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The UFC's Best 'Sprawl And Brawl' Fighters

By Cliff Montgomery,
Let's face an important fact: most fighters are simply better at some techniques than they are at others. Therefore employing these skills at the right time can often mean the difference between a win and a loss. Whether it's an ever-adaptable "sprawl and brawl" tactic made famous by such artists as Wanderlei Silva and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, or the overpowering "ground-and-pound" technique expertly employed by such wrestlers as Randy Couture and Matt Hughes, properly employing that tactical strength makes champions.

We'll look at three fighters who are textbook examples of the "sprawl and brawl" warrior: Wanderlei Silva, Pedro "The Rock" Rizzo, and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.

Born July 3, 1976, Wanderlei Silva is a Brazilian Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, currently sparring in Japan's PRIDE Fighting Championships. He trains under Rudimar Fedrigo in Curitiba, Brazil's Chute Boxe Academy.

Silva quickly earned the nickname "the Axe Murderer" for his wild and aggressive style. A great number of his fights have either ended with a knockout or a referee stoppage due to Silva's strikes. In the ring, he often attacks opponents with a combination of punches and knee strikes while in the Muay Thai clinch. Unfortunately, he is also known for kicking and stomping downed opponents while holding the ring ropes--though only when the rules do not forbid it.

Silva's aggressive style is rooted in old-fashioned street brawling, refined with elements of Muay Thai and kickboxing.

Silva"s nickname in Brazil is "Cachorro Louco", which translates to "Mad Dog"--partly because of his aggressive fighting style, and partly because of the vicious way he stares down his opponent just before the start of the match. Perhaps because of his passionate and physical fighting style, Silva's amateur bouts can still be found on the Internet, featuring raw, bare-knuckle 'Vale Tudo' style fighting.

But don't get the impression that Silva is just some bully; he has been properly trained in Muay Thai, and has recently received a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Pedro "The Rock" Rizzo (born May 3, 1974-) is a Brazilian MMA fighter and professional kickboxer. Rizzo is considered to be a top striker among a sea of fine MMA strikers.

Rizzo is a four-time Brazilian Muay Thai champion, with an excellent record of 31-0-1 (30 KO) in kickboxing. He also holds victories over such MMA fighters as former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski and PRIDE 2000 Grand Prix champion Mark Coleman. Trained by Vale Tudo legend Marco Ruas, Rizzo has adopted Ruas' brutal leg kicks with brutal efficiency. He's also refined his strong kickboxing skills to great effect in the UFC cage. But the move to Japan's PRIDE event has so far not gone well for the former UFC Heavyweight Title contender.

"Pedro Rizzo is one of the greatest strikers in mixed martial arts. If he had the aggressive attitude of, say, Wanderlei Silva, he would just crush everybody."-- Joe Rogan, at UFC 45.

Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was born on September 10, 1974. He is a Croatian kickboxer whose MMA star has shown brightly in both the K-1 and Pride Fighting Championships.

Filipovic is perhaps best-known for his vicious left high-kicks, considered by many to be one of the most dangerous weapons in the MMA; several opponents have been instantly knocked unconscious by a Filipovic kick to the head. There is perhaps a reason for these powerful kicks; Filipovic is also a football player on the Croatian team Cibalia Vinkovci.

In 1996, then 21-year-old Filipovic first entered the K-1 Grand Prix elimination tournament. At the time, he was working as a commando in the Croatian police anti-terrorist unit Alpha (stationed in Lucko near Zagreb). This quickly earned him his nickname Cro Cop.

He returned to K-1 three years later in 1999. Though Filipovic did only moderately well, he was given a wildcard into the world tournament. This was Filipovic's chance. He shocked the MMA world by demolishing highly regarded K-1 fighter Mike Bernardo, in what many fight fans consider one of the biggest upsets in K-1 history.

Citing pay concerns, Filipovic switched to the more lucrative Pride Fighting Championship in 2001. A year later, he also left his job at the anti-terrorist unit in order to put full focus on his martial arts career.

The Cro-cop's string of PRIDE wins secured him a chance to fight for the interim heavyweight champion title against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in November 2003. Filipovic's stand-up fighting proved effective in the first round, where he remained on his feet. However, Nogueira prevailed in the second round after a successful takedown.

In November 2003--the same month in which the match with Nogueira took place--Filipovic ran as a non-party candidate on the Social Democratic Party list in parliamentary elections. He won that election, thereby becoming perhaps the first MMA fighter to attain a seat in the Croatian Parliament.

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