Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic file photo: Sherdog.com
While getting the call a month out that you’ll be facing a new opponent can be disconcerting to some fighters, Frank Mir said he jumped at the chance to face Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic at UFC 119 this Saturday at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.
The 36-year-old Filipovic stepped in for an injured Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who Mir had previously conquered with second-round strikes at UFC 92 in December 2008. It was the first time the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt had been stopped during his illustrious 11-year career.
“Obviously it was a drastic change as far as opponent: right-handed to left-handed; a decent boxer to a guy that has true knockout power; a ground fighter versus one that won’t want to go to the ground,” said Mir during a Tuesday teleconference call touting the headlining bout. “I had to change a lot of things, but the enthusiasm behind the change actually helped motivate me. The idea of fighting Nogueira again -- I understand that he wanted a rematch with me…but fighting Mirko, regardless of what people say about his notoriety is in America, I like the idea of that challenge.”
Filipovic’s striking talents are no secret in the sport. A former member of Croatia’s elite special forces, Filipovic’s tree-trunk legs have often been regarded as potent weapons, particularly with his brutal left high-kick that came to be feared and respected in the heavyweight division. Filipovic has won 20 of his 27 bouts utilizing his kickboxing.
Mir described Filipovic’s striking as “elusive” and noted the Croatian’s ability to make his opponents pay in exchanges as one of his greater attributes.
“I think his ability to maneuver around and the footwork has been excellent,” he said. “I think this shows that you don’t have to go toe-to-toe with somebody to win a striking match.”
Filipovic’s 4-3 record in the Octagon might not reflect the struggles he’s had in acclimating to both the U.S.-based promotion and to performing in the cage. The former K-1 fighter spent a majority of his career in the ring; after two straight losses in the UFC in 2007, he opted to buy a cage for his home gym in Zagreb, Croatia.
A change in Filipovic has been gradual, but noticeable.
In May, Filipovic volleyed shots with younger kickboxer Pat Barry for three rounds before securing a third-round submission against the Duke Roufus-trained fighter at UFC 115 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It marked Filipovic’s third back-to-back win, while Barry exited the bout with a broken hand and foot.
The 31-year-old Mir, whose submissions have been just as vaunted as his opponent’s decimating kicks, said if given the choice, Filipovic should be more inclined to engage with him in the stand-up and not the ground game.
“I think he does well maybe in submission grappling tournaments, but as far as he correlates it to MMA, I don’t think there’s been enough time (for him) to do really well at it yet,” said Mir.
Mir, a two-time UFC heavyweight champion, said his focus on kickboxing in the last few years has given him a better understanding of how to defend it.
“The problem in this fight is that I now have the advantage in the clinch and if we fall to the ground, so it’s basically switching gears and learning to fight (moving) backwards and try to avoid the cage and fighting forwards and avoiding the cage,” said Mir, whose five career losses have all come from his susceptibility to punches.
Likewise, the 2006 Pride Fighting Championships open-weight grand prix champion knows there are areas of Mir’s game that present clear dangers to him as well.
“Frank is more experienced grappler than I am, but don’t forget I’ve been training jiu-jitsu for ten years,” said Filipovic. “I’m not sure if I’m at the same level -- definitely I won’t try my luck with him on the ground. Frank knows that.”
Mir, who fell to Shane Carwin’s punches at UFC 111 in March, said Filipovic’s realization of his limitations in the bout will serve him well and make him a more difficult challenger to deal with. Past opponents, like Cheick Kongo, weren’t as savvy, said Mir, and paid the price.
“The problem that (Kongo) came across with me was that he didn’t actually fear the ground,” said Mir. “When he went to ground with me, he actually grabbed my legs instead of playing it safe and keeping himself safe. And when he turned around and got up to his feet to run from me…he went to sleep.”
In other notes:
• Mir said he isn’t as consumed with his physical size of late, whereas in the past he’d equated greater mass with increasing his advantage in the cage.
“In this camp, I’m not trying to force myself to be a certain size and just let my weight fall where it falls,” said Mir, who is hovering between 250 and 255 pounds.
Mir said the adjustment has sped his game back up a bit, especially in the area where he holds a clear leg-up on most competition -- his submissions.
• Filipovic was asked to elaborate on recent comments he’d made that he wouldn’t be 100-percent prepared to face Mir in the allotted time.
“At the end of the day. I take the responsibility of my back and I was invited to take the fight five weeks before, but it means nothing,” said Filipovic. “I will give my best and I’m aware that Frank is an extraordinary fighter, but after many years of training, I think I should be ready. Him and I have both had a short time for preparation.”
• Filipovic, who has suffered through a lingering back injury since his days in Pride, broached the retirement question.
“I had a long career and I don’t think any of the fighters had so many fights like I did,” said Filipovic. “You ask me how much longer I still plan to fight? I don’t know. I don’t know. I always say to the people that ask that every fight could be the last one. This is hard sport. This is a brutal sport. Any injuries, especially because I turned 36, so any injury would definitely take me out of the competition.”
• Mir said he’s Gilbert Yvel, and some southpaw fighters for his camp. Former Miletich Martial Arts fighter Mike Whitehead has assisted Mir with his wrestling, and specifically his clinch work and underhooks while standing.