. vs. Igor Vovchanchyn - PRIDE FC: "Total Elimination 2003"
4. vs. Ibragim Magomedov - PRIDE FC: "Critical Countdown 2005"
3. vs. Aleksander Emelianenko - PRIDE FC: "Final Conflict 2004"
2. vs. Bob Sapp - K-1: 2003 World Grand Prix
1. vs. Wanderlei Silva - PRIDE FC: "Final Conflict Absolute"
Feel free to share your favorite "Cro Cop" moments in the comments below. If this is, in fact, the end, what will you miss the most?