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Ondřej Jarůšek
December 12, 2021, 7:12pm
Reading time: 10:35

Legendary MMA Fighter Cro Cop Destroyed Opponents With Brutal Head Kicks

Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović is one of the legends known to every martial arts lover. However, not everyone knows his compelling story and his way to the top.

Ondřej Jarůšek
December 12, 2021, 7:12pm
Reading time: 10:35
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Legendary MMA Fighter Cro Cop Destroyed Opponents With Brutal Head Kicks
Zdroj: Etsuo Hara/Getty Images
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Right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery. Whenever there's talk of the best fighters of all time, it's only a matter of time before someone mentions the name of the legendary Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović and his "deadly" head kicks.


The Croatian wrestler has made an indelible mark on the history of world organizations, and footage of his battles rightfully belongs to the showcase of the most impressive sights in the field of martial arts in recent decades.


Why? One of the things that martial arts fans love is knockouts. And Mirko Filipović handed those out plentifully. Not only his performances in the ring or the cage are admirable, it's also his story.


It's not shame to go down. It's shame not to stand up. I'm a fighter, I'm a warrior, that's my job, that's my love, and I enjoy it. - Mirko Filipovic


Basic information:
Name: Mirko Filipović
Born: September 10th, 1974
Height: 188 cm
Weight: Approx. 105 kg
Score: In MMA 38-11-2-1 (wins, losses, ties, no contest), in kickboxing 26-8
Nickname: Cro Cop
Organizations: Pride FC, UFC, Rizin, Bellator and others

Source: Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Getting out of poverty

According to The Body Lock, Filipović has had a passion for sports since childhood. He was involved in athletics, especially short-distance running. When he first saw the films with Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude van Damme in the spotlight, his world changed and he desired to become a wrestler. He started training Taekwondo at the age of seven, from which he later switched to karate, boxing and kickboxing. He soon enjoyed great results in these disciplines at the national level as well.


“Around 1995, I moved from our village to Zagreb, which is about 300 kilometers away. I didn't have a single dollar in my pocket," he reminisces on his rough beginnings. "I knew that sport was my only way out of poverty, to make money, help out my mother and the whole family," he added.


According to statistics from the Tapology portal, Cro Cop entered his first professional kickboxing match in March 1996, at the age of less than twenty-two. However, he already had a relatively rich experience in amateur boxing. His opponent at the time was the Frenchman Jérôme Le Banner, the future multiple champion, whom Mirko Filipović defeated.


Source: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Army and anti-terrorist unit member

One of the most important moments in Cro Cop's life occurred while working for the Croatian army. He joined it at the age of nineteen, and later also served in the anti-terrorist unit Lučko. Hence the warrior's nickname "Cro Cop" (short for "Croatian Cop", translated as "Croatian policeman").


One day Filipovic asked permission to train with the national kickboxing team for two weeks. "To my surprise, they agreed," Cro Cop recalled for the British Independent.


However, it turned out that it was not possible to fully engage in martial arts and combine that with a career in the army. "Within two weeks, I was behind with military training and my superior commander had called me," Filipovich explained. According to him, he said the following: "I don't think you'll be a good soldier, but I believe you will be a good warrior. I will release you and I want you to train twice a day and make sure that your home country is proud of you. "


And he granted his wishes.


The first match was the biggest shock for me. I didn't know what to expect. The opponent was a complete animal - 130 kilos of pure muscle.


The path to the stars 

In professional kickboxing, Cro Cop collected 26 wins in 34 matches and knocked out half of his opponents. In 2001, he subsequently switched to MMA and, as the fighter himself pointed out, he will forever remember his debut at the tournament in Japan.


"The first match was the biggest shock for me. I didn't know what to expect. I fought Fujita, who at the time was considered one of the most dangerous fighters. He was a complete animal - 130 kilos of pure muscle," Filipović recalled.


"I knew he'd try to take me down. I was getting ready to hit him in the knee at that moment. And that's exactly what happened. I hit him in the head with my knee and the fight was over. That's how it all started," he said.


This is what Cro Cop's MMA premiere looked like. His opponent Fujita received a straight hit in the head with a knee and left with a deep laceration. The footage also shows his severely bloodied face. The video shows the moment of the critical hit.

