MMA: Mirko Filipovic

UFC on Fuel 8 by the numbers

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
6:35
AM ET
By Andrew R. Davis
ESPN Stats & Information
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Wanderlei SilvaJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesWanderlei Silva has struggled against American opponents since 2007.

UFC on Fuel TV 8 takes place from the Saitama Super Arena in Japan this Saturday, the sixth time the UFC has traveled to the “Land of the Rising Sun.” The main event sees Wanderlei Silva battle Brian Stann at light heavyweight while Stefan Struve takes on Mark Hunt in a heavyweight bout. Here are the numbers you need to know for Saturday’s fights:

6: Fights Silva has had against an American fighter since his return to the UFC in 2007. He is 1-5 in those bouts, losing his past four (Rich Franklin twice, Chris Leben and Quinton Jackson). “The All-American” has fought just one Brazilian fighter in his career, defeating Jorge Santiago at UFC 130.

Wanderlei Silva, UFC Career vs. American Fighters:
UFC 147 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 132 Chris Leben L, KO
UFC 99 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 92 Quinton Jackson L, KO
UFC 84 Keith Jardine W, KO
UFC 79 Chuck Liddell L, UD

6: Times Silva has been defeated by KO or TKO in his 48-fight career. Four of those knockouts have come inside the UFC Octagon, while the other two were his last two PRIDE fights against Dan Henderson and Mirko Filipovic. The "Cro-Cop" fight was the last time Silva fought in Japan, which served as the home for PRIDE organization. Stann has nine KO/TKO wins in 17 career fights.

75: Percent of wins by "The Axe Murderer" that have come by KO or TKO (24 of 32). When Silva defeated Michael Bisping at UFC 110 by unanimous decision, it marked his first win not by KO or TKO since November 2003 at PRIDE: Final Conflict.

3: The combined takedowns by both fighters in their UFC careers (Silva 2, Stann 1). Each fighter attempts less than one takedown and one submission attempt per 15 minutes. In other words, it would be shocking to see this fight go to the ground unless one of the fighters gets knocked down.

2010: The last time former WEC light heavyweight champion Stann fought at 205 pounds, where he is 8-3 in his career. Stann will be dropping back to middleweight after this fight with Silva, where he holds a 4-2 record.

9: The reach advantage for 7-footer Stefan Struve in his co-main event bout against 5-foot-10 Mark Hunt. Struve’s reach is 83 inches while Hunt has a 74-inch reach. The 83-inch reach for Struve is second behind Jon Jones (84.5 inches) for longest reach in the UFC.

9: Wins for Struve inside the UFC Octagon, tied with Junior dos Santos, Gabriel Gonzaga and heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez for third among active heavyweights. With a win, he would join Frank Mir, Cheick Kongo, Andrei Arlovski and Randy Couture as the only UFC fighters with double-digit wins in the division.

Most UFC Wins, Active Heavyweight Fighters:
Frank Mir 14
Cheick Kongo 11
Cain Velasquez 9
Junior dos Santos 9
Gabriel Gonzaga 9
Stefan Struve 9*
*Four-fight win streak

3.9: Submissions attempted per 15 minutes for "The Skyscraper," fifth highest in UFC history and first among heavyweights. "The Super Samoan" has six submission defeats in seven career losses, all arm-related (three by armbar, two by kimura, one by keylock). Of Struve’s 16 submission victories, only three are by armbar (13 submissions by choke).

2: The main and co-main events are the only fights on the card not to feature a fighter from Japan or South Korea. There are nine Asia versus The World contests on the card. Japan is represented by Takanori Gomi, Yushin Okami, Mizuto Hirota, Riki Fukuda, Takeya Mizugaki, and Kazuki Tokudome. The South Koreans are represented in three matchups by Dong Hyun Kim, Kyung Ho Kang and Hyun Gyu Lim.

10 Count: Hyped debuts that didn't deliver

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
4:16
PM ET
Rossen By Jake Rossen
ESPN.com
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An unprecedented level of media coverage has surrounded the UFC debuts of female fighters Rhonda Rousey and Liz Carmouche at this weekend's UFC 157. While Carmouche has enjoyed press for making history as the promotion's first openly gay athlete, it's Olympic Judo player Rousey that remains the show's main attraction.

Dimpled, quick-witted and savage, Rousey is expected to emerge as one of the sport's top drawing cards. Having barely broken a sweat in her MMA career, winning seems to be a foregone conclusion.

But magazine covers are no guarantee of success, and not all heavily hyped debuts have gone the way promoters had hoped. Here's a look at fighters who failed to meet expectations their first time out of the gate:

10. Brock Lesnar (vs. Frank Mir, UFC 81, 2008)

A Renaissance man of violent contact sports, amateur wrestler Lesnar acquired his celebrity through a stint as a World Wrestling Entertainment attraction. When he tired of that industry's grueling road schedule, he decided to try out for the Minnesota Vikings despite never having played a day of college ball. When he failed to make the team, his focus turned to MMA -- realizing his dream, he once told an ESPN reporter, to "pick a fight on every street. If I wouldn't lose money, I'd fight ... every day."

Lesnar's UFC debut wasn't his first sanctioned bout: months earlier, it took him a minute to pummel an overmatched Min-Soo Kim in a little-seen pay-per-view event. But coming into the industry's leading promotion meant an unprecedented level of attention: Much was made of Lesnar's "lunchbox-sized hands" and a frightening level of agility for being a 280-pound slab of lean mass. It was a promotional tactic used by Japanese matchmakers for years to see if the pro wrestler had any real fight in him.

For a good portion of the 90 seconds he spent against Mir, the answer was yes. Lesnar quickly took Mir down and pounded him through the mat. But referee Steve Mazzagatti's restart -- Lesnar was docked a point for hitting behind the head -- seemed to slow his momentum, and his lack of submission knowledge cost him when Mir locked in a kneebar, forcing Lesnar to tap and exposing his limited training.

It was a painful education, and one Lesnar took to heart considering he practically disfigured Mir in their 2009 rematch.

9. Karam Ibrahim (vs. Kazuyuki Fujita, K-1 Dynamite, 2004)

While MMA has hosted a number of Olympic-level athletes and medal winners, the majority have been either alternates, bronze/silver competitors, or years removed from their prime. The Egyptian-born Ibrahim, however, holds the distinction of being the only mixed martial artist to have a prizefight the very same year he won his gold medal.

A Greco-Roman style wrestler, he was enticed by the promise of a sizable payday from Japan's K-1 promotion. Ibrahim's credentials were impeccable, and their choice of opponent was seemingly a gift as Fujita, an experienced fighter who nonetheless had Greco skills (as a national champion in Japan), paled in comparison to Ibrahim.

Call it an adrenaline dump, pure instinct, or just a temporary leave of his senses, but Ibrahim entered the ring completely forgetting his superior wrestling ability and decided to slug it out with Fujita -- a man dubbed "Ironhead" by the press for his near-inability to be knocked out. Predictably, Fujita brushed off Ibrahim's rudimentary strikes and needed barely a minute to send him crashing to the canvas.

Despite being in his athletic prime and world-class in the same base of wrestling that brought Randy Couture great success, Ibrahim never again competed in MMA. He remains one of the sport's greatest "what if" stories.

8. Renato "Babalu" Sobral (vs. Mikhail Zayats, Bellator 85, 2013)

A 16-year veteran, Sobral has fought all over the world and for virtually every major promotion, cultivating a name that made him one of Bellator's highest-profile acquisitions.

"Sobral is an awesome addition to the Bellator family," Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said at the time. "He's beaten some of the greatest fighters in the sport, and poses a tremendous threat to every fighter in our light heavyweight division."

While that may hold true, he posed little threat to Zayats, another debuting fighter for Bellator who held zero major wins over seasoned competitors. With seconds to go in the first round, Zayats uncorked a spinning back fist sending a dazed Sobral to the canvas where he was finished with strikes. Bellator's long game of having Sobral meet fellow 205-pound attraction Muhammed Lawal down the line was also TKO'd.

7. Satoshi Ishii (vs. Hidehiko Yoshida, Dream, 2009)

As Rousey and predecessors like Karo Parisyan have proved, Judo can be an extremely effective base for MMA since few athletes train enough of it to become proficient, and even fewer are prepared for some of the more unorthodox throws and trips that a seasoned Judoka can pull off.

