Mirko Filipovic is without a doubt one of the true greats, a mixed martial arts (MMA) legend.
That would be pretty hard to believe, however, if you judged him solely on his time spent competing for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Racking up a 4-6 record, "Cro Cop's" fights inside the Octagon didn't resemble the vicious and fear-inducing performances the Croatian put in night after night during his dominant reign with PRIDE FC from 2001 to 2006.
He won 18 bouts -- 13 by devastating knockout -- including winning the 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix, while losing only four fights with two draws.
But, according to Cro Cop, once his UFC career began, so did a string of injuries that affected his performances inside the cage. Injuries that, in hindsight, he probably should have let heal rather than rushing back into action.
His words, from a lengthy (and rare) interview on "The MMA Hour" this afternoon:
"It's a black spot in my career, the UFC. UFC treated me like a king. UFC fans treated me like a king. I just failed, you know? Why? It's hard to say. New fighters are coming. But, I will always believe, I will always believe, maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm right; but I will always believe my bad UFC career started with injuries. I've told this story so many times, so, sometimes I just feel stupid to tell it gain and sometimes people will just not understand the way I think. There is an old wise (tale) that says, 'winners will always find a solution and losers will always find an excuse.' So, I don't want to sound like a loser who is finding some excuse. But the fact is, after my last fight in PRIDE and before my first fight in UFC, I had foot surgery. It was a broken foot. I had a broken foot after the PRIDE Grand Prix final. A fragment of the bone was floating in my foot. So, after surgery, it took me two and a half months away from training. I wasn't able to do kicking or running. I was riding a bicycle, push ups and sit ups, but I wasn't able to train in MMA. I had my first fight and I won it, but I felt really bad. I knew it wasn't me. After that, I lost to Gonzaga with a terrible high kick. I was surprised and shocked by the cage. At the end of the day it was my second time in the cage and Gonzaga destroyed me with elbows on the ground. So, after we stood up, I didn't have a double vision, I had three times vision. I saw three guys and he really beat me up badly and throw a high kick that I didn't even notice. After that, I broke my leg, I broke my knee so I had a fourth knee injury. I would say it's bad luck or maybe it's not. In my previous career, I didn't have any kind of injury so maybe I should consider myself lucky at the end of the day. In the UFC days, injury after injury. Then, before my last fight in UFC with Roy Nelson, I broke my arm. Not my bone, buy ligament broke in half completely. Pat Barry was there in training. I was sparring with Pat and I throw a right hook. I punched him to the head, but at the same time I felt a terrible pain. You could feel a hole in my bicep. The same night I went to the hospital and doctor said in two days I had to do surgery, but that was out of the question. In this case I was supposed to cancel the fight. I was preparing six months for that fight. I was crazy and I took my chances. Now I know that maybe I shouldn't do that and do things different. But, at the end of the day, to me, I couldn't wait another six months, maybe more. I just decided to go for the fight ad right after the fight go for the surgery. But, I don't feel sorry. That's the name of the game. It's not a shame to go down, it's a shame not to stand up. I'm fighter, I'm a warrior and that's my job. That's my love and I enjoy it."
Devastating injuries such as the one that former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva recently suffered at UFC 168 (details) that make Cro Cop to believe "The Spider" won't be able to return to his old ways even though he'd love to see nothing more.
But, that was then and this is now. And the 39-year old Filipovic says he feels as good as he's ever felt going into his kickboxing rematch against Remy Bonjasky this weekend (March 8, 2014) at Glory 14 in his backyard of Zagreb, Croatia.
It's a classic fight that could earn Cro Cop his eleventh straight victory in the sport -- the feared striker has proven his woes have mostly been limited to the MMA cage. Nevertheless, one can only imagine what kind of mark Cro Cop would have left inside the Octagon had he had a full bill of health.