Cro Cop vs. former manager Miro Mijatovic
Mirko Cro Cop vs. Miro Mijatovic, ROUND 1
Brian J. D’Souza, author of new MMA book Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts, recently conducted a revelatory interview with Mirko Cro Cop’s former manager Miro Mijatovic. The interview, originaily published in LiverKick.com, is excerpted below.
Cro Cop’s early problems with sponsorship.
His manager at the time, Zvonimir Lucic, asked me to look after their “commercial opportunities.” They were dissatisfied, like all fighters, with the lack of income outside their fight money. Specifically, Mirko was not happy that he didn’t receive any money for T-shirt sales (there were major stalls at all K-1 events selling fighter T-shirts) and also that he hadn’t received any money for his appearance on the K-1 game produced by Konami which had then recently been released. Fighters always notice the obvious places they are being ripped off.
Originally I wasn’t involved in the fight money negotiations or the matchmaking; but later events would change that.
How K-1 was run in 2002.
For what on the outside looked like a real company, it was an absolute basket case. Kazuyoshi Ishii was the founder and emperor of K-1. Around Ishii were a loosely organized structure of sycophants and fixers who all sought Ishii’s favors. Ishii’s English was limited, and so each fighter and their managers had different people to work with. When Ishii later was convicted for tax fraud, before he went to jail, all these sycophants engaged in a power and favor war with Ishii to be appointed as the head of K-1. The major guys were Sadaharu Tanikawa, who as an ex pro wrestling magazine editor who was mainly in charge of fight media liaison for K-1; Ken Imai who handled foreign promoters and some foreign fighters and Seiya Kawamata who handled K-1’s relations with the yakuza [Editor’s Note: Mijatovic only found this information about Kawamata out in 2003 when it was too late].
When Mirko appointed me in May 2002 as his commercial manager, I made various investigations into what was going on and also the opportunities available for fighters. Over the middle of 2002, I contacted all of the major advertising agencies, such as Dentsu and Hakuhodo and other potential sponsors, and found, while K-1 was a household name, whose fighters were instantly recognizable by Japanese people, the foreign fighters did not seem to be of any interest to any sponsors.
How relations between Mirko and K-1 fell apart.
Mirko was always difficult to negotiate with. Not only were negotiations always fraught, Mirko never signed anything and you could never be sure what Mirko was going to do. He refused to do media and basically just didn’t care about anything except his fight; you could never be sure Mirko would turn up to a fight until he was actually in the ring.
At Shockwave, the K-1/PRIDE co-promotion held on August 28, 2002, Mirko took it one step too far.
Obviously, the fight against Kazushi Sakuraba was only Mirko’s second real MMA bout after his surprising and somewhat fortunate victory over Fujita at Inoki Bom Ba Ye 2001. Mirko was a rising star in K-1 and was demanding bigger fight money and Ishii wanted to cut him down to size. So, Ken Imai, who was in charge of contact with PRIDE on the K-1 side for Shockwave, lined up a fight for Mirko on the Shockwave card against Sakuraba.
In Mirko’s first fight against Kazuyuki Fujita (held on August 19, 2001), everybody, including Mirko and Fujita knew how the fight was going to unfold. Mirko’s trainer at the time believed that Mirko had one chance, which was to hit Fujita with a knee as he came shooting in. Once it was on the ground, it was accepted that Mirko would lose the fight. So, that’s all they practiced for the first Fujita fight. Whether you call it luck or good strategy, it worked like a charm, and Mirko opened Fujita’s head like a watermelon with a perfect knee as Fujita came shooting in. Of course, Mirko saw his win as his chance to increase his fight money, and with his other wins in 2002, Mirko became a problem for K-1 with his contact demands. It was understood in these days that Mirko’s K-1 fights would earn him $10,000 to $30,000 US, while his early mixed martial arts bouts would earn him two to three times what his K-1 bouts were paying. You have to remember, K-1 wanted Mirko to lose so they could go back to screwing him over financially.
Saku/Cro CopAt Shockwave, lightening struck twice and Mirko opened up Sakuraba with his upkick [fracturing Sakuraba’s orbital bone in the second round] and won that fight as well. Although it wasn’t the fight that was the problem, it was what Mirko did before the fight
Mirko had agreed his best ever purse of $150,000 US for the Sakuraba fight. This was a huge amount in those days. But when Mirko stepped into Yoyogi Stadium and saw 80,000 people, Mirko’s entourage started to get into his ear. At the stadium, as the event was unfolding, Mirko told K-1 that unless they doubled his money, he wouldn’t be walking out into the ring. You can imagine the shitfight this caused; and finally, Mirko was paid his $300,000; but with it, came Ishii’s banishment back into the wilderness. After the event, Ishii publicly pronounced that Mirko, due to his conduct at Shockwave, would be out of the K-1 Grand Prix that year and it was unclear that he would ever be coming back to K-1.
Mirko was shocked, as he was coming off what was maybe his biggest victory to date, and had the momentum going into the K-1 GP. It looked like his Japanese fight career was over.
What Cro cop was like.
