Every UFC has a fight of the night, and there is a fight of the year. But if there was an Interview of the Year contenders list, this one with Mirko Cro Cop would be on it.
The fighter, who normally gives respectful but monosyllabic responses, opened up with The MMA Hour's Ariel Helwani as he never has before.
There was a time when mixed martial arts was not just larger than life; when Pride was broadcast, it was larger than everything. It was… royal.
Cro Cop, now 39, is one of the few active fighters connecting back to that age, and in this famous interview, he brings it all back.
They say Pride never die, but it's dead and MMA in Japan along with it. Why?
"I don't know," said Filipovic, as transcribed by MMA Fighting. "I talked to my Japanese manager, who is a very capable and very diligent guy. I said, ‘what happened with Japan?' He said, ‘after Pride died, people just lost interest.'
"Of course I don't want to underestimate anyone, but there was four fighters that created the biggest attractions. It was Nogueira, Fedor, Wanderlei Silva, and myself. And at the end of the day, we all left. I was the first one. I left for the UFC, and after me, Nogueira and Wanderlei Silva, and then the UFC bought Pride. The martial arts scene just disappeared."
"The market just died. The market just died. Unbelievable, and it makes me sad."
Of everything that happened, what was the happiest?
"Every fight was the most important fight for me, but maybe, maybe, just maybe, because I was a complete underdog in that fight and everybody expected me to lose the fight, it when I had my first MMA fight against Fujita," he said. "I caught him with a knee, and I made huge damage to him. I practically made a hole in his head. He had to head to the hospital right away. Maybe it was the moment when I was the happiest."
"I felt great during my UFC days because of UFC fans, they supported me like nobody ever before. Losing or winning, they were treating me like a king there and I felt very proud. Even when I fought against an American opponent, most of the arena was on my side and screaming my name."
Cro Cop too has his regrets, most notably his performance in the UFC.
"It's a black spot in my career," he said. "The UFC treated me like a king, UFC fans treated me like a king. I just failed. Why?
"It's hard to say. New fighters are coming. But I will always believe, maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm right, who knows, but I'll always believe that my bad period in the UFC started with my injuries.
"I told this story so many times, sometimes I just feel stupid telling it again and sometimes some people won't understand the way I think. There is an old wise saying, a winner will always find a solution, and a loser will always find an excuse, so I don't want to sound like a loser who is finding some excuse. But the fact is, after my last fight in Pride and before my first fight in the UFC, I had my first surgery."
Filipovic fought Gabriel Gonzaga in an unfamiliar cage with unfamiliar elbows and ate a kick that he was intimately familiar with delivering.
"It left kind of a scar. I had my first fight then, and I won it, but I felt really bad. I knew it wasn't me. It wasn't me.
"I fought, I can't remember my opponent's name (Eddie Sanchez), but then after that I fought Gonzaga. I lost, terrible high kick. I was surprised and shocked by the cage. And at the end of the day, it was the first time (I fought with grounded elbows allowed), actually second, but my first opponent didn't have the time, and Gonzaga destroyed me with elbows from the ground. So after we stood up, I didn't have double vision… I saw three guys. He really beat me up badly, and he threw a high kick which I didn't even notice. The bad period was just in front of me.
"And then after that I broke my leg… my knee, so I had four knee injuries, and then so many. I would say it's bad luck. Maybe it's not. Maybe I was happy, but because in my previous career I didn't have any kind of injuries, so maybe I can consider myself lucky at the end of the day. But the UFC days, injury after injury. And then before my last fight in the UFC with Roy Nelson, I broke my arm. Not bone, but ligament and biceps broke in half completely.
"I just saw a hole in my bicep. The same night I went to the hospital because I knew something terrible happened, and the doctor said that ‘in two days you have to do surgery,' but that was out of the question. In that case I was supposed to cancel the fight, but I had prepared six months for that fight. I was crazy and I took my chances, I risked. Now I know, maybe I shouldn't do that and I should do something different, but at the end of the day, it's me. I couldn't wait another six months, maybe more.
"But I don't feel sorry. That's the name of the game. It's not shame to go down. It's shame not to stand up. That's what I was always saying. I'm a fighter, I'm a warrior, that's my job, that's my love, and I enjoy it."
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