By his own admission, Mirko ‘CroCop’ Filipovic did not live up to expectations during his time with the UFC. Having arrived in the organisation not long after winning the Pride FC 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix, he was widely expected to cruise his way to the heavyweight title.
A win over Eddie Sanchez was a mere formality and a win over Gabriel Gonzaga in his second UFC fight was expected to be the same. But then Gonzaga famously managed to KO him with his own trademark head kick and the world turned upside down. The years that followed proved tumultuous for the Croatian and he recently exited the UFC on a three-fight losing run.
But there was more to it than a simple loss of form. Filipovic has been riddled with injuries since his Pride days and while he has never made a big deal of them, some of them have been so serious as to be borderline debilitating. His knees were in such poor condition for so long that he was entering matches knowing that he had essentially no kicking ability.
Some of his ailments were freak accidents as well; he has been particularly unlucky of late. He took a late notice fight against Frank Mir then took a finger-poke to the eye in his last day of sparring, scratching the cornea. Then Roy Nelson at UFC 137 in October; he tore his bicep ten days before the fight, a huge injury which should really have caused him to pull out.
But he didn’t - he actually put up a good fight - and when eventually he lost, he called time on his UFC career. Having undergone surgery on the arm, he announced a ‘retirement’ fight for March 10 in his home city of Zagreb, Croatia. This was against Ray Sefo under the rules of K-1, the Japanese kickboxing competition where he first made his name.
CroCop won a decision - and has pointedly refused to call time on his career. In fact as Fighters Only staff writer John Joe O’Regan learned over the phone on Friday, he has some interesting offers on the table…
FO: Did it feel good to be back fighting inside a ring and not a cage?
Well, its good to be back in the fight. I mean, I never hid the fact that I always preferred the ring to the cage. Its much easier because I started and spent my whole career in a ring and then moved to the cage. For fighters who started in the cage and did 30, 40, 50 fights there and then moved to the ring, it would be strange for them too. When you are adapted to one or the other, its always hard to adapt.
FO: When did you last fight in the ring, before this?
Bob Sapp in 200... No, I fought in the ring against Hong Man Choi four years ago. For DREAM, it was in a ring.
FO: How is your arm? You had a very serious injury before the Roy Nelson fight and surgery immediately afterwards. Is it still a problem?
I feel good, I feel good. It was a serious injury you know, it was a hard operation. It took four hours of reconstruction and according to the doctors I should still be in the rehabilitation program but instead I already had a fight.
But I was very disciplined before and after the fight and I had physiotherapy twice a day, did a lot of exercise twice a day to return my muscle to the arm, make the ligament stronger. I was careful, patient, very dedicated to recover as soon as possible.
I managed; rehabilitation varies from person to person. The age, the health, the structure of the body, so many things. I definitely returned very fast, recovered faster than doctors expected. But I have to say now, the doctors were first class. They did a masterpiece surgery. They were very careful and I am very happy.
FO: You’ve had really bad luck with injuries in the last few fights. I can’t help but think that things might have been different in these fights if you had not had some of these issues in training, or carried them into the fights…
Before this latest fight, I had a hard period. Last fight I fought seriously injured and I lost. The fight before that I lost, some weird way of losing a fight. Frank Mir, last minute before the fight I got a herniated disc. I took the fight three weeks out… ah whatever, it doesn’t matter. There are no excuses. But three losses in a row, then surgery, a serious surgery, then a fight in front of your home audience? Its harder mentally than physically John, it was super-big pressure.
The promoter brought Ray Sefo to fight me. Ray is not in his condition like he was five or ten years ago, absolutely not, but he is still a very, very dangerous man. Always a guy who solved his fights with one single punch. He has a bomb in his arms. He was still very explosive, I watched the fight and he has crazy hooks, if he touches you to the head you are going down.
I took some hard punches but I was really physically well, I was prepared excellently and it just proves my theory that condition of the body is everything, stamina is everything. If you are well trained you can survive anything. If you are first-class prepared, you can survive the punch but if you are not, the same punch would knock you down.
FO: What was worse, the eye poke for Mir or the torn bicep for Nelson?
Well the eye poke wasn’t the big problem, the big problem was the herniated disc for Mir. One day I had to have three medics carry me from the car to the hospital bed and they had to make some special stretching, they put me in some machine to make some stretching that would relieve the nerves and muscles. It gave some small result… actually the manufacturer didn’t make the machine for someone with a build like me. The structure of my ligaments and muscles is stronger than the average man and so, when I tense my muscle unconsciously - I didn’t want to, I did it against my will - it was hard for the machine to do the job properly.