Mirko is a very serious guy when it comes to training and fighting. His dedication and focus and love of training is unique amongst all of the fighters I’ve worked with.
He doesn’t drink or smoke or party. Food wise, his diet is basically meat and potatoes or pasta. He does not eat vegetables or salad at all. His favorite place to eat in Tokyo was the chain restaurant, “TGIF” where he could get American style fast food. He took “off the shelf” multi-vitamin supplements, buts that about it. His nutritional regime can be best described as primitive.
On a more personal level, he is the most stressful person to be around that I’ve ever experienced (and as a lawyer, I’ve dealt with some pretty stressed out people in my time!). Before fights, he was unbearable—one minute happy and clowning around, the next minute taking offense at the smallest thing and abusing his entourage and everybody else misfortunate enough to be around him at the time. He certainly didn’t like anyone around him who wasn’t an absolute yes-man. In regard to his “sense of humor” and “practical jokes,” while he could dish it out, he certainly couldn’t take it. This was a feature of his fighting style as well.
Why Cro Cop transitioned from Kickboxing to MMA.
The main reason was money. MMA fights were paid much more than K-1 fights. K-1 had developed a system of keeping their fighters paid peanuts despite the fact that K-1 shows were on prime time Japanese national TV.
What is less known is also that Mirko believed that MMA would extend his career. During his training for Fujita, he found it easier on his body compared to the constant striking involved in kickboxing. That made it an easy decision. It’s weird that after his time in MMA, he now has returned to kickboxing in last part of his career.
I negotiated a purse of $150,000 for Mirko to take on commercial phenomenon Bob Sapp, but prior to working with me, Mirko was generally fighting in K-1 for $10,000 to $30,000. When he went to PRIDE, I basically put a zero on his K-1 money
Hw Pride favored Cro Cop.
While the other PRIDE fighters stayed at the normal rooms in the dilapidated three-star Shinagawa Prince Hotel, Mirko stayed at the five-star Sakura Tower, which was part of the same complex. Mirko didn’t want to mix with the other fighters, so he didn’t catch the bus with them. I arranged for private transport for him.
PRIDE favored Mirko in matchmaking. We could handpick opponents, and PRIDE assisted us to ensure the opponents didn’t know that they were fighting Mirko until the last minute. Heath Herring and Igor Vovchanchyn were handpicked by us to set up victories on the road to a title fight with Fedor Emelianenko. We all thought Mirko matched up better against Fedor than he would against Nogueira.
Most importantly, because PRIDE needed to protect their investment in their most marketable star, Mirko had the favor of the PRIDE referees—particularly Shimada. Shimada worked for PRIDE parent company Dream Stage Entertainment (DSE), including in its pro wrestling promotion and was close to top DSE management. Shimada knew what Sakakibara wanted and how to referee Mirko’s fights: quick stand-ups, repositions when things weren’t too good…watch the fights. These are little things, but they are helpful in a fight.
The former managers thoughts on Mirko’s UFC career.
I always thought that once he lost the little protections and privileges he was given in PRIDE, that it would all come tumbling down. That, combined with the usual loss of speed athletes experience as they get into their early 30s—this was always going to be Mirko’s issue since his strong point was the ability to avoid getting hit due to his speed and then countering. The combination of all these factors make it was no great surprise that his UFC career was a washout.
In a lot of ways, Mirko was happiest (at least it seemed to me) early in his career when he was living life in the barracks and his life was simple. He fought with bravery and courage. As he got older and more wealthy, he became more calculating and mercenary and lost of that early “bravery” in his fight style.
Mirko Cro Cop vs. Miro Mijatovic, ROUND 2
Cro Cop then responded, in his native Croatian, via Facebook. Translation via FightOpinion.
A few words from me since I haven’t said much lately. My preparations are almost finished and everything is done as planned, my condition is excellent and I’m waiting for March 15 to see what God gives.
Stipe Glavica told me about an article on the net in which Miro Mijatovic mentions me and talks about my psychological profile and in some parts slanders me and talks nonsense and makes up stuff. Unfortunately I have to respond because that man is talking idiocy and falsehoods that not even a dog would eat with butter.
I’ve said many times that those who want to promote themselves should do so with their results and successes and not call out people for something that is nonsense, just so that they can read their names in print. It’s really sad.
I’m writing this for people who follow my career, because I can’t let some idiot ttack me with unprovoked falsehoods and mud. I met that Mijatovic in the beginning of 2002, and I can’t remember who introduced us, but he started to offer his services cause he lived in Japan and spoke excellent Japanese.
But I refused his offer because my mother didn’t nurse me with ink so that I’d need some representative who would “negotiate” for me and of course something for himself and as for his “successful” advocacy and management all he did was wait for me the lobbies of hotels before each fight, and then after the fights he’d try to hang around with us. so I have to acknowledge that he was very useful for us to order food at Japanese restaurants cause he spoke Japanese and that’s all he did.
Then he started to put himself with Fedor and they eventually f—ed him off as well and now he wants to talk about some stories about “insider” information.
If Stipe didn’t tell me about this story I would never even have thought of this man. Only an idiot can say that I agreed $150,000 and then when I arrived at the stadium and saw 100,000 people there that I then asked for $300,000. Firstly I’m not that crazy or that brave since they would have buried me in concrete in some Tokyo bay if I did that.