Ishii won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Games and almost immediately declared his intentions to pursue a fight career. His credentials were impressive enough for the UFC to take the rare step of entering into discussions -- despite Ishii being a neophyte in the fight game -- before he had even a single bout to his credit.

Owing either to failed negotiations or the realization of the caliber of opponent he’d be tasked with, Ishii instead opted to make history by participating in the sport’s first gold medalist-versus-gold medalist bout against Hidehiko Yoshida in Japan. While Ishii was fresh off his win in the Games, Yoshida was nearly 20 years removed from his Olympic appearance and had lost four of his previous five bouts. It was intended to be a passing of the torch, and the likely emergence of a new star in the fading Japanese fight scene.

Unfortunately for Ishii, Yoshida wasn’t discouraged by statistics: he dominated Ishii standing en route to a unanimous decision win, smothering Ishii’s hype and prompting him to make the unprecedented move of accepting two amateur fights after he had already competed as a professional.

6. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (vs. Eddie Sanchez, UFC 67, 2007)

You'd have to go back to Mike Tyson to find a striker that prompted more tremors in opponents than Filipovic, a K-1-groomed kickboxer who made a grand entrance to mixed-style fighting in 2001, splitting open Kazuyuki Fujita's skull practically down to the bone. Where most strikers could often be nullified by wrestlers, Filipovic -- who had no amateur grappling background -- was able to defend tackles and expose the rudimentary stand-up of his opponents. "Cro Cop" was simply vicious, and his high kick carried the very real threat of serious injury.

Coming into the UFC after a long run in PRIDE, Filipovic had just enjoyed arguably his best success ever: winning that show's loaded Absolute tournament, pummeling names like Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett to claim the championship. Only months later, he was in the United States and facing the uncelebrated Sanchez, a grappler with little name recognition. Coming off a who's who of opponents in Japan, Sanchez seemed like a step backward.

Unlike most on this list, Filipovic did win his debut. But in doing so, he revealed a slower, more apprehensive fighter than he'd displayed during his run in Japan. In the end, there was no spectacular highlight-reel knockout that the announcers had practically guaranteed -- Filipovic knocked Sanchez down and threw some strikes to finish the job. After watching him fold men in half and rip away their self-awareness with a sniper's professionalism, this version of Cro Cop couldn't have been more unexpected. Or disappointing.

5. Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto (vs. Demetrious Johnson, UFC 126, 2011)

Before the UFC began to heavily publicize the lighter weight divisions, there was one name that made the trip across the Pacific: "Kid" Yamamoto, a dynamic 140-pound fighter with an amateur wrestling background who could easily be mistaken for a striker. Fighting kickboxing star Masato Shiozawa, he managed to knock the bigger, far more experienced striker down -- a losing effort that nonetheless opened up eyes to Kid's potential as an all-around threat.

For years, Yamamoto was considered the fantasy matchup for Urijah Faber, the WEC's featherweight champion. Kid's 2009 loss to Joe Warren in Japan dulled the shine of that bout, but the UFC still pursued Yamamoto when he was contractually available. Making his debut at 135 pounds, Yamamoto was expected to outhustle Johnson. But Johnson -- now the UFC's flyweight champion -- beat Kid at his own game, being evasive and landing swarming strikes. For someone who had been discussed as a UFC hopeful for nearly a decade, Kid's debut was too little, too late.

4. Shinya Aoki (vs. Gilbert Melendez, Strikeforce, 2010)

The sport's one-time tendency of elevating the reputations of Japanese fighters often came from their lack of challenging competition -- it's easy to look fearsome when your opponents are overmatched.

To Aoki's credit, his employers weren't shy about throwing him to the wolves. During a tremendous run in the DREAM promotion, he faced Joachim Hansen, Caol Uno, Eddie Alvarez, and Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante -- beating them all and displaying a world-class grappling game that defies description.

That history led to high expectations when Aoki made his U.S. debut in Strikeforce, facing the lightweight champion Melendez. But whatever magic Aoki could conjure in his country didn't seem to make the trip over. He put Melendez in no danger whatsoever, and instead faced 25 minutes of excruciating offense in a ridiculously one-sided fight.

If there is such a thing as a hometown advantage in MMA, Aoki certainly benefits from it: he won his next six fights in Japan.

3. Hector Lombard (vs. Tim Boetsch, UFC 149, 2012)

From his April 2009 debut to spring 2012 exit, Lombard delivered 13 wins under the Bellator umbrella with no losses. (He would take three of those fights in other promotions, with the organization's blessing.) Despite the fact that the competition was underwhelming, Lombard's record and marble-carved physique led to a lucrative UFC deal and the hint of a showdown with Anderson Silva. Boetsch, despite going on an impressive win streak at middleweight, was supposed to be a warm-up.

Owing to injury, nerves, or just getting the losing end, Lombard was unable to make any kind of statement against Boetsch, who landed more significant strikes to earn a split-decision victory. An anomaly? Possibly. Lombard went on to destroy Rousimar Palhares last December. But you only get one chance to make a first impression.

2. Bas Rutten (vs. Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, UFC 18, 1999)

Rutten was a star of Pancrase, a Japanese fight league that didn't adopt striking with a closed fist until late into its existence. During his tenure, he was a tenacious fighter even with palm strikes. In signing with the UFC, the idea that he could now exchange proper punches seemed like a good reason to keep a plastic surgeon on standby. UFC didn't ignore that potential: the poster for the event discreetly billed him as "The World's Greatest Martial Artist."

Against Kohsaka, a durable grappler who cut his teeth in RINGS, Rutten didn't quite look the part. He was often shut down by Kohsaka's aggression and takedowns, and it wasn't until an overtime round that he finally turned on an offensive flurry that seemed to warrant his advertising copy. (Rutten would compete only once more in the UFC, beating Kevin Randleman in a controversial decision for the heavyweight title.)

1. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (vs. Forrest Griffin, UFC 76, 2007)

Rua's run in PRIDE was nothing short of Hall of Fame material. At 12-1 -- his only loss the result of a poor break fall that left him with a broken arm -- Rua tore through Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona to be crowned the 2005 Grand Prix Champion. At the time of PRIDE's demise and Jackson's KO of Chuck Liddell, Rua was considered by many to be the top light heavyweight in the world.

Griffin, meanwhile, had been alternating wins and losses after winning the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter," and was largely derided as a "reality TV star" who had little business against elite competition. At the time of the bout's announcement, Rua's fans seemed annoyed he wouldn't be getting to work up more of a sweat. A title bout with Jackson seemed inevitable.

But the Rua that dominated the PRIDE ring post to post was nowhere to be found against Griffin, who endured some early aggression before getting Rua's back and sinking in a rear-naked choke. Was Griffin underestimated, or did Rua fail to shift into second gear? Either way, no one has ever entered the Octagon with more hype -- or left with so little of their reputation left intact.

Fedor’s legacy more than wins and losses

June, 22, 2012
6/22/12
11:56
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Fedor Emelianenko, Vladimir PutinAP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press ServiceThanks for the memories: For better or for worse, Fedor Emelianenko went out on his terms.
Fedor Emelianenko didn’t lament his losses like his fans did, and he didn’t smite his chest as the world’s greatest fighter back when people argued he was just that. He never talked smack to his opponents, and didn’t tweet smiley faces when bad things happened to business foes.

He’s always been a picture of complicated calm that, realistically, has very little in common with American impulse. Fedor was a vault. He was unknowable. He traveled to his fights with priests who wore beards like Dostoyevsky. There was unnerving depth in his eyes, and when he spoke to you those eyes communicated the cathedral hush of his mindset. When he stepped in the cage, his expression never changed. The world could be falling down around him and he’d still look only mildly bemused.

Such was his faith in what happens.

Where did he summon the violence for that decade when he didn’t lose? Didn’t matter. He used logs, rocks and terrain in his native Stary Oskol to show up in burly, no-nonsense form. Sometimes he showed up a little flabby. Maybe most of the time. But he carried anvils.

One way to look at him was that he was a picture of poise that derived from the better qualities of martial arts. The other was that he was a cold-blooded tyrant with no conscience.

Most the time he was both. He marketed himself by barely saying an unnecessary word. This is part of what made him an almost mythological figure in MMA for the last dozen years. And it’s one of the reasons he’ll be missed.

Emelianenko retired after defeating another fading star in Pedro Rizzo in his native Russia. To watch it in the States, you had to find a stream. And just like everything with him, he didn’t make a big deal of it. It was preconceived but not fussed over. Simply put, Fedor wanted to be around his daughters, whom he said were growing up without a father. After 39 MMA bouts, Sambo titles and a dozen years of lore, he said it was time.

And as expected, it took the 35-year-old Emelianenko a minute and change to knock out Rizzo. Most people thought he’d do just that. Just like they thought he would defeat Satoshii Ishii and Jeff Monson, the guys who washed away the bad taste of Dan Henderson and Antonio Silva and Fabricio Werdum, those myth-shattering losses that told the whole truth. To hear Fedor tell it, those losses in the twilight of his career were lessons, and he took them so genuinely that it almost felt like he took them arbitrarily.
Fedor Emelianenko
Darryl Dennis/Icon SMIEven if he didn't always talk the talk, Fedor Emelianenko consistently walked the walk.

Just stuff that happens.

But you know why the whole truth stood out? Fedor never believed in his own myth like we did. He never perceived himself as invincible. I saw him after he lost to Werdum and Silva and Henderson, and it was as if he understood far better than everybody else about his own vincibility. There were never any delusions. It was heartbreakingly simplistic. Delusions belonged to us and his handlers.

So, how will Fedor be remembered as a fighter? That’s as complicated as the man himself.

There are those who will claim that he was overrated. There are those who consider him the greatest heavyweight of all time. Once again, he is probably both. Those fights in Pride with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko Filipovic and Kevin Randleman were real enough at the time. When he chopped down Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski in Affliction, the accusation was also real -- Fedor wasn’t fighting the biggest names in the sport, at least not in their prime. And the failure of M-1 Global and the UFC to come to terms will forever leave the case unresolved.

Fedor’s legacy is now a matter of speculation and perception. Any you know what? When you think back on it, it’s sort of fitting. Fedor’s career has been fueled by his dominance in the aughts, his ascetic nature, the partition that existed between him and the UFC, and endless talk about where he ranks in the grand scheme. He’s always been fascinating -- winning does that -- and hype swirled around him in Russia, the States, Japan and elsewhere.

He never had much to do with it. His grand scheme was far deeper than sport. If people were carried away by their inflated versions of Fedor, he smiled. When the haters came out in droves and threw words at him like “exposed,” he didn’t disagree. With Fedor, criticism was interchangeable with praise. It’s something that other fighters can learn from. And not just fighters, but media and fans, too.

He was great? Great. He was overrated? Fine. But if to you he was the “Last Emperor,” remember that to him, he was always Fedor.

And if we can agree on anything, maybe it’s that that’s pretty commendable.

Notes and nuggets from Las Vegas

October, 28, 2011
10/28/11
2:26
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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LAS VEGAS -- You’ll have to forgive some of those in attendance at the UFC 137 prefight media conference on Thursday if they couldn’t quite get over the fact that Nick Diaz was there, too.

Diaz’s recent media engagements have been so erratic and unpredictable leading up to this event that just showing up for this one -- and showing up on time -- seemed remarkable.

Enough so that even Diaz, at times, appeared to be in on the joke.

“They did bring me down an hour early,” he said, when asked if the UFC or his team had to take any special precautions to keep him from missing the media conference. “I don't know if that was a change of plans or if that was on account of me.”

It's been less than two months since Diaz got bounced from a scheduled welterweight title fight against Georges St. Pierre after no-showing a pair of advance PR events. He presumably got a stern talking-to from UFC President Dana White on the matter and now, after being booked back in the main event against B.J. Penn on this Saturday’s card, his handlers said he’s learned his lesson.

“We had a talk about fighting in the UFC now and doing press and everything like that,” said Diaz, who also showed up some 45 minutes late for last week’s conference call. “I said my only problem with doing press is that it takes time away from my training. I train harder than most athletes out here ... and [doing press] really throws me off my week, which throws my whole month off; and that’s a big deal to me.”

In truth, most of the answers Diaz gave at Thursday’s media conference were an improvement on his past performances, but questions about his distaste for media kept coming. Finally, White had heard enough.

“He’s here, guys,” the exasperated UFC president said. “If you want to ask him about the fight, he’s here. He’s here today, it’s over and I can tell you from what I’ve heard from my crew here, he’s done everything that he’s supposed to do.”

White sees surprising likeness in Penn and Diaz
Dana WhiteJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesDana White can't help but compare Saturday's main-event fighters B.J. Penn and Nick Diaz.

Both Diaz and Penn are talented jiu-jitsu fighters who love to box. While Diaz typically opts for a high volume, high-octane striking attack, Penn will likely have the edge in power if their main event fight stays on the feet.

If it goes to the ground? That could be anybody’s best guess, as they might be that comparable in skill.

However, when asked on Thursday if he saw any similarities between the two welterweights, White singled out a far more, uh, intangible quality shared by both Diaz and Penn.

“The similarity between these guys is they’re both crazy,” White said. “I love this fight.”

New life for Strikeforce?

The largely condemned fight company may have gotten its metaphorical 11th-hour reprieve recently when Ken Hershman, Showtime’s former head of sports programming, left for HBO. With Hershman and his notoriously rocky relationship with White now out of the way, the UFC president said on Thursday that he’s abandoned his hands-off approach and is knee deep in negotiations to get Strikeforce a new deal with the premium channel for next year.

White said he was in New York on Wednesday meeting with Showtime officials and -- maybe for the first time ever -- sounded relatively upbeat about the possibility that Strikeforce might stick around beyond the new year. White said an announcement could come as early as the end of this week.

"I had a great meeting with them," White said. "We'll see how it goes. I met with all of them, the whole crew. It went very well, and we'll see how it progresses."

Mitrione wants to race

Matt Mitrione moved his claim of being perhaps the UFC’s quickest, most athletic heavyweight to the next level recently, as he took to his official Twitter account offering to take on any of the company’s current champions in a footrace. On Thursday he did not back down from that challenge, even widening it a bit to include at least one very athletic former champion.

“I feel that I can beat anybody that has a belt [in the UFC] in a 40-yard dash, maybe even 100,” Mitrione said. “I’m going to challenge Urijah Faber to a timed mile sooner or later. I don’t know if I can beat him, but I’m sure as hell going to give it a shot.”

Cro-Cop looking for payback from Barry

The viral video sensation showing Mirko Filipovic and fellow UFC heavyweight Pat Barry singing along with “California Dreaming” while on a recent road trip apparently didn't get cleared by Cro-Cop before its release to the public.

Asked if the emergence of the video was a sign that Cro-Cop was letting his hair down a bit as he approaches the end of his MMA career, the fighter made it sound as if he didn’t expect that video to find its way to the Internet and joked (we hope) that he’ll have a score to settle when next he meets up with Barry.

“If you ask me if I am planning a singing career, no, that’s not true,” Cro-Cop said. “Pat Barry sold me [out] because he released it on YouTube, and I will kick his a-- the first time I see him.”

Cro-Cop, Nelson both out to prove a point

October, 28, 2011
10/28/11
6:44
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Mirko Cro Cop and Roy NelsonJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesNeither Mirko Filipovic, left, nor Roy Nelson can afford any kind of misstep on Saturday.
LAS VEGAS -- Though they face markedly different futures, Roy Nelson and Mirko Filipovic are each keen to erase the mistakes of the past on Saturday night at UFC 137.

One wants their heavyweight fight to be a throwback, to prove he’s still capable of the vicious striking and highlight reel finishes that made him a star back in the glory days of Pride. The other hopes it will be a sign of things to come, to show he can once again be a contender in the 265-pound division and that his own best days are still ahead of him.

If they can agree on one thing, it’s that this bout is the most important of both their careers.

The 37-year-old Cro-Cop seemed more wistful than anything else during Thursday’s prefight media conference. His answers started with their trademark brevity, but grew longer and more introspective as he went on. He acknowledged that this could be his last bout and said it was important for him to have a good showing not only because he’s coming off two straight losses, but because his UFC career in general hasn’t gone the way he might have liked.