But I don’t want anyone to think I am looking for some excuse. Same with the Roy Nelson fight. It was my decision to take the fights and I will tell you why. First of all, I spent too long waiting for my next fight. Six months of hard training then ten days before the fight, it happened. I just couldn’t give up. It was a stupid decision to fight - next day I visited the doctor and he said I needed surgery right away. I said ‘no, I am going to fight.’ And so he warned me that I wont be able to survive the fight without the arm.
But it didn’t matter, I thought ‘maybe I will kick him, maybe I will use my left one…’ and I had to avoid wrestling because first contracting of the muscle will kill my arm. And that’s exactly what happened! But it doesn’t matter, it was my decision and I am proud of it, I am proud you know? I am sure that 99.9 fighters would quit the fight. I know some top fighters today are quitting the fights for ten times less injury.
And my friends say I am crazy - I know, I know, I am aware. But if I start thinking like this I will never do anything with my life. Sometimes I just want to go headfirst through the wall… ah, who cares? It is behind me now and I am recovered completely. I feel good and I am ready to go. That is the most important thing.
FO: It seems that you had a lot of issues combined to make a real problem for your recent fights. Because after a loss it makes you low on confidence for your next fight, then you are carrying serious injuries into the fight… it makes the task so much harder, mentally and physically. Why not pull out and rest up?
Well that’s me you know, I don’t want to quit, I don’t want to surrender, I don’t want to submit to the injury. And that’s stupid! But that’s me, I cannot change that. Thank god, I feel perfect now. I am back to doing the splits on two chairs. I don’t know if you’ve seen the picture of the splits on the two chairs? I am back to that. So I feel really good and… what can I say? I have a few options on the table and I will see which ones to take.
FO: Which brings us to my next question - what’s next? Can you tell us anything about these options?
Well I’m talking about K-1... I don’t want to say too much but I am interested. Most important thing is health and I feel perfect now, I feel perfect and I needed this fight [with Sefo] to swim out of the bad mood, of the jinx, to swim out of everything.
I feel good and today I am enjoying my life. I was very depressed after my last fight in the UFC. The most important thing in life is health. If you have no health you cannot train, mentally you are closed off. You come to training in pain, or you know you cannot use your arm or kick hard because of some injury to the knee. It frustrates. But right now I am feeling very good.
As I told many times, but people got it wrong - each fight could be the last one for me. Injuries are serious in my sport. To tell you the truth, injuries are more of a threat in training and in some wild sparring than in the fight itself. We have crazy trainings and crazy sparring, so many things could happen.
If I get poked to the eye one more time like I did before the Mir fight, most probably I wouldn’t be able to fight any more. I was poked in the eye and the eye was bleeding - blood was coming from the eye itself. Serious injury; it had no effect on the fight but one more injury like that I will have to go for eye surgery and probably have a problem with it until the end of my life.
And that is from training. I never had an injury like that in my fights. Same with my knee, my foot. I hurt my knee training, not in the fight.
And one more thing - I am sick and tired of explaining to reporters - not you, not you! - but people who are calling me, journalists who I respect, and I am glad they are taking interest in me. But I don’t want to say I will fight ten more fights or one more fight. Maybe I will do fifteen more fights or I will do none… You will be informed about everything.
Right now I have some offers and I am thinking carefully about what to do. Right now I am still on vacation and I am back in training on Monday. So lets wait and see; I don’t want to keep discussing speculation on the next fight, the future. You know what I mean John - lets just wait and see what the future will bring. Right now I am ready and I have an offer for May, July and September. We will see which offer I take and which offers I will not take.
FO: This is just offers for kickboxing?
Yes K-1... but I have some MMA offers as well. We will see. I don’t want to say too much! All I can see is I will see; I don’t want to talk too much.
FO: Have you had any offers from record labels? Your singing career seems to have some potential, according to this duet with Pat Barry that was on YouTube…
Ha! Pat ‘Bigmouth’ Barry put it on YouTube on I have to kick his ass because of that. Actually I submitted him for it, that’s why I made him tap in front of the camera, ha!
FO: Was this the match where the loser had to address the other as ‘your majesty?’ for the rest of the week, and you became Lord CroCop?
Yes that’s it. It came about because he was saying I’m not able to submit him, I said are you sure? He said yes, I said OK, lets try it. It was my first grappling after the surgery and I submitted him - actually five times in two rounds. The second round was in front of the camera and so it was different, he gives 110 per cent and I give 110 per cent but I caught him with an arm-triangle and got him to tap (laughs).
