Grading Mirko Cro Cop's UFC 99 Performance

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Back in June, the big story coming out of UFC 99 revolved around Mirko Cro Cop allegedly breaking a verbal deal with Dana White and jumping ship to fight in Dream in Japan.  Lost in the initial report from Yahoo's Kevin Iole was this little bit (emphasis mine):

Filipovic looked unsteady and hardly impressive in defeating Al-Turk, who is winless in the UFC. He never landed one of his vaunted kicks and the fight ended not from a punch but when he poked Al-Turk in the eye with his finger.

Referee Dan Miragliotta didn’t see the poke, so it was regarded as a clean blow and Filipovic won by stoppage.

You'll get little argument from knowledgeable MMA fans that Filipovic's abilities have taken a downslide as he progresses further into his thirties (and one should note that he will be nine days past his 35th birthday at UFC 103).  That's what happens when you fail to develop past a very limited (if not dynamic) skill set in a sport that rewards well-roundedness.

Still, Iole's description of the fight - a sentiment that I don't think is unique to him - directly contradicts what I saw that night in June.  To borrow a baseball catchphrase, I saw Mirko being Mirko.  He patiently pushed forward, shoved Al-Turk off when he attempted to clinch, and unloaded strikes when he found an opening.

What I find particularly despicable about the passage is Iole's isolation of the unfortunate eye poke as being solely responsible for the referee stoppage.  This ignores the action immediately proceeding, which saw Mirko chase Al-Turk on the fence with combinations and ultimately knocking him to the mat.

When he heads into the cage against Junior dos Santos, I'm not concerned about Cro Cop's fitness or form.  If the June fight is any indication, we will get the same Croation we've gotten for the past couple of years.  The test for Cro Cop will be whether or not he can overcome the size of dos Santos.  At 6'4" and 240+ pounds, he compares very well to Alistair Overeem (6'5", 240-250 pounds) and Cheick Kongo (6'4", 230 pounds), who both found success bullying Cro Cop up close in the clinch.

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