“I will never be able to forgive myself,” Cro-Cop said of his disappointing showing, which began with him putting up a 1-3 record in 2007. “I just blew it. When I came to UFC I was treated like a king. Even today they treat me like a king and I just didn’t make it. The reasons are not important. Everything was good when I was in Japan and then, unfortunately, the injuries started. I had six operations in the meantime and it all reflects, especially in your head. But I’m relaxed now, especially since I’m aware this could be my last fight.”
[+] EnlargeMirko Cro Cop
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesMirko Filipovic has sounded like a man with one foot out of the cage door during recent interviews.

Cro-Cop sounded most excited about a future raising his two young children at home in Croatia, but said he’d trained hard for his meeting with Nelson. He said his conditioning is perhaps the best it’s ever been and that he’s looking forward to putting on an exciting show in his swan song in the sport, if indeed that’s what it turns out to be.

“Why would I leave [MMA]? There are 37 or 38 reasons [because] that’s exactly how old I am ...,” Cro-Cop said. “Of course I could keep fighting, but every man comes to the point when he asks himself, ‘Do I need it anymore?’ I have two sons, two kids at home and [there are] so many things that I would still like to discover.”

Nelson too seems like a new man. Coming off a disastrous performance against Frank Mir that drew criticism from all sides at UFC 130, he’s obliged UFC President Dana White in losing some of his trademark belly and even looked resplendent -- sort of -- in a suit and tie to go along with his shaggy beard and long hair at Thursday's event.

The one constant remained Nelson’s sense of humor. He joked, in a prickly sort of way, about people writing off Cro-Cop after his recent losses. If back-to-back losses mean you’re over the hill, Nelson said, then count him in, pointing out his own defeats by Mir in May and Junior dos Santos at UFC 117.

“For this fight, everybody was talking about Cro-Cop retiring,” Nelson said. “Apparently if you lose twice you have to retire, so apparently I’m retiring [too].”

Nelson obviously isn't as close to pulling the plug as Cro-Cop -- and White shied away from questions about whether Nelson needs to win this one to keep his job -- but the message was clear: If "Big Country" wants to secure that bright future for himself, he can't afford to take Filipovic lightly this weekend.

Cro-Cop's unintentional potshot

October, 27, 2011
10/27/11
2:21
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Mirko Filipovic could be fighting for the last time in the UFC on Saturday, which, realistically, is the case for most fighters. Same could be said of his opponent, Roy Nelson. Difference is, "Cro-Cop" is 37 years old and has looked his age in recent bouts with Frank Mir and Brendan Schaub. As Dana White has stated when not talking about anomalies like Dan Henderson and Kamal Shalorus (whose age can’t be gauged by something as simple as time), “it’s a young man’s game.”

As for Nelson? You might say he’s looked his size in his last couple of fights, which he’d been defiant about for so long before. His most recent loss was also against Mir, who, if nothing else, has a way of making guys look burned out and sludgy. Since then, Nelson has grown a beard and trimmed down to the curiosity of media ahead of UFC 137.

He still cuts a Falstaffian figure by MMA standards. And Cro-Cop, who looks like his intense, perfectly postured self days before their heavyweight clash, couldn’t help but sort of unintentionally jab Nelson in a Q&A session.

“After my last fight [with Schaub] I came home and took a long break -- like 12 hours -- then I started training again, next morning,” he said. “Because I am professional and I can’t let my body get some extra weight, become fat. I don’t think fans would appreciate that. So I trained hard and I really want to beat [Nelson], even though I like Roy. Actually we just shook hands [earlier] but this is nothing personal; it’s business and I want to beat him like he wants to beat me.”
[+] EnlargeRoy Nelson
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesRoy Nelson has been an easy target of jokes as of late.

In an indirect way, isn’t he saying that Nelson could be conceived as unprofessional for carrying around the extra pounds? Maybe. He does have an ornery streak. More likely, Cro-Cop was speaking of his own professionalism and expectations, and that choice of words -- perhaps unfortunate -- is just associative. Not that Nelson hasn’t heard it all before and laughed along the whole way.

As to whether or not Cro-Cop will retire after the fight, he said he wasn’t sure, but reiterated that his decision wouldn’t be based on the outcome.

“When I decide to stop fighting, I will say it loud and clear, for many reasons,” he said. “Thirty-seven years old, two kids, 75 fights [in MMA and K-1], a long and successful career. I can be proud of myself starting in a small village in my own garage, a self-made fighter. It has nothing to do with win or lose, but I will try my hardest to win.”

Kongo's moment comes at Barry's expense

June, 27, 2011
6/27/11
8:19
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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PITTSBURGH -- There are good performances that end up ugly, and then ugly performances that come up epic.

That’s what happened with Frenchman Cheick Kongo, who teetered on the verge of becoming a TKO victim early only to pocket $50,000 for landing a perfectly timed right cross that folded Pat Barry like a lawn chair.

He was this close to falling considerably in the UFC’s heavyweight division. Instead, he pulled a Scott Smith by sounding the timely KO knell, and today people are discussing him for "Knockout of the year honors" after a genuinely crazy turn of events.

“I had no idea about the image I make for people,” Kongo told ESPN.com after the improbable comeback knockout. “If I was really out or not. But the thing was I came back, I just survived, and that’s a good thing.”

It is a good thing. Before he cracked Barry with that shot, Kongo was getting thrashed for much of the round. On two separate occasions referee Dan Miragliotta came close to waving off the swarming Barry, who was out to show he learned his lesson about killer instincts after falling to Mirko Filipovic at UFC 115.



So Barry pounced and tried to finish. Incautious? Maybe, but for Barry it’s become a damned if you do, damned if you don’t proposition.

“As far as I can remember, the second time [I dropped him], when he folded back over his legs I can almost recall Dan Miragliotta’s leg touching my arm he was so close,” Barry said in the postfight presser. “So for a split second I thought that this was it.

“I’ve seen fights get stopped before, and this looked like a fight that would get stopped. The second one, in my head I thought it was going to get stopped but that didn’t cause me to stop hitting him. From all the preparation, all the training and all the fights I’ve been in before you keep hitting until the referee steps in.”

What was already a gem in the rough type of card with all the turmoil surrounding the last minute main event change and the Marquardt Mystery, the heavyweight fight that many people were dismissing as anything worthwhile ended up punctuating a wild, unpredictable night. First Charlie Brenneman derailed Rick Story’s title hopes (at least in the short term) as a 5-1 underdog, and then Kongo throws up a Hail Mary that gets answered.

[+] EnlargeCheick Kongo, Pat Barry
Martin McNeil for ESPN.comThe feeling-out process didn't last very long between Cheick Kongo, right, and Pat Barry.


As it turns out, the main event boiled down to a split second decision by Miragliotta, who rushed in to stop the fight and hesitated just as his arms were about to signal the helicopter. And Kongo was appreciative of the fact, because he says he was never in deep trouble.

“No no, when he hit me, it was like out for one second, but I recovered fast,” he said. “Barry’s good. Not to be disrespectful, he hit really well. But I was very confident. I took some shots, I said ‘OK, that’s what he’s got. I will attempt to kick him and punch him,’ and he had the good reflex to block it. I said ‘OK, alright, so he just showed me the pressure, so right now it’s going to be exciting.’ I was surprised he tried to do the same thing that Frank Mir did to me when I fought him in Memphis. I said, okay, good.”

So in the end, there were a lot of old memories crowding over the “exciting” crescendo moment of the fight. Barry wanted to finish to avoid what happened against Cro-Cop (where he was submitted after early domination), and Kongo was astonished at the parallels between this fight and the Mir fight. It all came together for a split second when Barry moved in and Kongo planted and delivered a shot right on the button.

Epic? For those few seconds it was. And it’ll stand as one of the crazier knockouts of 2011.

Schaub lobbying hard for Nogueira in Brazil

May, 15, 2011
5/15/11
3:27
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Brendan SchaubAl Bello/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesStanding tall: Brendan Schaub seems a logical next opponent for Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Now that Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has made it known he will be fighting at UFC 134 in Rio this summer, there are at least two UFC heavyweights sitting by the phone waiting for an invitation to join him.

