Written by InfamousProfessorPlum -- Eight years ago, the only description I had for MMA was that ‘quiet fighting with all that yelling in the background’. I was referring to the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. I had no idea what the show exactly was and wasn’t quite sure the point of it all. Occasionally, I would flip through channels and find ‘the UFC’ but, oddly, it was in a ring (PRIDE FC). If you haven’t quite figured it out yet, my ignorance for mixed martial arts was pretty extreme (like pretty much everyone else).
I am 22 years old now so I started paying attention heavily toward MMA when I was about 15 years old or so. Previously before becoming a fan of MMA, I never was in any physical fight, I didn’t know anyone training to become a fighter, I was never recommended to tune in….nothing. I simply watched mixed martial arts because, well, it was….different. Football was always my favorite, but, being a Philadelphia Eagles fan year after year with Andy Reid was just rough. Every year seemed like Groundhog’s Day after the Eagles failed to reach the Super Bowl time and time and time again. Mixed martial arts seemed to just naturally attract me. Its pull was so smooth and invisible…I had no idea that mixed martial arts would soon become easily my favorite sport.
The first time I watched MMA was during Pride Conflict, August 15, 2004. I saw the likes of Fedor, Big Nog, Randleman, and Wanderlei. Great fights all around, but the fighter than caught my attention strongly was a fighter with legs the size of Earl Campbell. 30+ inches in both thighs displayed in a cool pair of white and red checkered shorts. I seemed to recognize his opponent; his name sounded familiar…. "Emelianenko". It turned out that the Croatian’s opponent was the younger brother of a fighter than just destroyed a fighter in under a minute by a textbook armbar. What I soon learned VERY fast was that this younger Russian brother soon turned from the Croatian’s opponent to his victim.
Within 10 seconds of the fight, the Croatian landed a huge body kick straight into the right side of Mr. Emelianenko. As the Russian attempted to swarm his opponent, the man with the gigantic legs unloaded a kick straight to the right thigh of the attacker. The victim immediately starts to limp as he continues to swarm. The Russian’s attack is failing miserably as he gets clobbered with continuous left hands until he is thrown like a rag doll to the mat. Emelianenko doesn’t seem to give up as he gets up and continues to walk down the Croatian. Then, like a flick of the lights, a left head kick comes flying toward Emelianenko’s head and he falls like a sack of potatoes. He is easily finished off by a huge left punch and a half dozen right hammer fists as the icing on the cake.
Who was this Croatian? I soon found out his name was Mirko Cro Cop and I instantly became a fan after a 2 minute fight. "Right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery." We've all come to know this phrase well after witnessing some of the deadliest knockouts in MMA. Guys like Heath Herring, Igor Vovchanchyn, Dos Caras Jr., Aleksander Emelianenko, and Wanderlei Silva, fell victim to those tree trunks Cro Cop calls legs. It was only a matter of time until the Croatian sent one flying through the air and crashing into your defenseless body, preferably your head. American fans of PRIDE were waiting for the day when Mirko Cro Cop came to America and clashed with the Coutures, Sylvias, and Arlovskis of the heavyweight division.
I can't described how ecstatic I was after I learned of the purchase of Pride and began thinking of all the matchups MMA fans around the world wanted for so long. They were now going to happen and I couldn't wait. Cro Cop made his highly anticipated UFC debut against Eddie Sanchez, a nice warm up fight where Cro Cop made Sanchez a nice punching bag. His next fight was against up and coming heavyweight Gabriel Gonzaga for the right to become the UFC #1 contender against UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture. The Croatian was "supposed" to crush Gonzaga and create a Pride vs UFC match we've wanted so long in Cro Cop vs Couture.
The match began and I was on my feet. Expecting Cro Cop to start unloading on his opponent, instead, Gonzaga took Cro Cop down to the mat which was surprising because Mirko had one of the best takedown defenses in the game. The Brazilian landed some good shots from on top but no one was too worried. Cro Cop got back to his feet with about one minute left in the first round and was looking to land some huge shots with his stand up game.
With the first round coming to an end, the Pride star circled left and what happened next was heard around the world. The true Mirko Cro Cop, who we came to love and enjoy watching all through his K-1 and Pride days, would come to an end on this Saturday night in Manchester, England in front of a crowd of 15,000+ fans. Gonzaga started a kick, Cro Cop read it and covered his mid-section, but the kick just kept going until it crashed flush on the side of Mirko's head. In less than a second, the man who sent so many home with the phrase "Right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery," came plummeting to the ground with his right leg pinned awkwardly under his unconscious body. My favorite fighter, Mirko Cro Cop, was never the same again.