In case you haven't heard yet - K-1 is back. And I am more than a little excited about it. This weekend, K-1 Rising takes place in Madrid, Spain. It's the first K-1 show to feature Heavyweight action since the conclusion of the 2010 Grand Prix, and it also marks the return of the Grand Prix as the 2012 MAX GP gets underway with the round of 16. In short, it's a big deal.
To get ready for the show, I decided to take a look at some classic K-1 fights featuring the fighters who will be in action in Madrid. K-1 is an organization with a rich, near 20 year history, and it's been home to some of my favorite fights in all of combat sports. Here, we'll take a look at one of those fights.
One last note before we begin - this article was originally published in a slightly different version back in my days as one of the founders at Head Kick Legend (R.I.P.). But with that site shutting down its doors, I wanted to bring it here to Bloody Elbow. Expect more of these fight classics to follow. But enough of that, let's look back at this K-1 Classic...
ERNESTO HOOST v. MIRKO CRO COP FILIPOVIC
K-1 Grand Prix Finals 1999
December 5, 1999
At K-1 Rising, Pride and UFC veteran Mirko Cro Cop returns to K-1 for the first time since shattering Bob Sapp's orbital bone back in 2003. It's Cro Cop's second kickboxing fight since a possible retirement from MMA - he defeated fellow K-1 legend Ray Sefo earlier this year. In Madrid, Cro Cop takes on Loren Javier Jorge, a Spanish kickboxer who has faced Tyrone Spong and Danyo Ilunga for It's Showtime. If Cro Cop wins, he will likely get a shot at the 2012 K-1 Grand Prix crown - the ultimate prize in kickboxing, and one that has eluded Mirko throughout his career.
Thanks to his time in MMA, Cro Cop is one of the most famous K-1 fighters of all time. But for those who don't follow K-1, his experience brings up an obvious question - "Just how good was Cro Cop in K-1?" The short answer - he was really good, but not the best. For the long answer, let's take a close look one of Mirko's best performances - the 1999 K-1 Grand Prix.
Fight video and more in the complete entry.
Mirko Filipovic (known at the time as Mirko Tiger) made a splashy K-1 debut in 1996. A 22 year old amateur boxer with a claimed record of 40-5, Filipovic dove right in to the deep waters, making his K-1 and professional kickboxing debut as part of the 1996 Grand Prix, facing a young Jerome Le Banner in the opening round. In an upset, Cro Cop defeated Le Banner via decision, earning himself a spot in the next round against one of K-1's earliest superstars, Ernesto Hoost. Already an experienced veteran, Hoost was a huge challenge for any man to face in only his 2nd pro bout, and while Cro Cop gave it a great showing, Hoost ultimately defeated him in round 3.
For Cro Cop, this was a temporary end to his kickboxing career, as he stepped away for three years. He returned in 1999 with wins over Jan Nortje and Ricky Nickolson and a decision loss to Xhavit Bajrami. His K-1 Grand Prix return took place on October 5, 1999 in the opening round of the 1999 GP. His opponent was another GP veteran, the late Mike Bernardo, and the fight is most definitely one to watch:
And with that, in many ways, the legend of Cro Cop was born. It's amazing that Bernardo survives that first kick, but it is clear here what kind of striking power Mirko possesses.
He followed that up with stoppage victories over Japanese star Musashi in the quarter finals and Sam Greco in the semi-finals, earning him his first trip to the finals of the K-1 Grand Prix, along with a fearsome reputation. As luck would have it, his opponent was a man he knew.
After his first encounter with Cro Cop, Ernesto Hoost had continued to carve out his legend in K-1. The 1997 Grand Prix champion, Ernesto had defeated a who's who of kickboxing names, including Maurice Smith, Peter Aerts, Andy Hug, Jerome Le Banner, and many more. On his path to the finals, Hoost took out both Hug and Le Banner in a pair of impressive wins. With the finals set as a Hoost v. Filipovic rematch from 1996, Hoost was considered the favorite thanks to his experience and prior win. But Mirko's devastating power was an obvious wild card and many were interested to see if the new young gun could land that devastating KO and take out the veteran.
Hoost vs. Cro Cop full fight video:
In the end, Hoost's accuracy simply proved too much for Cro Cop. One of Hoost's greatest assets is his ability to zero in on an injury and takes his opponent right out of the game. From the moment Cro Cop holds his side, you know it's just a matter of time - and not much time at that. Hoost's technical, pinpoint striking takes the win here, giving Mr. Perfect his 2nd GP crown.
For Cro Cop, this would be the closest he ever came to a GP title. He continued on in K-1 regularly for another 2 years, and sporadically through 2003. When he ended his K-1 career in 2003 he was on a 4 fight win streak that included victories over the reigning (at the time) Grand Prix champion Mark Hunt, future champion Remy Bonjasky, and the essentially undefeated Bob Sapp. With those wins, Cro Cop could have been considered the #1 Heavyweight in K-1 at the time of his departure, though he didn't have the crown to prove it.
While his name may not be in the record books as a Grand Prix champion, there is no denying Mirko Filipovic holds a prestigious place in the all-time K-1 ranks, just a step below that most elite level. It's been a rough road in recent years for the veteran, and while I don't like his chances of winning the 2012 title, I look forward to cheering him on as he tries.