Mirko " Cro Cop" Filipovic and Brendan Schaub have each made his interest in the fight known. Earlier this month, Nogueira’s boxing coach Luis Dorea told a Brazilian publication he personally hoped for Filipovic. Filipovic responded during an interview with Fighters Only that he also wanted the fight.

But Schaub and his management still believe he’s the most deserving of the fighting Nogueira in the legend’s home country. The former “Ultimate Fighter” cast member is on a four-fight win streak, including a knockout win over Filipovic in March.

“We are lobbying daily for the fight,” said Schaub’s manager Lex McMahon in a text to ESPN.com. “As of now, we have not been offered the fight. We are optimistic that if [Nogueira] is healthy, Brendan has a good shot to be his opponent in Brazil.

“Also, I’m a huge Cro Cop fan and have tremendous respect for him, but it seems a stretch that Cro Cop would fight [Nogueira] in Brazil after Brendan knocked him out with one of the most vicious KOs I’ve ever seen. Brendan is one of the most dominant fighters in the division and we’re hopeful the UFC will reward him with the great honor of fighting in Rio.”

Nogueira hasn’t fought since February 2010, when he was knocked out in the first round by current heavyweight title holder Cain Velasquez. Surgeries to his hip and knee have led to the longest inactive period in the 34-year-old fighter’s career.

Filipovic is coming off back-to-back knockout losses for the first time in his storied 10-year career. The most recent, a third round stoppage at the hands of Schaub at UFC 128, prompted UFC president Dana White to speculate it was "probably" his last fight with the promotion.

Frank Mir in the guillotine?

September, 28, 2010
9/28/10
12:30
PM ET
Rossen By Jake Rossen
ESPN.com
Archive

Frank MirEd Mulholland/ESPNFrank Mir's man-hugging exhibition at UFC 119 won him no points with the UFC's front office.

In a post-UFC 119 interview with ESPN contributor Michael Woods, UFC foreman Dana White indicated he would be well within his rights to dismiss Frank Mir after Mir's woeful performance against Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic on Saturday. (If you didn't see the fight, don't bother; if you did see the fight, you still didn't see a fight.)

"Sure [I'd consider cutting him]," White said. "You really, really need to show up and deliver. This is a job. Once 'Cro Cop' stuffed his takedown attempt, [Mir's] heart fell out on the floor."


And on the subject of respecting athletes who risk their necks: "When people say, 'Hey, these guys put their lives on the line,' that's a crock of s---. This sport is so safe. These guys have chosen to be fighters!"

Last thing first: Although mixed martial arts is far and away the safest of all combat sports -- football included -- that's not to be confused with "safe." No activity that gets your brain bounced around like a pingpong ball can be equated to picking flowers. But White is correct in that MMA is a voluntary activity -- and if you volunteer for a dangerous job, it's on you.

The Mir threat follows White's condemnation of Anderson Silva after a repugnant performance in Abu Dhabi against Demian Maia in April. The message: No one is so big or important that he can't be clipped for putting on a horrible climax to an otherwise solid program. The problem is that Mir's results -- he remains the only man to beat Brock Lesnar -- and gift for hyping bouts would be of service to competing promotions. The price for White making an example of Mir would be CBS grabbing attention with a Mir-Fedor Emelianenko proposal. Cutting fighters loose after a win doesn't give you a lot of leverage.

Mir had a bad showing. It happens. MMA is a job, and you're allowed the occasional bad day at the office. Before "The Ultimate Fighter" boosting business in 2005, the UFC had many of them.

'Cro Cop' stopped, Dunham robbed

September, 26, 2010
9/26/10
5:03
PM ET
Rossen By Jake Rossen
ESPN.com
Archive

I think I'll hop in the DeLorean and have a conversation with my 2002 self. Yes, I think I will.

"Hey, pal. Looking good."

"Thanks."

"I realize traveling through time probably deserves attention paid to more important things -- like ending terrorism or stopping Ashton Kutcher from acting, which might amount to the same thing -- but I had to tell you this: In 2010, Frank Mir knocks out Mirko 'Cro Cop' Filipovic."


"What?"

"It's true. Knee to the face after three rounds of a very docile Cro Cop just sort of staring at him."

"You don't say possible things."

"I swear."

"What does this mean?"

"It means Mir got a lot better with his hands and Filipovic got a lot worse with his, and they sort of met in the middle."

"That's pretty depressing. What is it about old fighters getting old?"

"I think we like to remember them at their peak, which means Filipovic would've needed to retire in 2006. This long, slow march into middle age is a bummer."

"Did -- I mean, does -- Mirko fight again?"

"I'm not sure. This only happened in my past weekend and I can't travel into the future, only to the past."

"If you can only travel into the past, how are you going to get back to 2010?"

Next For Mir: The winner of Brendan Schaub-Gabriel Gonzaga next month; a rematch with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, if he wants to throw a little more dirt on Pride's corpse.

Next for Filipovic: A fonder farewell to fans in a European event, where the UFC could use his drawing power; Roy Nelson would be interesting.

Next for Sean Sherk and Melvin Guillard: Each other.

Next for Chris Lytle: The winner of Dan Hardy-Carlos Condit in October.

New Questions: UFC 119

Sean Sherk vs Evan DunhamEd Mulholland for ESPN.comSean Sherk, facing, sure didn't look like a winner against Evan Dunham.

Q: Judging.

A: There's no longer any question that judging reform is needed in MMA -- the new question is whether it will ever happen.

On Saturday, Sean Sherk spent three rounds leaning on Evan Dunham, but leaning is more or less all he did: Dunham popped up virtually every time he was taken down, clipped Sherk standing using his reach, forced Sherk to fight off at least four tight guillotines, and spent the last 120 seconds bouncing him off the fence with strikes. Despite accruing more damage and having to pull himself out of more danger, Sherk took the split decision. "F---ing robbed" is how Dana White described the outcome.

The current system is not working; various observers -- including fans, media members and myself -- have speculated on implementing half-points on scorecards, adding judges, adding monitors or rewriting/clarifying the priority components of a fight. Yet athletic commissions do little more than nod, yawn and take a long lunch. Forget steroids: The biggest cheat in MMA is going the distance.

Q: Did Cro Cop need to be fighting?

A: Filipovic made no secret of the fact that he treated the Mir fight as a necessary evil: He took it on short notice, his eye was injured, and he had been unsure he even wanted to continue fighting following a win over Pat Barry in the summer.

Sure enough, Filipovic looked disinterested and made hardly any effort to push the pace of the fight or force exchanges. Following the knee that knocked him out, he seemed disjointed that Mir would even try that hard.

There is one overriding trait that seems almost mandatory for fighters: an unshakeable resolve to win. It keeps you hungry, it keeps your defenses up and it keeps you healthy. If Filipovic is that indifferent to his career, he'll continue to get hurt.

Q: Dunham-Sherk: Loser up, winner down?

A: Dunham impressed everyone but the judges Saturday, springing up each time Sherk took him down. (There was a time when Sherk's taking you down meant you weren't ever getting up.) Sherk, coming off a year's layoff, needed and got a win. But he was unable to hold Dunham down, do any damage standing or threaten in any way. The records stand, but it's obvious who has more to offer in the lightweight division.

Q: Is Chris Lytle the UFC's best-ever .500 fighter?

A: Lytle started 2010 as a cringe-worthy 6-8 in the Octagon; three straight wins and several Fight of the Night bonuses later, he's evened things up and made an unlikely bid for a late-career surge. The peppering boxing has come to resemble Nick Diaz, and the submissions are elite-level. At 36 and with six years invested in the UFC, he might become next year's surprise title contender.

MMA is not boxing, least of all for the fact that athletes are expected to fight killers virtually every time out: Pristine or near-perfect records are rare. The lesson? Even a guy who loses half his bouts is still one of the toughest in the sport.

Etc.

Mark Hunt and Sean McCorkleEd Mulholland for ESPN.comMark Hunt, top, isn't cutting it in the cage.

• UFC President Dana White refused to give a default Knockout of the Night award to Mir for his third-round victory over Filipovic -- the message being that the fight was such a stinker up until then that it didn't warrant a bonus. Makes sense, but the takeaway is now that fighters involved in snoozers shouldn't bother pushing the action late. At least two fighters -- Guillard and Mir -- made public apologies for their performances Saturday. Contrition is good, but it doesn't refund the purchase price.

