It was precipitated by a dubious decision in the opening bout, but Mirko Filipovic has finally achieved his dream, beating three quality opponents in succession earlier today (March 15, 2013) to win the K-1 2013 World Grand Prix tournament in his hometown of Zagreb, Croatia.
However, it didn't come easy. The Croatian Sensation -- who was the runner-up in the prestigious tournament in 1999, losing to kickboxing legend Ernesto Hoost via stoppage -- struggled mightily in his opening bout, getting physically overpowered by unbeaten American Jarrell Miller and punished with knees to the body for much of their fight.
While I and many others saw the fight as a clear victory for Miller (check out the blow-by-blow coverage here), the judges disagreed, sending "Cro Cop" into the semifinals.
The Ukraine's Pavel Zhuravlev -- who upset one of Filipovic's countrymen in Catalin Morosanu -- was there to meet him. Being younger, bigger and faster, he was expected to avenge Miller in brutal fashion.
Cro Cop, an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran and Pride FC Open Weight Grand Prix Winner in 2006, came out with significantly more aggression, hurting Zhuravlev repeatedly with his patented liver kick and -- in one memorable instance -- sending him stumbling across the ring with a vicious left straight. In short, he looked like the Cro Cop who mixed martial arts (MMA) fans thought had died back in 2007, winning a legitimate decision over a very difficult opponent.
The finals, at least on paper, looked like another story altogether.
Before this tournament, I stated that either Badr Hari or Hesdy Gerges would win the tournament (read the preview and predictions here) and that I expected it to be Gerges. However, his first opponent -- Suriname's Ismael Londt -- had other ideas, attacking with insane aggression reminiscent of training partner Melvin Manhoef before breaking Gerges' nose with a flying knee in the third round and advancing to the semifinals.
Londt was originally set to face Hari, who battered an undersized but insanely tough Zabit Samedov, but Hari was forced to pull out because of a broken foot, leaving Londt to pummel reserve fighter Dzevad Poturak into submission. Again a bigger, stronger man -- one who fought for far less time to get to the finals -- Cro Cop's incredible run was expected to come to an end.
Didn't happen, either.
Again, Cro Cop displayed an intensity that had seemed long-gone, attacking with long punching combinations and dirty boxing in the clinch. In the second round, he even landed his legendary left high kick in similar fashion to the blow that felled Mark Hunt back at the K-1 Grand Priz in 2002, faking a straight to force Londt's hands down.
While Londt managed to rise from the blow, Cro Cop poured on the punishment to the end of the round and survived a late body bruising by Londt to win a unanimous decision.
Not bad for an old man, not bad at all.
While the pay-per-view (PPV) production left much be desired with annoying hosts, poor sound on the ring, and a video stream that died for about an hour, it's hard not to crack a smile at Cro Cop, 38, finally winning a K-1 World Grand Prix title. It's been a long time coming and it could not have happened to a better, more deserving veteran of combat sports.
To check out complete K-1 Grand Prix 2012 results and full play-by-play of the proceedings click here.