Preview: “Cro Cop” Eyes Gonzaga

"Cro Cop" Eyes Gonzaga

Apr 21, 2007
The Octagon skips across the pond for just the second time in UFC history. That first trip was a memorable one. We saw the impressive UFC debuts of Genki Sudo (Pictures) and Mark Weir (Pictures) (you may recall the lightning fast KO of Eugene Jackson (Pictures)). Then an overconfident Frank Mir (Pictures) was torn apart by a heavy-hearted and -fisted Ian Freeman (Pictures) (battling at home for his ailing father who unknowingly passed away before the bout). And in the rematch of their infamous welterweight title bout, Matt Hughes (Pictures) and Carlos Newton (Pictures) fought for nearly 20 minutes before Hughes finished "The Ronin" with strikes.

Could this event be as memorable? Maybe. The 10-bout card has potential matches of greatness, but the sheer unpredictability of the sport we know and love is what makes it so interesting.

Some bouts on paper look like barnburners but in the cage they disappoint (Sanchez-Koscheck comes to mind). And then there are the shockers. We had one last weekend.

I will freely admit that I, like the rest of the so-called experts and MMA media, gave Matt Serra (Pictures) no shot at dethroning Georges St. Pierre (Pictures). Even if I rolled the dice, I never would've said by KO. So I want to take this opportunity to apologize.

Matt, you're the man and did the unthinkable. You get all the props. In fact I take my "hand" off to you (that Mike Tyson sound bite still kills me. I'm sure someone around here has it.) Oh and my e-mail issues have been resolved so if you are among those who wrote me over the past few months and didn't get a response, I apologize and you will hear from me now.

The main conflict on the UFC 70 "Nations Collide" card features Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic taking on Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga. Yes, it looks like another potential mismatch but if you don't realize anything can happen by now, you ain't payin' attention to what's goin' on in that there cage.

If Mirko blows through "Big Nose" like a fat guy through a pint of Ben and Jerry's what will be the thrill in that? Who will say, "Wow, that's not what I thought was going to happen?" I mean besides Gonzaga and his camp.

What if Kevin Randleman (Pictures) came to the ring with that defeatist attitude in April of 2004? He knocked out the Croat and even Igor couldn't do that. Granted "The Monster" was later submitted by the kickboxer in less than a minute and is constantly battling his own demons outside the ring, yet it takes nothing away from his accomplishment. You have to keep hope alive that this will be a contest.

I have serious doubts that Gonzaga can even get this bout to the mat but if he does, the chances of him pulling out a win rise dramatically. His takedowns have not looked that good. He had a heck of a time taking down Hammer House journeyman Branden Lee Hinkle (Pictures) and though he submitted him in the first and it was early in his career, it wasn't a highlight match.

Gabriel is 3-0 in the UFC; no bout has gone the distance and he has progressively finished each opponent quicker. Those facts presented together offer a ray of hope to those in support of the Brazilian heavyweight but it may not be enough to make a difference here.

Some of Gonzaga's game plan is simple: stay away from the left side of Mirko's body. "Napao" could be put to sleep by either limb and it is best to avoid stand-up exchanges. If he has to stand, he's safer in close than giving the striker room to groove. On second thought, given this is the "anything can happen" sport of MMA, I think Gonzaga will get his takedown. After all, we are talking about a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Wander Braga (Pictures); a four-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu National Champion, a five-time Sao Paulo State Brazilian jiu-jitsu Champion; a 2004 heavyweight BJJ Black Belt Grand Prix winner in 2004; an ADCC Trials Brazil Champion and the second place finisher in ADCC 2005.

Something in there gives me the impression he's taken a few people down. Trouble is he'll work so hard to get one that he'll be gassed once he hits the mat. We all know that BJJ is not MMA. The sharp punches to the face as you work for the triangle that "always works in class" should be your first clue. Filipovic has great takedown defense, certainly comparable to Hinkle, so it won't be easy and Mirko will get back up. I give it two rounds but I see "Cro Cop" meeting Couture in August.

The other fairly exciting main event bout features a resurging Andrei Arlovski (Pictures) against PRIDE transplant and "Cro Cop" training partner Fabricio Werdum (Pictures).

Pay close attention to Andrei's hair. He says it reflects his mood. Just once I'd love to see "The Pitbull" show up bald with yellow contacts and that fang mouthpiece. It would immediately soil the shorts of whoever stands across from him. Knowing Arlovski, the hair would have mostly grown back by the time he sat down for the post-fight interview.

Werdum makes his UFC debut and though he has a few KO's on his record (including against headliner "Napao" Gonzaga), it is the ground game of this young Brazilian wizard that all need to fear. From Emelianenko to Overeem, the BJJ black belt has shown some of the skills he used to win the Pan American championships as a blue belt, the European Cup as a brown belt and both the World Cup and World Championship as a black belt in the super heavyweight category -- all in a two-year span.

The grappling phenom also took third place honors in the Abu Dhabi Combat Championships in 2003. Fabricio has looked solid even against competent strikers like Sergei Kharitonov (Pictures) and Roman Zentsov (Pictures) but unlike his Soviet brethren, Arlovski has felt the most cherished gold strap around his waste. He knows what that feels like and he wants it back.

Few have been able to test Arlovski's sambo skills. Marcio Cruz (Pictures) presented as great a challenge as a hyena does to a lion for the scraps of the night's kill. He was the most recent to battle the Belarusian bruiser and the bout simply served as an exclamation point to punctuate Arlovski's statement on where he belongs in the division.

The five-round chess match with Sylvia (note: "chess match" is pc for "painful borefest") proved nothing and if Sylvia rebounds from the Couture debacle I'm sure we'll see a more inspired fourth meeting.

The Nogueira-Werdum bout last July made some things crystal clear: in stand-up exchanges Fabricio doesn't protect his head. Nogueira certainly has quality boxing skills for the heavyweight division but he's no KO artist. Other than the Kikuta fight in 2002 and the MMA debut of Nastula, "Minotauro" likes to settle it on the ground and he had Werdum in trouble early and often on the feet.

Andrei should be able to avoid the takedown long enough to rock Werdum. If he does that and manages to win things only get more interesting because that might mean a bout with "Cro Cop" in the near future -- and that could be a true classic.
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