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Posted on April 13, 2015 by Jack Thurman
I was in the Mandalay Bay Events Center to watch Croatian kickboxing/MMA legend Mirko Cro Cop go up against Roy Nelson at UFC 137. Cro Cop gave a credible performance but eventually lost to Nelson and reportedly decided to retire thereafter. He’d hung on too long at this point but if anything the flatlining sport of mixed martial arts could use his class and dignity now more than ever.
But since fighters never really retire and the UFC is always desperate for a name that people recognize Cro Cop returned to action this past weekend against another long-in-the-tooth veteran, Gabriel Gonzaga. It was in the main event–not of an ‘old timers’ card but as close to a ‘legitimate’ fight card as the UFC is capable of these days. Technically, it was UFC Fight Night 64 in Krakow, Poland but since the promotion runs events more often than the Ringling Brothers Circus its hard for even the dwindling base of hardcore fans to keep track. The fight was a rematch of Gonzaga’s win over Cro Cop at UFC 70. In one of the worst booking decisions in the company’s history, they put the newly signed Cro Cop–then the reigning PRIDE openweight GP champion with worldwide marketability and fame–in against a fighter that posed the worst possible tactical matchup for Cro Cop. Gonzaga KO’d Cro Cop costing the UFC one–if not more–very lucrative fights against then champion Randy Couture.
Cro Cop was never really the same. He claimed he was having breathing issues and had surgery to correct a deviated septum. More problematic, he started to look reluctant to throw his punishing kicks. He soldiered on in the UFC as well as in Japan winning a fair amount of fights against overmatched opponents. But he never regained the aura he had during the PRIDE era when his high head kick was the most feared finisher in the sport.
Gonzaga’s career went South following his win against Cro Cop. He was pummeled by Randy Couture and hasn’t beaten a quality opponent since. Since what was supposed to be a ‘career defining’ win Gonzaga is 8-9 with 7 of the losses by stoppage. He’s lost three straight fights and at this point can’t be expected to beat anyone but the most marginal opponent. Hopefully the UFC will let both fighters retire.