In fact, Filipovic has not only used the high kick effectively (usually the left high kick); it's been his preferred weapon in becoming one of the greatest- if not the greatest- heavyweight stand up fighter in mixed martial arts history. But speaking of history, let's hear about his.
Filipovic started fighting in 1996, eventually leaving his job as a commando in the Croatian police anti-terrorist unit Alpha to do so. However, his initial gig was not in mixed martial arts. In fact, he became a kickboxer first, following fellow Croatian Branko Cikatic' into the ring. Cikatic was the first ever K-1 Grand Prix winner.
It is as a police officer that he first earned his nickname, Cro Cop. The name has stuck to the point that many refer to him by it alone in the mixed martial arts world.
Filipovic's K-1 kickboxing career started with promise in 1996 when he defeated the highly qualified Jerome Le Banner. However, he then lost a decision to Ernesto Hoost, who would prove to be his nemesis for years to come.
Three years later in 1999, Cro Cop once again impressed in the K- 1 Grand Prix tournament, knocking out Mike Bernardo in a huge upset, and then doing the same to Musashi (real name Akio Mori) and Sam Greco before coming up against Hoost again (the fighter that defeated him back in 1996). Once more, Hoost stopped Mirko Cro Cop, even if many believe that a broken rib suffered in the previous bouts impacted his performance that night.
In 2000, Mirko Cro Cop reached another tournament style final, this time the Nagoya Grand Prix. However Mike Bernardo, the man that Filipovic had stopped back in 1999, ended his run. Filipovic won something in that fight, though. He gained an immense amount of respect from the Japanese fighting community because he fought Bernardo on a damaged leg (he literally limped into the ring). Despite the morale victory, later in 2000 Filipovic once again lost to Hoost.
In 2001, after a knockout loss to Michael McDonald, Filipovic made the switch to MMA, specifically to Pride Fighting Championships. It is only recently that he completely ceased kickboxing, however. Even after starting his MMA career, Filipovic defeated such respected fighters as Mark Hunt (decision), Remy Bonjasky (TKO) and most notably, enormous former NFL football defensive lineman Bob Sapp (KO) in the kickboxing ring.
When asked how many hours his training consisted of in the Fightsport.com interview referenced earlier, Mirko Cro Cop said, "depends on the training phase. But I always train two times per day. On an average, at least one and a half hours per training session."
Beyond that, he works on both kickboxing and grappling. Included in the grappling work are elements of wrestling, Sambo, and especially, Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu. In fact, after a submission loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, a match that he was clearly winning before hitting the canvas with the Brazilian, Mirko Cro Cop severed ties with then grappling coach Mike Bencic and began training with Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu Black Belt, Fabricio Werdum. Since then, his ground game has clearly improved ten-fold.
Mirko Cro Cop employs a fighting style all his own in the Pride ring. When up against less athletic fighters or those that would prefer to fight standing up, he tends to attack. When up against elite athletes or those with strong grappling backgrounds, he tends to wait for the counterstrike in the hopes of not being taken down.
Regardless, Mirko Cro Cop Filipovic has always had two things going for him. First, his kicks, whether high or low, are the most lethal that the MMA world has ever seen. Second, he's got some of the best takedown defense in the game today (the equivalent, perhaps, of a bigger Chuck Liddell in that category). His ability to keep fighters from taking him down is what has allowed him to employ his striking game time after time. In addition, his hands are good as well. He tends toward straight, fast punches with knockout power.
Mirko Cro Cop has exhibited decent takedown skills of the Sambo/ Judo variety during his career. Since beginning to train with Werdum, he has also shown the ability to defend against submissions and improve his position on the ground when on top. Further, he's also exhibited an ability to survive in the guard for long periods of time against highly respectable competition (he was in his guard for an extended period against Pride Heavyweight Champion, Fedor, for example). However, Mirko Cro Cop still does not appear to have much in the line of ground submissions.
Still, his astounding MMA success had been initially tempered by some of the bad karma that seemed to plague him during his kickboxing career. Simply put, that close but no cigar label continued for a while in MMA. Time after time he lost his chance at the Pride Heavyweight title.
He was beaten by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by arm bar when, according to his own reports, he got careless in a fight that he was clearly winning (that would've netted him a championship shot against Fedor); he was upset in devastating fashion by Kevin Randleman, via a vicious knockout in the 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix; and, when he finally did get his chance against Pride Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko on 8/28/05, he was beaten in the stand up game (and lost a decision).
Even on the road back from the loss to Fedor, he faltered, again seemingly beaten at his strength (stand up), this time losing a close decision to Mark Hunt. In that particular loss, many felt that Filipovic seemed to forget he was involved in an MMA match, not a kickboxing bout. With Hunt's lack of grappling skills, it would've seemed logical to simply take him down. Unfortunately for Filipovic, he employed that strategy way too late (the match ended with Hunt mounted and Cro Cop about to rain down punches).
Many believed that Filipovic was simply fighting too often against elite competition. After all, from 2004-05 he had entered Pride's ring 13 times. Further, the perceived championship failures by a man with such obvious skills had people like Pride Announcer Mauro Ranallo referring to Filipovic as, "the king without a crown."
Filipovic seemed to agree with those that believed he was working too hard, as he took five consecutive months off after the loss to Hunt. That is, until the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix.
First, Ikuhiso "The Punk" Minowa went down at his hands. Then under an onslaught of furious low kicks, he stopped former Judo Gold Medalist, Hidehiko Yoshida. Finally on his birthday (9/10/06), Filipovic came through in dramatic fashion. His devastating 1st round knockout of Wanderleir Silva with a patented high left kick set the stage for a championship bout with Josh Barnett on the same night, a man that he had defeated two times previously.
One round in, a battered Barnett was forced to tap under a deluge of strikes. And with that, Filipovic had finally shed the label of "the king without a crown."
After the fight, a man known for a lack of emotion and dialogue took the microphone at the center of the ring and opened up in his native tongue with tears in his eyes. Back in the dressing room, Pride color commentator and fellow fighter Frank Trigg said the following to Filipovic. "I've been watching you for a long time, and I've never once seen you show anything in the face I see right before me now. Completely a poker face (usually); you never show any emotion. And when you won, you completely broke down."
Filipovic's response seemed to say it all. "I swear with everything I've got, I told myself if I don't take this belt it will be my last MMA fight in my life. I would quit fighting; I swear. And that's why I said, now or never."
Good thing for fight fans it was 'now' rather than 'never'.
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