Right foot hospital, left foot cemetery

Cro Cop experienced the biggest increase in popularity during the wrestling under the now defunct Japanese organization Pride FC. It built it's legacy through a number of memorable, sometimes bizarre, struggles. Mirko wrestled exclusively under its wings for several years, during which he took out the vast majority of his opponents before the limit. His crushing head kicks, with which he sent many opponents to their knees, were especially legendary. Sending them straight to the hospital. This is how the warrior's famous saying "right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery" was born.


From a Croatian fighter and a former member of the army, who was born into a poor family during the socialist Yugoslavia, a world-class star suddenly began to emerge. His value was also well noted by the Pride FC organization itself.


Funny story on that note. Cro Cop demanded a doubling of his salary to $ 300,000 after learning that there would be twice as many spectators in the hall as he expected. But that was apparently not the case, and he set the whole story straight for Fighters Only magazine.

"This incident was invented by a lawyer in Tokyo who sold similar stories to newspapers. If I  let myself do something like that, I'd have to learn how to swim in concrete boots, "said the warrior.


"What had happened was that we agreed on $130,000, but I wanted $150,000 because I was in the main game of the evening. They said no. Eight weeks before the match, I injured my back and announced that I could not fight and that they should get a replacement for me.


I also sent them a message from the doctor, but they called me and said, 'Okay, we'll give you $150,000.' But I said no, because I was in pain, and that I would only do it for 300,000. They refused. Eventually, they sent me flight tickets and said, 'Okay, we'll give you $300,000,' said Cro Cop.


According to the estimates, Cro Cop's rewards for UFC matches were in similar numbers. Sports Daily portal states that Cro Cop's earnings were between $75,000 to $350,000 in the world's most famous league. The total amount of the payout always depends on whether he loses or wins the match, and then bonuses are added on top it, such as for the best performance of the evening.

Opponents knocked out within few seconds 

Dos Caras Jr., alias Alberto Rodriguez, who later became a wrestler in the American WWE, has experienced the hardness with which Mirko Filipović ended his opponents. Among other things, this match demonstrates the extravagance Pride FC was so well-known for. They allowed Rodriguez to fight with a mask on his face. Didn't help him much. Cro Cop knocked him out with a kick in the head in just 46 seconds.




However, there are more fighters who didn't last a minute with Cro Cop in the ring or a cage. Cro Cop had the fastest KO in his career at the New Year's Eve event in 2001, where he was faced by the Japanese Yuji Nagata. Right at the beginning, an exact kick came directly at the head and it was over. Only 21 seconds passed.


I broke people's bones, ribs, tore their muscles, their faces. I managed to hurt my opponent really hard. But I also know the pain. - Cro Cop.




Cro Cop was a threat to everyone and enjoyed eliminating one opponent after another. "When I kick someone's ass, I'm the happiest man in the world," Filipovic said. "I don't think about the money I made or the people watching me at the moment. I only enjoy the present moment," he added.


However, his wins were not the only thing that would get the audience members out of their chairs. This is true, for example, of his unforgettable clash with the Russian legend Fedor Emelianenko in 2005, who is also known as one of the best fighters in history.



In the end, the Russian warrior left as the winner of this three-round duel of titans. He defended the title of heavyweight champion and interrupted Cro Cop's line of seven wins in a row, which he has accumulated over the last year.


And just as much as he loved to win, he took defeat just as hard. "Defeat is the worst thing that can happen to me. But at the same time, it motivates me to be a warrior and train twice a day," he said.


Pain and loss belong to the sports. "I broke people's bones, ribs, tore their muscles, their faces. I managed to hurt my opponent really hard. But I also know the pain," said Cro Cop.


After losing to Emelianenko, Cro Cop scored another five wins and one loss at Pride FC, after which he left the Japanese organization which made him famous and headed to the UFC. Here he made an excellent debut and finished his opponent Eddie Sanchez in the very first round. Then came probably the darkest day of Cro Cop's career.

Hard fall and the vengeance

It was April 21st, 2007 and Mirko FIlipović was about to compete with the Brazilian Gabriel Gonzaga in a cage, but the dreaded Croatian fell hard. Harder than ever before. Gonzaga did the impossible and gave Cro Cop a taste of his own medicine. At the end of the first five minutes, he knocked him out with an uncompromising kick in the head.



"It was one of the matches I'll never forget," said Cro Cop. "He hit me with about ten or fifteen clean blows to the head. It was a miracle that I didn't start bleeding. Maybe it would be better for me if the referee stopped the match due to a laceration. I stood there and saw three opponents in front of me. I was absolutely done. Then he kicked a high kick, hit me in the head and it was over," he said of the match that got the world shook.