• Mark Hunt may be coming to the end of a storied combat sports career: He was submitted by Sean McCorkle in quick fashion during the opening preliminary bout. Aside from a stretch when he had side control on Fedor Emelianenko and early career victories against Wanderlei Silva and Cro Cop, Hunt has never been MMA material. Unless Barry wants to exchange with him, the UFC isn't his place.

• Buried under the UFC press was early Saturday's Dream 16 card, which saw Jason Miller hand Kazushi Sakuraba his second-ever submission loss and the first since Sakuraba became a star in the late 1990s. Poor Saku is so cooked at this point that he makes Cro Cop look like Jon Jones.

ESPN Primer: UFC 119

September, 23, 2010
9/23/10
11:36
AM ET
Rossen By Jake Rossen
ESPN.com
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One of the biggest surprises to come out of the UFC acquisitions of Japan-groomed athletes has been the late-stage transformation of Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.

A stern and stoic fighter, Filipovic was not known for being personable or even especially tolerant of his celebrity. When he cried after winning Pride's open weight tournament in 2006, it was like watching tears drip from an Easter Island statue.

(Little wonder: Croatia doesn't seem to embrace sentimentality. When "Titanic" was released there, it was billed as a comedy.)

Today's Filipovic is jovial in comparison, joking with reporters asking inane questions and having something approaching a good time. But that newfound candidness comes with a price: Filipovic is not shy about his chances against Frank Mir on Saturday, telling media that he might be doing enough just by showing up. (He received a blow to the eye during training that caused concern over his readiness to compete.)

"I will most certainly go for a win but I think I did a lot just by accepting this fight," he told Croatian newspapers. "I will try to do my best … if the fight goes to the third round it will be [a] handicap for me."

No matter: Mirko will march in and take his chances; fans will get their money's worth one way or another.

What: UFC 119, an 11-bout card from the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis

When: Saturday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view, with a live preliminary show at 9 p.m. ET on Spike

Why you should care: Because Filipovic's constitution may not be a factor if Mir evens the scales and tires out as quickly as he has in the past; because Ryan Bader will get his first real test at 205 against the very skilled hands and very hard head of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira; because Sean Sherk can prove he's still relevant against an imposing rookie in Evan Dunham; and because Melvin Guillard, who opens the live PPV card, hasn't bored anyone yet.

Fight of the night: Guillard versusJeremy Stephens, for the four minutes it'll probably wind up lasting.

Hype quote of the show: "You know I'm getting booed out of the stinking place, right?" -- Matt Serra on fighting in Chris Lytle's hometown, to UFC.com.

Questions: UFC 119

Mirko FilipovicAP Photo/The Canadian Press/Darryl DyckWill Mirko Filipovic throw caution to the wind come fight night?

Q: Has Cro Cop lost his mojo?

A: A handful of fighters in the past decade were capable of inducing actual nervousness on the part of spectators: Watching Wanderlei Silva, Fedor Emelianenko and Chuck Liddell was like waiting for a detonation. Some fight for judges; these guys fought as if they had pressing business in the locker room.

Filipovic was at the top of the list -- a dangerous striker with excellent balance and anti-wrestling skills to force the fight where he wanted it. But the post-2006 Mirko has been lethargic, slower and less inclined to solve problems with violence. Getting in the ring with him can't be as stressful an experience as it once was.

Losing that mystique often provides an avenue for opponents to drop their guard and become more proactive. If Mir can walk forward without flinching, he's already done most of the work necessary.

Q: Is Bader a sleeper agent?

A: Bader, 27 and a Division I All-American in wrestling, received the most attention yet for his February defeat of Keith Jardine. But Jardine had already dropped two consecutive bouts; the weekend's fight with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira will be a far more substantial test of Bader's value to the light heavyweight division.

It's a positive outlook: Heavy hands and excellent wrestling can get you far, as evidenced by the decade-plus success of Dan Henderson. Jon Jones, while frustrating on the feet, hasn't yet displayed KO power there; Bader has. Careers are more marathon than sprint, and Bader might wind up being the better-aging of the two.

Q: Is Sherk ever going to fight smart again?

A: Sherk's yearlong layoff was preceded by one of the more bizarre transformations in MMA: Despite being a smothering wrestler, he frequently chose to stand and trade despite having stocky arms that put him at a significant disadvantage.

Did he want to be "exciting" and go after the bonus incentives? Who knows? Sherk does his best work on the ground, roughing opponents up and grinding out victories. His win percentage can remain impressive if he sticks to what he knows.

Q: Is Mark Hunt the black sheep of the card?

A: Buried in the preliminary rounds of Saturday's lineup is Hunt, the respected K-1 veteran who had two promising showings in MMA (against Filipovic and Wanderlei Silva) before remembering he knew absolutely nothing on the ground. Hunt hasn't won an MMA fight in four years and appears now only due to impenetrable contract issues created by the UFC's buyout of Pride in 2007.

But Hunt has been sweating to make the 265-pound weight ceiling, activity that will likely put him in better condition than he's seen in years. He remains hard to handle standing (in MMA, at least) and has tools acquired from American Top Team to up his survival rate on the mat. He may wind up surprising people.

Red Ink: Cro Cop versus Mir

Frank MirRic Fogel for ESPN.comFrank Mir has been putting his heavy hands to good use as of late.

Has anyone gone through more physical transformations in mixed martial arts than Mir? A solid 250-ish fighter in his 2001-02 debut, in 2004 a motorcycle accident spit him out a bloated mess, with a distended belly hanging over trunks. He later lost the excess weight to regain form against Brock Lesnar; with a Lesnar rematch going the wrong way, he put on slabs of muscle to try to match power. A bout with Shane Carwin choked that theory. Now he's back to a manageable size and looking to trim more bulk in an effort to be more agile. If he ever makes good on a threat to drop to 205 pounds, he'll officially be the Robert DeNiro of the Octagon.

If nothing else, Mir is turning himself into a lab rat for the UFC's heavyweight division. Is it better to be big with a labored heart, midsized with a mixture of cardio and power, or on the smaller side with wind for days? Common sense says to try to get the best of all worlds. But whether Mir has done that or not, he probably won't find a lot of fight in Filipovic, who enters with a nagging eye injury, an expedited training camp and wheezing motivation that had him pondering retirement -- after a win, no less -- against Patrick Barry in June.

Filipovic is a more docile fighter than he's ever been; Mir has grown fond of his heavy hands, and when he's not fighting brick walls in Lesnar and Carwin, seems relaxed trading and blending the altered consciousness of his opponents with takedowns. (His fight against Cheick Kongo was a beautiful, literal interpretation of mixed martial arts: knockdown to choke.) He has more weapons with which to win the fight.

What it means: For Mir, a chance to notch another Pride name into his belt and erase the unpleasant memory of being bashed by Carwin; for Filipovic, a chance to shut up the naysayers who think he's deflated.

Wild card: Mir's fluctuating weight -- up for Carwin, down to 205, up again for Filipovic -- is a notorious drain on the cardiovascular system. If it goes late, it's anyone's fight.

Who wins: Even in wins, Filipovic has looked nothing like the predator of old. Mir will settle into a groove standing and take it to the mat when the time is right. If Filipovic gets up, it'll be with a very sore arm. Mir by submission.

Filipovic versus Mir is accidental genius

August, 16, 2010
8/16/10
11:05
AM ET
Rossen By Jake Rossen
ESPN.com
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Mir/NogueriaRic Fogel for ESPN.comFight fans weren't exactly clamoring for Frank Mir-Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira 2.

Anyone who was looking forward to a rematch between a ring-worn Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir at UFC 119 on Sept. 25 has very, very low standards for amusement. Mir methodically picked apart Nogueira in their first meeting, and Nogueira has done little since to indicate it was an anomaly. He's only 34, but inside the cage he looks a decade past it. The fight was just sort of there -- like a rote fulfillment for a main event. Two warm bodies. Who could care?


But Nogueira is injured, per Fighter's Only, and while that's not exactly fortunate, it does provide an opportunity to revise those plans with a bout that carries some juice: Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic will be the replacement.

