Memories of Mirko Filipovic’s exploits remain as fresh today as the day they occurred, a testament to his well-earned reputation as one of MMA’s foremost purveyors of violence.
The 2006 Pride Fighting Championships Openweight Grand Prix winner will go down as one of the greatest heavyweights of all-time, alongside such contemporaries as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Fabricio Werdum and chief rival Fedor Emelianenko. Filipovic’s extensive ledger includes 30 finishes among his 38 professional victories, many of them immortalized on highlight reels across the globe. He retired on the heels of a stroke in 2019 while riding a career-best 10-fight winning streak, much of which took place after the age of 40.
As “Cro Cop” fades into legend, a look at a few of the rivalries that made him into one of the sport’s true superstars:
All eyes turned to the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, on Aug. 28, 2005, as the two all-time heavyweights at long last locked horns. A 28-year-old Emelianenko risked his Pride heavyweight championship against a 30-year-old Filipovic. It was the three-round, 20-minute clash for which fans, media and everyone in between had long yearned, and while it largely managed to meet the impossible expectations surrounding it, their bout at Pride Final Conflict 2005 also helped two living legends cement their places in combat sports history. Once the final seconds ticked off the clock, Emelianenko assisted “Cro Cop” to his feet in an obvious show of respect, embraced him for a moment and returned to his corner to await the verdict. The ringside judges awarded the Russian a unanimous decision, to the surprise of no one. The defeat snapped Filipovic’s seven-fight winning streak, the last six of which had been finishes, none lasting more than 3:53.
Two of MMA’s most violent men locked horns for a second time in the 2006 Pride Openweight Grand Prix semifinals on Sept. 10, 2006 in Saitama, Japan. While their initial encounter at Pride 20 four years prior resulted in a draw, their ballyhooed rematch concluded in much more dramatic and decisive fashion. “Cro Cop” was at the height of his power and regarded as one of the sport’s premier heavyweights. Silva, meanwhile, had never been knocked out under the Pride Fighting Championships banner, his two defeats having resulted in close decisions to Mark Hunt and Ricardo Arona. He was arguably the sport’s top light heavyweight at the time but entered the tournament as the smallest man in the field, and Filipovic ripped him to shred across five-plus minutes. Silva absorbed a hellacious amount of punishment in a short period of time, suffering damage to both eyes while bleeding from his nose and mouth. Filipovic slammed a kick into his ribs and forced him to circle out and reset. By the time Silva was ready to re-engage, the Croatian’s left leg was already on its way. Shin met skull, blood flowed and the Brazilian crumbled to the canvas like a house of cards 5:26 into Round 1.
When weighing the historic resumes they built in Pride, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the paths traveled by Nogueira and Filipovic crossed only once. “Minotauro” had surrendered his heavyweight championship to Emelianenko eight months earlier and set out on a quest to reclaim it. Filipovic stood in his way when the two all-time greats butted heads at Pride Final Conflict 2003 on Nov. 9, 2003 in Tokyo. “Cro Cop” was brilliant from the start, as he blistered Nogueira’s body with thudding kicks and targeted his head with punches from both hands. The Brazilian called upon his incomparable resilience, survived the first 10-minute period and waited for Filipovic to tire. Early in the second round, Nogueira executed a takedown on his exhausted adversary, rolled into a textbook armbar and forced the tapout, securing the kind of superb come-from-behind victory for which he became known and handing Filipovic his first professional defeat.
Filipovic waltzed into his Pride Shockwave 2004 rematch on New Year’s Eve against Randleman with plenty to prove. A two-time NCAA wrestling champion, “The Monster” had upset the Croatian eight months prior, flooring him with a lightning-strike of a right hand before brutalizing him and knocking him unconscious with punches on the ground. It did not take long for Filipovic to taste sweet revenge at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. He ensnared the former UFC heavyweight champion in a guillotine choke inside the first minute, forcing the tapout just 41 seconds into the match. It was the first traditional submission of Filipovic’s career. He would not deliver another one until he took care of Pat Barry with a rear-naked choke at UFC 115 more than five years later.