Once considered among the most feared strikers in mixed martial arts, when Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (26-7-2 MMA, 3-3 UFC) first uttered the words "right leg hospital, left leg cemetery," it didn't exactly seem like simple braggadocio.
An experienced K-1 kickboxer with potent striking, Filipovic has enjoyed just moderate success since joining the UFC in 2007. But with "Cro Cop" set to face fellow knockout artist Pat Barry (5-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) at next week's UFC 115 event in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Filipovic said his ready to flash vintage form in a crowd-pleasing affair.
"[Barry] is a good fighter, very fast, and I saw the way he destroyed (Antoni) Hardonk," Filipovic told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) on Friday's media call promoting the event. "It was amazing. It will be a good fight, and I'm looking forward to it."
When Filipovic came to the UFC, he was riding a wave of 12 wins in 14 PRIDE contests, and his kickboxing-based style had earned "Cro Cop" a legion of fans around the world. But despite transitioning to a cage after spending years fighting in a ring, Filipovic declined to concern himself with the type of structure surrounding the fighting surface and limped off to a 1-2 start in the UFC.
Filipovic said he now realizes that was a mistake.
"There are so many small details that I actually wasn't aware about," Filipovic said. "Fighting in a cage is fighting in a cage. It's not a ring. The cage has its own rules, and it's a big difference.
"I spent my whole career fighting in Japan in a ring. The cage is a cage. ... (Now) I have an original UFC cage in my house. I have a gym inside my house, and I have cage there."
But Filipovic didn't stop there. The Croatian made a complete change in his regimen prior to his most recent win – a UFC 110 victory over Australian journeyman Anthony Perosh – and he believes the adjustments are paying serious dividends.
"It is very important to have a camp like Ivan Hippolyte has in Amsterdam," Filipovic said. "First of all, he's a first-class coach. Second thing, there are many sparring partners, which I don't have in Zagreb, in Croatia. It's good to go there to be isolated.
"I don't think [my old training partners] were on the level like professionals. I don't want to offend them. They are my friends who came to help me, but they're just not that kind of level of fighters that I can find in Amsterdam. It's one thing to spar with friends of mine who are good, very solid fighters. But it's another thing to spar with Remy Bonjasky and other K-1 stars. That's something very different."
But along with the change in scenery and adjustments in training, Filipovic said there's one more important aspect to his improved attack: himself.
The 35-year-old said his lethal legs are finally 100 percent again, and he's ready to let them fly.
"Thank God finally I have recovered completely," Filipovic said. "I had a very bad injury two years ago. My leg was broken. The knee was completely broken. I had three surgeries for the knee, and of course it reflected in my kicking. I was afraid to kick. It was still very fresh, but I decided to take the risk for the Cologne fight (UFC 99).
"One year ago, it was only six months after the surgery, so it was a suicide according to the doctor, but I decided to take the fight, and I decided to take another fight with (Junior) Dos Santos, which wasn't a smart idea in that condition. But I'm a fighter. I like the sport. I like fighting, and I like competition. But obviously you need to make a decision with the head and not with the heart."
It's that recovery process that Filipovic cites for a ho-hum win over Mostapha and the loss to Dos Santos.
"It was really a hard injury, and it really took time, Filipovic said. "Now it is one-and-a-half years since I had the operation, and it's finally OK. Finally, two months ago, I started with the full kicking.
"If you noticed, I didn't even try to do a kick with Mostapha Al-Turk. I didn't try – or I tried only once – to kick Junior Dos Santos. I didn't feel very stable in kicking. I didn't feel my leg good, so I just didn't kick. Of course it frustrated me a lot, but it was my decision to enter the cage. It was my decision to accept the fight. Nobody forced me in that, but thank God that is behind me now and the legs are OK."
Written off by some MMA observers as past his prime during his current 5-3 stretch, Filipovic respectfully disagrees. In fact, if "Cro Cop" is right about his current path, Barry might soon be looking to cash in on some free Canadian healthcare.
"[Barry] is a good fighter, a good striker, and that's what I like," Filipovic said. "I like to fight strikers. I don't like to fight (grapplers) – not because I can't handle it. I just prefer to stay in a standup position. Pat will stay in a standup position.
"It will be a good standup war, and I think the audience will be very satisfied with the fight. Plus I think there will be many Croatian fans. Vancouver has a strong Croatian community. There will be many Croatian flags. What fighter could wish more than that? A good opponent, an excellent audience, that's all I can wish."