While Mir's striking has come a long way in recent years, I'm not sure Filipovic's has devolved so much where Mir would feel too comfortable for too long on the feet. Likewise, Mir's submission ability can sometimes be stifled by his fairly substandard wrestling (both offensively and defensively). It's at least a fight where the outcome isn't influenced by the sharp and dramatic decline of one of the participants. (Filipovic, who hasn't looked good since 2007, at least got some momentum with a win over Pat Barry over the summer.)

What's perplexing is why the UFC needed a curve ball in order to make the better fight. Whatever system of logic they have in place to make matches needs adjustment if Nog-Mir II is the unfortunate end result.

Old 'Cop' and the art of graceful exits

June, 15, 2010
6/15/10
12:21
PM ET
By Jake Rossen Sherdog.com
ESPN.com
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It's a bit of a stretch to say Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic looked good against Patrick Barry on Saturday at UFC 115. Filipovic was dropped twice in the first round, which would normally be cause for an opponent to take advantage, but Barry just blinked at him. Filipovic turned it on later in the third round, though choking out someone with limited ground ability doesn't provide a USA/Russia-hockey level of excitement.

None of this is intended to discount his victory, which is impressive by any measure considering his recent performances, but it was not the display that would cement his status as a contender among his fans.

In a move that is spectacularly out of character for a fighter, Filipovic seems to recognize this.

Back in Croatia, he told a local newspaper (translated by Fighters Only) that "I am now too old for this … I have no motivation for the fight, no mental strength for all the Spartan training. I am no longer so hungry for victory."

Fighting is such a grind that it takes either an obsession or a fear of poverty to push yourself through the months leading up to bouts. Filipovic seems to have neither.

If he commits to an exit, it would mark one of the few times a high-profile MMA athlete has chosen a decent performance as his last. The current trait isn't walking away but getting wheeled away.

Filipovic/BarryRic Fogel for ESPN.comWas Mirko Filipovic, left, serious when he talked about retirement post-fight?

What makes Cro Cop so self-aware? He seems to be heavily invested in Croatian politics, which means he's able to define himself in ways other than fighting. He's financially secure after years as a star when Japan could afford to be generous. He doesn't appear to have the same insistence over wringing every last bit of effectiveness from his body that other fighters do. And he seems to realize that if you're not angling toward a belt in the UFC, you're spinning wheels.

Filipovic's attitude is in stark contrast to that of Chuck Liddell, who has suffered a steady succession of TKO losses in the past three years but insists on ignoring what his body is trying to tell him. Odd, too, that Cro Cop would have the maturity to reflect on retirement after a win while some expect Liddell could angle for a third fight with Tito Ortiz.

Filipovic may not have to consider it, but there's something to be said for remaining a little enigmatic at the late stages of your career. If you're still perceived as a dominant participant, endorsements and seminar revenue are going to swell more than if you get tied into knots. It's also a pretty revealing piece of character -- you've got other things going on besides fighting. It's what you do and not who you are.

Once an athlete displays a decline in skills, becoming a trophy head for younger fighters is inevitable. Why exhaust every last ounce of skill and effort allowing it to play out? What fighter has ever plodded into a ring, reflexes eroding, and managed to squeeze out another five or six victories? When the body is kind enough to warn you of pending trouble, you should take it as a clue not to sign a contract extension.

Naturally, much of what a fighter has to say about his career in the hours and days following a fight should be ignored. It's usually contradicted once he has time to settle his head. Filipovic might change his mind again.

But he's made this noise before, and this time seems pragmatic about his fatigue. If he's looking for an exit, it means he's an anomaly among his peers. He knows when the show is over.

Liddell's finale, Cro Cop comes back, more

June, 13, 2010
6/13/10
8:38
PM ET
By Jake Rossen/Sherdog.com
ESPN.com
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If you ever needed any proof that a fight isn't over until it's over -- and in Paul Daley's case, not even then -- UFC 115 should be plenty proof enough.

Rory MacDonald was controlling Carlos Condit on the ground, looking every bit the prospect he was made to be, until Condit turned it around late in the third round and wound up getting a stoppage seconds before MacDonald would've gotten the decision; Patrick Barry beat Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic to the punch, even knocking him down twice in the first, until Mirko found a stationary target in a fatigued Barry and sunk in a choke; Chuck Liddell defied industry wisdom that he was cooked and looked the best he had in years -- until Rich Franklin threw a short, awkward right that flipped his fuse, his fight and his career.

The most common explanation for these rallies is that there are simply too many ways to lose in mixed martial arts. But it's not just that: There are too many decisions to be made in the heat of the moment, and any one of them could wind up scalding you. Fighters are heckled when they have an opponent hurt and don't go in for the kill (Barry simply stared at Filipovic after dumping him on his butt), but racing in and committing to an attack has problems of its own (Liddell ate that KO right after trying to swarm a stumbling Franklin).

Anyone can strategize over a period of days or weeks, but making the right commitments in the moment is what separates the contenders from the stepping stones. If MMA is "kinetic chess," as some say, it's really more a game of speed chess, with no luxury of time involved. Having skill is only as important as being able to deliver it at velocity.

That's one of many reasons Liddell will never see the inside of the Octagon again. (His retirement is really the first among the Zuffa-era box office attractions.) It's easier for some fighters to walk away when the money is blue-collar and the audience is lukewarm; it's going to be harder for men like Liddell, who will miss the adrenaline dump of having 20,000 fans happy to see him. It's not the competition they love so much as it is the arena.

Some styles age well and some don't. Liddell's does not. Hopefully the peers that will keep him out of the ring tomorrow will have the same conviction a year or two from now.

Next

Rich FranklinRic Fogel for ESPN.com Rich Franklin will look to make a run for a title at 205 pounds.

Next for Liddell: Retirement, unless the UFC wants to be perceived as sadistically as Pride and Dream have been for allowing Kazushi Sakuraba a wheelchair-accessible ramp to the ring.

Next for Franklin: If he wants a proper run at the 205-pound title, fights with Ryan Bader or Jon Jones would be a start.

Next for Barry: Less of the gee-whiz reverence toward opponents and more of the killer instinct he delivers sermons on ("I don't hit hard -- I hit scary"). Fighting Todd Duffee would guarantee one of them gets back on track.

Next for Filipovic: He looked good but not great against Barry; a rematch with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is more their speed at this point.

Awards

Mirko Filipovic, Pat BarryRic Fogel for ESPN.comWho figured Mirko Filipovic and Pat Barry would take their act to the ground?

The UFC-as-religious-experience award: Mike Goldberg, for declaring fans "blessed" by the idea of seeing Liddell compete again. (Admittedly, Midnight Mass with alcohol allowed could be a hard thing to argue.)

The unnecessary prep award: Matt Wiman, for needing notes stuffed into his fight shorts to remember to thank God and family for his victory.

The devaluing your own product award: Dana White, for repeatedly insisting that Cro Cop-Pat Barry wouldn't hit the ground. Why not have someone stand by to administer an electrical shock every time they hit the floor?

The misplaced gratitude award: Goldberg, for thanking Vancouver for the fastest sellout in company history. Scalpers get no respect.

The wait, one more Goldbergism award: Goldberg, for referring to Ben Rothwell as a "longtime MMA veteran."

New questions

Ben RothwellRic Fogel for ESPN.comGilbert Yvel, bottom, isn't a one-trick pony anymore -- but is that a good thing?

Q: Does Liddell know he's done?

A: With a new build that backed claims he was in serious training for a comeback, Chuck Liddell showed encouraging signs of a late-model revamp Saturday: He threw kicks, shot possibly his first first-round takedown in his UFC career, and generally looked like a man on a new mission. All of it nearly won him the round against Rich Franklin -- save for a last-second flush right that collapsed him.

Liddell's ability to absorb a shot is gone, but what he may debate is how good he looked before getting caught. Mixing it up and coming on strong could be the worst thing to happen to him if it encourages him that he's on the right track. He isn't.

Q: Is officiating actually getting worse?

