Since we have no new fights on the horizon, let’s continue looking back into the MMA history books. Today, on April 21st, we are remembering a shocking head kick KO that changed the career trajectory of a beloved MMA pioneer.
April 21, 2007: Gabriel Gonzaga knocks out Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic
In the 2000s, when the UFC was still climbing towards MMA supremacy and mainstream exposure, UFC fans were constantly peaking beyond the Octagon and fantasizing about seeing outsiders competing in ZUFFA’s signature eight-sided cage
Most of those figures plied their trade in Japan and Pride. Among that cadre of fighters, known for hyper violence and epic highlight reels, few were as prized or feared as Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic.
The Croatian had thrilled fans of Pride and K-1 with head kick knockouts. So much so that the elite police officer’s skills were often summed up with the phrase, “Right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery.”
Even MMA fans who didn’t watch Pride were familiar with Cro Cop’s work. His knockout compilations were viral on YouTube and his performances would occasionally make it onto mainstream sports shows (such as The Best Damn Sports Show Period on FOX).
So, when ZUFFA bought out and shuttered Pride in 2007 UFC fans were salivating at the prospect of fabled violence-merchants from Japan coming to the Hard Rock and Spike TV. These fans didn’t get every fighter they hoped for, but they did get Cro Cop.
The famous half-checkerboard booty shorts stepped into the Octagon for the first time on February 3, 2007. At UFC 67 Cro Cop debuted versus Eddie Sanchez. Cro Cop did what was expected of him in that match, harrying the unheralded Sanchez with vicious kicks and punches until he eventually got the TKO late in the first round.
After this many fans were hoping to see the Croatian go for the heavyweight title versus reigning champ Randy Couture. However, the UFC had other plans. They set up a title eliminator bout with Cro Cop taking on Gabriel Gonzaga. The Brazilian was on a three fight winning streak with stoppages over Kevin Jordan, Fabiano Scherner and Carmelo Marrero.
Despite these wins, no one seriously considered Gonzaga as a threat to Cro Cop or Couture. Most fans were hoping to see a highlight reel head kick KO from Cro Cop and then a fantasy match-up with Couture. This, of course, would not happen.
Cro Cop vs. Gonzaga headlined UFC 70 in Manchester, England. It lasted four minutes and 51 seconds and it did finish with a sickening head kick KO. However, it wasn’t MMA’s most famous kicker who did the damage. It was Napão. Check the video below for one of the most brutal, and surprising, KOs in UFC history.
After demystifying Cro Cop Gonzaga went on to face Couture. He wouldn’t surprise The Natural, though. Against Gonzaga, Couture switched up his style and dogged Gonzaga throughout the fight, eventually beating him by TKO.
After the shocking loss the UFC must of hoped to get Cro Cop back on track by matching him with Cheick Kongo at UFC 75. What followed though was a dull decision won by Kongo. After that Cro Cop left the UFC, his chances of US stardom thoroughly derailed. In 2008 he won some fights in Japan before returning to the UFC a year later.
Cro Cop’s second crack at stateside relevance didn’t go well. He won a weird fight against Mostapha al-Turk at UFC 99 and was then TKO’d in another weird fight by Junior dos Santos at UFC 103. He rebounded to beat Anthony Perosh and Pat Barry, but then lost three in a row (all by KO/TKO) to Frank Mir, Brendan Schaub and Roy Nelson.
It was back to Japan after that. Cro Cop did return to the UFC one more time, in 2015. That was to headline a card in Poland. There he got to exact some revenge, beating Gonzaga with a third round TKO. Cro Cop last fought in 2019. That was under the Bellator banner in a fight versus another old opponent; Roy Nelson. Cro Cop won that bout by unanimous decision.
Gonzaga’s last MMA appearance was a TKO loss to convicted rapist Alexander Emelianenko in Russia in 2018. In 2019 he beat Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva in a bare knuckle boxing match.
April 21, 2012: Jon Jones defends the LHW title versus Rashad Evans at UFC 145
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is no stranger to bad blood. His beef with Daniel Cormier is now the stuff of legend and he also had contentious match-ups with Chael Sonnen and Alexander Gustafsson. One of the first fights Jones seemed to take personally came in 2012 against Rashad Evans.
The story goes that Evans had welcomed a young Jones — a fellow upstate New Yorker — to Jackson-Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, NM. But, after the coaches at Jackson-Wink saw Jones’ potential, Evans began feeling like chopped liver, so he left for Florida.
This drama was hyped up as the pair moved towards their title fight at UFC 145 in Atlanta, GA. In this fight Jones was defending his title for the third time. For Evans, this was his first title shot since losing the belt to Lyoto Machida three years earlier.
Jones won the fight via unanimous decision. It wasn’t a classic and it didn’t live up to the expectations that were build around Jones and Evans’ supposed beef. Here’s the play-by-play of Round 5 from BE’s Brent Brookhouse:
Round 5 - Rashad needs something huge here. Leg kick by Evans. Right hand by Jones, right hand returned by Evans. Right hand by Jones lands hard. Good punch and kick by Jones now. Evans misses a spinning backfist. Body kick and Jones pushes in to the clinch. Elbow by Jones in the clinch and they separate. 1:30 left. Jones trips Rashad to the mat but Evans is up quickly before taking punishment. Evans with a big right that misses. Kick is blocked. Jones pulls guard for some reason? Evans tries to throw some punches but can’t do anything of substance before the round ends. 10-9 Jones for the sweep on my card.
Also at UFC 145 future welterweight title contender Rory MacDonald TKO’d Che Mills in the co-main event, Ben Rothwell knocked out Brendan Schaub and Michael McDonald knocked out former WEC champ Miguel Torres. Further down the card Matt Brown delivered a one sided beating to Stephen Thompson in Wonderboy’s second UFC appearance.
April 21, 2018: Kevin Lee stops Edson Barboza
Two years ago today UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Lee went down in Atlantic City, NJ. The lightweights put on an action packed fight with Barboza wobbling Lee, but with the American getting the better of the Brazilian in the vast majority of the exchanges. Lee would win the bout by TKO (doctor’s stoppage) in the final round.
Round 5 - Barboza slings a right hand that clips Lee, but then he takes a right hand to the chin. Spinning kick is blocked by Lee this time. Barboza with a body shot but he needs a knockout. Body kick and leg kick by Barboza, who has withstood an amazing amount of punishment. Lee’s initial shot is stuffed, but now he works on another double leg against the cage. Barboza fends off the takedown and then Barboza’s mouthpiece falls out. Edson’s right eye is a shredded, swollen mess and the doctor is coming in. The fight has been stopped and Lee will get the TKO.
Here’s Lee’s post fight interview:
Also on that card Frankie Edgar took a decision over Cub Swanson, David Branch KO’d Thiago Santos, and Aljamain Sterling out-pointed Brett Johns.