Pat Barry is a really strong guy and of course he is a kickboxer not a grappler but he has trained with a lot of grapplers, he has good grappling experience and he has been Brock Lesnar’s sparring partner, he’s trained with some first-class jiu jitsu guys. He is solid. But I was more solid, ha! I cannot be humble. I cannot wait for him to come to Zagreb again, I am going to submit him again.
FO: You and Pat Barry seem to have developed a really solid friendship…
Oh yeah, I adore him. Pat Barry is one extraordinary guy. He is my true friend. Even though we did not have too much contact until recently… as far as I am concerned, it takes some time to call someone a friend. But Pat Barry has been sleeping at my house, he has a heart that I cant remember seeing for a long time. A clear and pure heart, there is no evil in him at all. Evil doesn’t exist in Pat Barry, he is a good guy, you can trust and rely on him, he is a true friend.
He is a guy I like a lot, I told him that one day if he makes the wedding commitment to someone, I am ready to be his best-man if he wants to call me. Now you understand how much I like the guy. He stayed for two weeks here and slept three or four nights in my house, had lunch and dinner with me, we talked a lot about things. He is one extraordinary guy. Beautiful person.
FO: I have to admit, I am impressed and amazed that Pat Barry managed to get you to open a Facebook profile. I assume this was his doing?
Yeah he opened my Facebook profile of course - because I don’t know how to do it. He put all the photos up, he made some photos on his iPhone and put them up, because I don’t know how to do that either. I have never in my life… its terrible to say but I never had a camera in my hands, never took photo of anything unless with a mobile phone.
But I never had a real camera or an iPhone or something, I have just a regular piece of shit phone. I don’t like touch screens and all this because I drop it five times a day and I will smash it on the first day. So of course he did it because he is high-tech, he knows how to do it all. He opened Facebook profile for me and put the photos and all information, while I sat with him.
FO: I didn’t believe it was you at first, because there are so many fake profiles, have you seen them all?
Yeah I don’t get the point of this, these monkeys. Put my name and my photo, my nickname, and so present yourself? For what? They are talking to the girls online? What is the point of it? At the end of the day if they want to get anything they are going to need to meet the girl in real life.
FO: Maybe they could wear a disguise or something?
It is disgusting. Someone is having sex on my behalf? Disgusting. I am asking all these gentlemen to pleas remove their fake profiles, there is no point. And there are hundreds of them, with my photos and with my name, my nickname… what can I do?
FO: Ah well, its nice to be popular…
Hmm… sometimes yes, sometimes no.
FO: Speaking of females, theres a lot of them want to know where your small vale tudo shorts are these days. Will they make a big comeback?
I have them still. Maybe yes, maybe no. I feel comfortable in these new shorts, the best fighting shorts I have are the ones I had for my last fight. They made it for me, Thai shorts but especially for me. Wide leg, all black.
I think I look good even in normal shorts. But I think my legs are too big. that’s also a reason I don’t like the tight shorts. I don’t like my legs.
FO: (gullible) Really?
Yes, they are just too strong. What can I say? Its genetics. I’m not doing any leg exercise, I don’t like leg exercises - squats, leg press. I would like to have really skinny legs of course.
FO: Of course. Speaking of exercises and so on, a final question - have you seen all the recent controversy regarding use of testosterone therapy? What are your views on it?
Well its the first time I heard of this particular issue. I know guys have used this and used that, so many other things… I don’t know if any of it really helps, in martial arts anyway. One punch, one kick to the head, the liver, can end the fight.
And secondly its a death, its a death for the body. For a few years of glory you are going to die at the age of 40, 45? Or your liver turns to cancer and you search for a new liver? I don’t know. I think its too dangerous.
And for MMA I think you can prepare with everything natural, all natural substances. Nutrition, BCAA, protein shakes and glutamine. Four things I use. Every sportsman in every sports is taking this, or should. Plus vitamin B-complex, vitamin C, lots of fruit, lots of rest. I never liked all that other stuff, its dangerous to play with. As far as I am concerned, its too dangerous.
FO: In the US they do random testing and so on but in Japan you were never tested at all right?
As far as I know, nobody ever made a doping test. But, its not my concern, whoever wants to take anything can take anything - one punch or kick can solve the problem. I will be prepared. But for steroids, the risk is too big, I cannot recommend it. The risk is too big and it is playing with your own health.
Plus the sport is already dangerous - I understand if it is weightlifting or something but this is martial arts, MMA, you can prepare to be explosive without it. I understand if its ten five-minute rounds or something like that but it is not, so you can be explosive natural.
Its dangerous, its not healthy, you can be caught, you can be suspended and you can be shamed. It is disgrace for your whole career to be caught with things you shouldn’t take. But most important thing, it is too dangerous. Thanks but no thanks.