A: In the wake of some highly questionable judges' calls in recent memory, in-ring officiating at Saturday's card was an assembly line of "Three Stooges"-level slapstick. Yves Lavigne pried Matt Wiman off of Mac Danzig despite Danzig being completely alert and even having the physical presence to post off of Wiman's thigh to relieve the pressure on his neck; Ricardo Funch received a warning for trying to "kick" Claude Patrick in the head (he wasn't). If state commissions aren't mandating a certification course -- and regular license renewal tests -- then it's time they start.

Q: When you improve one aspect of your game, does the other one suffer?

A: For years, Gilbert Yvel had the reputation for being hell on the feet and a pushover on the ground. Against Ben Rothwell, he displayed vastly improved defense, but couldn't seem to punish Rothwell standing with the same ferociousness his older, one-dimensional version displayed. Budgeting time and knowing when you're neglecting on the skill that brought you to the ring is another consideration -- among hundreds of little decisions -- that fighters need to sweat.

Q: Is Bud Light dipping into MMA one toe at a time?

A: Since signing on to be a company sponsor in 2008, Bud Light has maintained a curiously distant attitude about saturating its marketing with a UFC presence. Instead of commercials featuring fighters, promotional displays of Anderson Silva and Liddell were under limited distribution; a 90-second commercial during a Spike prelim special Saturday had a bunch of generic dudes making only vague reference to "the fight" on television. MMA as a corporate darling is still a concept under construction.

Etc.

Carlos Condit, Rory MacDonald Ric Fogel for ESPN.comCarlos Condit, left, and Rory MacDonald shared fight of the night honors.

• Owing either to a good mood or an impressive $4.2 million gate, the UFC bumped its bonus incentives up to $85,000 Saturday: Filipovic received submission of the night honors over Barry, while Condit and MacDonald took fight of the night. Franklin's KO of the night against Liddell might be White's least enthusiastic payout ever.

• It might have seemed closer on tape, but CompuStrike's numbers for Barry-Filipovic had the Croatian outstriking Barry 89-29 in total.


• White assured media at the postfight news conference that Liddell was indeed done, but no comments have come from the fighter directly yet. While he has other options beyond the UFC, company loyalty might prevent him from considering them -- and hopefully advisers would do the same.


• White swore the promotion would return to Vancouver, but that might wait until the bureaucratic red tape eliminates the outrageous insurance demands imposed on Saturday's show.

• Quinton Jackson's "A-Team" had a good-but-not-great $26 million opening weekend, falling below expectations and getting trounced by Sony's remake of "The Karate Kid," starring a 48-pound Jaden Smith in Ralph Macchio's role. This all but guarantees a "Hard Times" remake starring Topher Grace.

ESPN Primer: UFC 115

June, 9, 2010
6/09/10
10:11
PM ET
By Jake Rossen/Sherdog.com
ESPN.com
Archive

When you're a fighter who has gone 1-4 since a second win over Tito Ortiz in 2006, a natural course of action might be to fight Ortiz for a third time, just to get your bearings back.

That's what the UFC had planned for Chuck Liddell on Saturday. Ortiz had to have neck surgery instead, which helped maintain "The Ultimate Fighter" statistic of having at least a third of coaches' fights fall between the cracks for one reason or another.


For Liddell, who has been knocked down or out in three of those four losses, fighting Ortiz represented a safer re-entry into a sport he's not yet ready to abandon.

Rich Franklin, the replacement, is not as daunting a task as if Liddell insisted on a top-five light heavyweight contender, but he is still a step or three above Ortiz's own elementary stand-up ability. He's also been the busier fighter.

Liddell has clearly been taking the opportunity -- one the UFC was originally adamant about never giving him -- seriously: he looks lean. But appearances aren't everything, and in tape from the reality series, Liddell has displayed evidence that three TKO losses and two decades of sparring and fighting may be catching up with him. If Franklin beats Liddell, he can thank himself, his camp, and Liddell's 28 other opponents.

What: UFC 115: Liddell versus Franklin, an 11-bout card from the General Motors Place in Vancouver, British Columbia

When: Saturday, June 12 at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view, with a live prelim show at 9 p.m. ET on Spike

Why you should watch: Because Liddell's year off may have actually done him some good; because Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic has sworn up, down and sideways that surgery and training revisions have made him a new man; because Gilbert Yvel is never in a boring fight unless it's against a wrestler and Ben Rothwell is not a wrestler; and because the 20-year-old Rory MacDonald will be taking another step toward recognition against Carlos Condit.

Fight of the night: Filipovic-Pat Barry, a K-1 match with four-ounce gloves that will either signal Filipovic's official end as a UFC-level contender or Barry's end as a functioning, un-bibbed member of society.

Hype quote of the show: "Anybody says that 'Cro Cop' is out of his prime can feel free to fight him for me … I'll defend that to the end. In my eyes, he is the man he's always been. It's just that everybody else has gotten better. It makes it a little more difficult nowadays." -- Barry, to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, on Filipovic's perceived career slide.

Four Questions: UFC 115

Chuck LiddellAP Photo/The Canadian Press/Darryl DyckChuck Liddell's chance to silence his doubters comes against Rich Franklin on Saturday.

Q: Can a year's layoff fix what's broken for Liddell?

A: For most fighters, taking a year or more off only results in problems: Your ring timing is erratic, your hunger has ebbed and the guy you're fighting may have squeezed in two or three fights in the time you were poolside. (Even today's schedules, where the upper echelon gets six to eight months between bouts, border on shiftlessness.)

Liddell, recipient of three TKO losses in recent memory, took 14 months to readjust his alignment -- but if the damage is upstairs, there's really no amount of vacation time that's going to compensate for it.

Q: Does Franklin have the power for 205?

A: It's been nearly two years since Franklin notched a stoppage victory against Matt Hamill. Since then, he's had to be content with decision victories, usually in catchweight bouts. Making a permanent move to 205 pounds doesn't appear to be encouraging when it comes to stopping significantly larger fighters -- and probably wouldn't have been Franklin's first choice, if not for the Anderson Silva effect.

Q: Are we sleeping on Paulo Thiago?

A: There's been relatively little discussion on Thiago, the Brazilian who made an instant name for himself by knocking out Josh Koscheck in February 2009. Thiago followed up with wins over Mike Swick and Jacob Volkmann, but a mixed-in loss to Jon Fitch cooled his momentum.

It shouldn't have: Virtually everyone, with the exception of champion Georges St. Pierre, loses to Fitch. It's a nonissue. Thiago fights Martin Kampmann on Saturday: a win could set him up for a significant fight against one of the doormen (Thiago Alves) to GSP's title.

Q: Does Rothwell have anything for the UFC's heavyweight division?

A: Despite a well-hyped stint in the IFL, Rothwell's postfight league career has been uneven at best. His first test against top-shelf competition ended with a KO loss via Andrei Arlovski, while his UFC debut was a proper mauling at the hands of Cain Velasquez. He might have a comparatively easier time against Yvel on Saturday, save for the fact Yvel is a precision striker who won't stay in one place long enough for Rothwell to bully him. If he can't land one on Yvel, he could be in for a demotion.

Red Ink: Liddell versus Franklin

Rich FranklinMartin McNeil for ESPN.comRich Franklin will have his work cut out for him against the heavy-handed Chuck Liddell.

Considering that Liddell has never tapped in his career -- Jeremy Horn had to choke him unconscious to deliver his only submission loss -- it probably shouldn't come as any surprise that he doesn't want to bow out of fighting before he's ready. Despite a paltry 20 percent win percentage in recent bouts, he insists a year off and more diligent training will pay off against Franklin.

Not that he necessarily needed it: Franklin has turned into a more conservative volume striker since his losses to Anderson Silva, and Liddell's brawling, right-hand-cocked style may not be tested by Franklin's power. It won't be a zero-risk game, but at least Liddell won't be gauging his chances at 40 against someone known for head-hunting.

What it means: For Liddell, a chance to quiet doubters; for Franklin, an opportunity to make a formal entry into the light heavyweight division with a win over a name.

Wild card: Liddell's wrestling. He took Wanderlei Silva down on a whim, but if he finds himself in trouble standing, he should start to remember his impressive wrestling credentials.

Who wins: Liddell is further outside his prime than Franklin, but being the bigger man and the better MMA brawler should keep him out of retirement at least through the end of the year. Liddell by decision.

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