"It's not shame to go down. It's shame not to stand up. I'm a fighter, I'm a warrior, that's my job, that's my love, and I enjoy it," added Cro Cop. According to his words, despite this defeat, he believed that he was a better fighter than his conqueror. He therefore sought to organize retaliation.


He eventually survived, but it took eight long years, in which Cro Cop fought fourteen more matches. He leveled the accounts with Gonzaga and ended his opponent in the third round, despite unfavorable developments. In addition, both fighters received a financial bonus of $50,000 for their performance. Their performance and closing of the story was highlighted by UFC boss Dana White and countless fighters who watched with excitement whether Cro Cop could make up for his bitter defeat.

Doping case and the end of UFC

This was the last time Cro Cop introduced himself at the UFC. Although the organization counted on him for further matches, in October 2015, the anti-doping agency USADA informed about the finding of banned substances in the fighter's body. Cro Cop admitted that he was taking a growth hormone, which he allegedly used to treat his injured shoulder. The UFC subsequently granted him a two-year ban on wrestling and terminated his contract.


After his era in the UFC, Cro Cop went back to Japan, specifically to the local organization Rizin. Well-known commentator Joe Rogan speculated in his podcast that the reason for Cro Cop's transfer from the UFC to Rizin was to be able to take "Mexican supplements." Rogan also mentioned that the practices that often took place during the time of Pride FC have been less than pure. This outraged the Croatian warrior and a strong reaction followed.


"It really pissed me off. (…) First they started talking about carrying millions of dollars in my suitcases from Japan, which is physically impossible first and secondly nonsense. I looked at it and wondered if they were crazy. Then someone who was there with him said he was in the vault with me and saw it. In what vault? This never happened at Pride. (…) I liked him, but I'm done with him ever since then,” Cro Cop said angrily.


Within Rizin he had won six matches, finished all opponents ahead of the limit and only one of them had a chance in the second round. Here, Cro Cop became the champion of the Rizin Fighting World Grand Prix 2016.


Last time the spectators saw Cro Cop fight was with Roy Nelson in the American Bellator, whom he "revenged" in 2019 for the defeat he suffered when they first fought in the UFC. This win was important for Cro Cop because, as he said, he was ashamed of his defeats at the UFC.


The years in the UFC also left a mark on him, as he allegedly had six surgeries - four times knee, one time foot and one time the nose. But in the end he finished his career with an admirable string of ten victories in a row.


Mirko Filipović announced his retirement multiple times during his career, but he always returned. He was finally forced to leave due to health complications just a few months after his last match. In the spring of 2019, the warrior suffered a stroke that almost cost him his life.


"I just got back from the hospital, I'm fine. But I must say it is over. The stroke almost killed me and I can't afford to get any more blows to the head. I feel like crying, the following months will be very tough without training," Cro Cop told Croatian television at the time.


Forever a legend 

During his abundant career in kickboxing and MMA, in which he stood up to names like Bob Sapp, Ernesto Hoost, Mark Hunt and many others, he has earned an immense recognition, which only the best of the best can earn. "Cro Cop will forever be a legend and no one can beat his head kick knockouts," said Canadian fighter Elias Theodorou, who competed in the UFC between 2014 and 2019.


Today, he's considered a national hero in his home country. Champion of the largest European organization, the KSW, Roberto Soldić, described how much he means to sports, especially in their region.


"I was born in Bosnia, but I am Croatian and people all over the Balkans watched Mirko Filipovic's matches. He is a huge legend that was brought to us by the MMA," said Soldić.


The heights that Cro Cop has reached in the world of martial arts are admirable, even from the point of view that they originally weren't his goals at all. At the very beginning, there was only a young talented fighter who saw the sport as a chance to improve his quality of life. Nothing more, nothing less.


"If I decided to stay with the police, I would make $500 to $600 a month and just survive. Sport was the only way for me to get out of poverty. That was my main motivation. I didn't want fame at the time, I just needed the money," said Cro Cop.


Today, his journey serves as an example for those who are in a similarly bad starting situation, as he was himself. Martial arts will never forget his name. Just like his rivals will never forget his anaesthetic hits... Right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery.


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Thumbnail: Etsuo Hara/Getty Images
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