If you thought you’d stepped into the Wayback Machine from a Mr. Peabody cartoon earlier this year when the UFC announced the return of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović you weren’t alone. No one saw the UFC bringing back the legendary Pride fighter, known for stunning head kick knockouts and forever immortalized with the phrase “right leg, hospital, left leg, cemetery.”

In reality, this may have been a move to deprive rival Bellator MMA of a marquee fighter. Despite his struggles in his last UFC run, Cro Cop remains a name that can headline a card, as evidenced by his main event rematch with Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC Fight Night 64. Is he a real threat to the UFC’s heavyweight division? Probably not. Since leaving the UFC in 2011 after consecutive losses to Frank Mir, Brendan Schaub, and Roy Nelson, all of which ended in stoppages, Cro Cop has gone 3-1 outside the promotion following a brief retirement — but that record comes with an asterisk. Two of those fights have been against Japanese heavyweight Satoshi Ishii, which saw the Croatian legend win the IGF heavyweight title due to a doctor’s stoppage, then defend it in a rematch, finishing Ishii with a headkick and strikes in their second meeting. The third win? An all-around ugly affair against Shinichi Suzukawa in the former sumo wrestler’s first MMA bout. He would go on to compile a 1-3 record. The loss? A scarf-hold submission defeat at the hands of the Boa Constrictor Oleksiy Oliynyk, in a fight that turned out to be Oliynyk’s ticket into the UFC.

The headkick finish of Ishii might have put the Croatian Cop back on the UFC’s radar, but his signing really was more of a strategic move. As is his pairing with Gonzaga. Gonzaga is coming off two losses, but fans remember the upset win he scored over Cro Cop with a head kick of his own back in 2007 at UFC 70, and that highlight has been played ad nauseam leading up to Saturday’s bout. Beyond that, either Cro Cop gets revenge, or Gonzaga snaps a losing streak. From the UFC’s perspective, there’s very little to lose in this booking.

The question, really, is what Cro Cop can do to avoid a second loss at the hands of Gonzaga. Despite a better record of late, Filipović’s really only had relevant success against Ishii, and was in danger at times, especially in their first meeting. Can he really find success Saturday? Of course, but it won’t be easy.

Here are some keys to victory for the Pride legend at UFC Fight Night 64.

Stay Off The Ground

Not that it mattered in their first meeting, but Gonzaga is a decorated Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioner who is a serious danger on the ground. Cro Cop, meanwhile, was submitted by Oliynyk just three fights back. Beyond that, he found himself with Ishii on top of him when they first fought, and though he came out of the fight with a doctor’s stoppage victory due to a cut, things could have ended much differently.

Stay On Your Guard

Gonzaga shocked the MMA world with his head kick knockout of Cro Cop in 2007. He essentially beat the man at his own game. While a repeat is rather improbable, and Gonzaga no doubt realizes lightening is unlikely to strike twice, Cro Cop still needs to be wary. There’s no point going down in your comeback fight simply because you overlooked your opponent. This is probably the easiest key to victory for Cro Cop.

Stay Active, Fight Smart

Crop Cop vs. Gonzaga 2 is scheduled to go five rounds. Will it? The Croatian fighter hasn’t gone twenty-five minutes yet in his career (a few early five round fights that went the distance featured three minute rounds). Yet that may be what needs to happen here. Cro Cop will need to pick his shots carefully, avoid being dragged to the canvas, and accept that if the shot isn’t there, it isn’t there. That may seem like a call to point fight, and to a point (no pun intended) it is, but it’s not the say he should lay back. Simply fight smart. Stay active. And hope that at age forty, the cardio is there.

There’s no question that there are a lot of UFC, and old Pride fans, who want to see Cro Cop get another moment of glory on the biggest stage. Count me among them, but he has a tough opponent in front of him.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.