The real truth is that when we negotiated that fight a few months before they offered me $130,000 and I wanted $150,000 and they didn’t accept it and so we said we’d talk later. After three weeks the Japanese call me, and I tell them I got injured in training, which was the truth. I hurt my back wrestling and I was under therapy at Dr Bucan. He told me it wasn’t serious but I should rest for two to three weeks, and I told the Japanese the doctor has ordered rest and that the promoters should find a replacement for me.
They laughed and said OK OK we’ll pay you $150,000. But I tell them, you haven’t understood me, I’m in a lot of pain so my price is $300,000.
They got really pissed off but they called me back the next day accepting. And now this has turned into a story that I arrived at the stadium saw it full of people and then I disrespected people which is total stupidity of an idiot. Like everything else he said. But if that makes him happy or if he gets some benefit from this then good on him.
Mirko Cro Cop vs. Miro Mijatovic, ROUND 3
Cro Cop himself provided evidence that Miro Mijatovic was, indeed, his manager when he published a letter on January 4, 2004 on the front page of Japanese sports newspaper Sankei Sports announcing the termination of Mijatovic as his manager.
Far from being a groupie or hanger-on, Mijatovic had intimate knowledge of Mirko Cro Cop’s career, contracts, business affairs and other insider details. Mijatovic recalled the small personal details that only an insider would pick up on.
Considering all the evidence that shows that Mijatovic was Mirko Cro Cop’s manager, why is Cro Cop posting a flimsy-worded denial years later, in 2013?
Cro Cop’s Facebook post was intended to discredit Mijatovic, but the message inadvertently confirmed two things 1) There was yakuza involvement within K-1 and PRIDE and 2) Cro Cop refused to fight at Shockwave for $150,000, and only appeared on the show for $300,000. Did Cro Cop go out of his way to share the exact figures involved in his salary dispute with a groupie whose main duties supposedly involved ordering his sushi at restaurants?
The yakuza who allegedly would have buried Cro Cop in concrete in Tokyo Bay were prominent in K-1 and PRIDE. On January 4, 2004—the same day that Mirko published his termination letter to Mijatovic in Sankei Sports—members of yakuza Yamaguchi-gumi subgroups who owned PRIDE were threatening Miro Mijatovic at gunpoint in order to extort the rights to promote then-PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko from Mijatovic.
As for Cro Cop’s story of hurting his back? Cro Cop is fond of telling stories about hurting his back, as happened before Inoki-Bom-Ba-Ye 2003 (promoted by Miro Mijatovic), where Cro Cop was slated to face Japanese pro wrestler Takayama for a purse of $150,000. Cro Cop claimed that he’d hurt his back in December 2003, and was forced to pull out of the show. Cro Cop’s unreliability due to suffering such “back injuries” made him a headache for K-1 as it was a standard Cro Cop negotiation ploy to get more money once a bout had been announced by the promoter.
“With the Cro Cop fight, for two weeks before it I had no idea I was fighting him. So when it happened I wasn’t ready mentally for the fight,” Herring later told MMAWeekly.com after losing via first round TKO to Cro Cop.
Cro Cop could also handpick easy opponents like Dos Caras Jr. Mirko did not select the Mexican wrestler outright; he just asked for a pushover, which was conducted for smaller fight money in the PRIDE “Bushido” league.
“I was supposed to fight someone else but he was injured and they asked me to fight Mirko,” a naive Caras explained of the match.
In the UFC Mirko’s unreliable nature surfaced yet again: scandal erupted after UFC 99 when Cro Cop reneged on a verbal agreement for a three-fight deal with UFC president Dana White to sign with DREAM; Cro Cop then pulled out of his DREAM 10 bout scheduled against Mighty Mo to face then-unheralded Junior dos Santos at UFC 103.
After Cro Cop’s UFC 99 bout with al-Turk, Dana White let it slip that Cro Cop had refused tougher opponents, saying “He turned down every other…fighter I offered him, because I needed him to fight Cain.”
If there’s anything to be learned from the cases of O.J. Simpson, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong or even K-1 stars like Badr Hari, sports heroes aren’t necessarily the most trustworthy sources of information. This is doubly true when said athletes are asked to comment on the cases where they acted in a selfish, dishonorable, self-serving or criminal manner.
If Oscar de La Hoya can admit to being a cross-dressing, cocaine-binging, alcoholic sex fiend or Lance Armstrong can admit to doping, then certainly Mirko Cro Cop can acknowledge kicking the man who essentially saved his career during perilous times in Japan to the curb for a fistful of dollars. It’s unlikely that Cro Cop would release a statement acknowledging the truth, as he dislikes doing media and prefers the much more favorable view that the public takes of him and his career that bloomed in the vacuum of information he created. But if Cro Cop were able to take such a stance, it would be an action more courageous than any opponent he has faced in the ring.
Read more untold stories about Mirko Cro Cop, Fedor Emelianenko and the fall of PRIDE in Brian J. D’Souza’s new book Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts.