With UFC 110 a little over one week away, one of the stories that fans will be focusing on is whether Mirko "CroCop" Filipovic is truly finished in the sport of mixed martial arts. It's safe to say that there is definitely a considerable decline in his performance over the past three years, and he'll probably never return to his prime form as the dangerous Croatian kickboxer who struck fear in the hearts of his opponents. But can he return to a form that is exciting and entertaining for the fans?
Fighters Only Magazine ran a brief translation of Croatian news portal Vecernji's interview with the 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix champion that suggests Mirko is being pushed in the right direction:
"Hyppolite was in Zagreb for one week and two weeks I was with him in Amsterdam. It took me all this time to realise that it is impossible to prepare properly without a real good camp and authoritative coach. That was the main fault in my career, I was too lazy to go away to a respected team. Now, I have Hyppolite destroying me on the pads and then I spar six minute rounds with three fresh opponents.
"The problem before was that I was sparring with friends who were doing me a favour by being there and so I could not go so hard on them, looking for the knockout. In Amsterdam, it was a struggle of life or death. I was looking for the knockout and so was my opponent. In future I will spending a full month in Amsterdam.
From all indications, this is exactly the type of training that Mirko needs to bring some life back to his declining career. Hyppolite trains some of the best K-1 fighters in the world, but there is obviously no "passes" for even recent champions at his camp. He wants the absolute best out of his fighters, and this should, at the very least, give Mirko the best opportunity to show the fans he can still bang with the new blood in the UFC heavyweight division.
There are still some concerns coming into his battle with Ben Rothwell at UFC 110. Mirko will have a weight and height disadvantage, but he should have the better striking background to give Rothwell problems in that area of the fight.
The primary concern is that Mirko will fall into some old habits that have been more prominent in recent fights rather than over the course of his entire career. Setting up his patented left head kick has been non-existent in recent bouts, and his evasive techniques to avoid opponents have slowed greatly due to what seems to be a decline in his conditioning level from his PRIDE days.
The increased pace and level of training he's receiving should fix the latter, but his mental game will stand a significant test at UFC 110. As I stated in the comments of my previous post regarding Mirko's new training regiment, I think Mirko needs to go back to basics and accept the fact that he's a striker first:
I think he’s way too indecisive. He wants to train the ground, but the fact of the matter is… he’s a striker. He needs to be a K-1 kickboxer in the cage with excellent takedown defense. His hands are the biggest blunder. He loops, is way slower, and can’t keep opponents at bay with his hands. If he could, he’d be able to set up leg kicks better, and leg kicks lead to body kicks which lead to those head kicks. He does none of that. His speed is deficient, and it’s pretty easy for opponents to catch his kicks now.
If Mirko's speed and keen eye for finding openings in his opponent's defense returns, Mirko should be able to defeat Rothwell. Rothwell can strike a bit, but Mirko's pedigree should flatten the former IFL champion if he can operate much more quickly. Rothwell will likely want to bring this fight to the ground, but Mirko made his early career in PRIDE as being very tough to take down.
Ultimately, I'd like to see Mirko abandon the left head kick altogether until he's landed heavy barrages of leg kicks, body kicks, and powerful straight jabs. Rothwell should be hurting, and that thought of the head kick will slowly slip out of his mind. Perhaps it'll be there in that instance of time, but Mirko needs to discontinue his reliance on creating highlight reel destruction until he's broken his opponent's will. With the right gameplan, it could return in all its glory.