Sherdog Remembers: The Start of Mirko’s Masterwork

By Staff May 5, 2011
It remains the crowning achievement in the storied career of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, and his road to the 2006 Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix title began with a first-round technical knockout against Ikuhisa Minowa at Pride “Total Elimination Absolute” on May 5, 2006 at the Osaka Dome in Osaka, Japan.

Fifteen men -- Filipovic, current Strikeforce heavyweight king Alistair Overeem, former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett, one-time Pride heavyweight titleholder Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and 1992 Olympic gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida among them -- entered the star-studded tournament on that fateful Friday five years ago. Brazilian icon Wanderlei Silva was awarded a first-round bye.

All seven first-round tournament matches ended in finishes. Barnett submitted Aleksander Emelianenko with a second-round keylock; Kazuyuki Fujita knocked out James Thompson; Mark Hunt stopped MMA pioneer Tsuyoshi Kosaka on second-round punches; Nogueira submitted the 400-pound Wagner “Zuluzinho” da Conceicao Martins with a first-round armbar; Fabricio Werdum submitted Overeem with a second-round kimura; and Yoshida submitted Yosuke Nishijima with a first-round triangle choke.

Yoshida was next on the Croatian kickboxer’s hit list in July. Savage leg kicks from Filipovic cut down the judoka and propelled him into the semifinals two months later. There, he defeated Barnett and Silva on the same day to win the tournament, as he knocked out “The Axe Murderer” with a first-round head kick before striking “The Babyfaced Assassin” into submission in the final.

Unbeknownst at the time, Cro Cop had reached the pinnacle of his career. The following February, he debuted in the UFC with a pedestrian TKO against Eddie Sanchez. His ill-fated encounter with Gabriel Gonzaga came next at UFC 70 in Manchester, England. Felled by a brutal first-round head kick, Filipovic was never the same. He has gone 5-4-1 since.

Still, no one can take away from him the magical three-month tear he enjoyed in the 2006 Pride open weight grand prix, which began on this day five years ago.
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