The new old Mirko


"Thank God finally I have recovered completely. I had a very bad injury two years ago. My leg was broken. The knee was completely broken. I had three surgeries for the knee, and of course it reflected in my kicking. … I decided to take another fight with [Junior] Dos Santos, which wasn't a smart idea in that condition."

When the aging and increasingly ineffectual Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic delivers a speech like that -- as he did for an interview with MMAJunkie.com -- you have to wonder whom he's trying to convince.

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Filipovic, formerly one of the most successful kickboxers to make the transition to MMA, had a phase in the early part of the last decade where he seemed almost too violent for a very violent sport. Watching him peck away at fighters who displayed far inferior stand-up ability was nearly upsetting: A live "Cro Cop" fight was like watching a train barrel down a stranded car -- with the car having no idea what's coming. It was the kind of entertainment you get from a horror movie.

That agitation has disappeared. Filipovic's mauling of Josh Barnett in late 2006 was more or less the last bow for a determined-looking and dangerous version. When he made his UFC debut five months later, it looked as though five years had passed. Against Eddie Sanchez, he looked bored; against Gabriel Gonzaga, he ate a screenwriter's twist of being fed his own trademark left high kick; there haven't been many bright spots since. (After a loss to Dos Santos, he openly contemplated retirement, though few took it seriously: The time after a disappointing performance is not really the window to make important decisions.)

So he fights again Saturday, against compact striker Pat Barry in a match that might be considered a torch-passer. Everything has changed: training partners, gym, health, attitude. Fans who have been through a few rounds of this know the drill, and they're either immune or they're so intoxicated by the idea of a fighter returning to form that they buy into it.

Either way, it's not really meant to entice them. Fighting is a profession with no corners to hide in. If you turn in a crap day at work, you might embarrass yourself in front of a few co-workers. When Filipovic or any fighter drops the ball, parts of him can get broken and the footage can play in perpetuity. If you're going to return to the scene of a tragedy, there's nothing wrong with a little self-delusion.

A quote like the one above could have its intended effect if Filipovic walked around repeating it to himself instead of to media. It's Filipovic, not fans, who need to believe things will be different this time; it's Filipovic, not fans, who needs to enter the cage with no memory of his recent failure; and it's Filipovic, not anyone else, who needs to unearth a reason why outside influences -- not age or wear -- turned him cold.

It's about changing variables. Filipovic places himself in a different set of circumstances by training differently and feeling surgically repaired. Frank Mir made a comment last week that indicated he might consider a drop to 205 pounds after spending months lifting aggressively to thicken his trunk and increase his horsepower. After losses to Shane Carwin and Brock Lesnar, he needs a different face to look at in the mirror -- dropping or gaining weight is a classic technique, even when the athlete has to be practically carried to the scale. At least it's something new.

Does it ever actually work? Sometimes. If you're outsized, you have a legitimate issue that could be corrected. But if you're using affirmations to ignore what your body is trying to tell you -- that it's time to move on -- you do it a disservice.

We'll probably get the old Mirko on Saturday, but not the one he prefers.