WHEN A CROATIAN COP MET AN AXE MURDERER
More than 15 years ago at PRIDE 20: Armed and Ready, two of the most destructive individuals ever fought one another in PRIDE for the first time. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipiovic was undertaking his 4th professional MMA fight under the PRIDE banner against the more seasoned Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva.
Wanderlei and Mirko didn’t care for each other that much, but there was really no true animosity between the two. When it came time for the ceremonial stare down, it was as if they both suddenly found mutual, unflinching hatred from past violent lives. Wanderlei stepped up eagerly, pacing left to right in true Axe Murderer fashion, excited to decorate gloves with the blood of his new victim. But with Cro Cop, we could see the eyes of a man who has probably seen some shit during his stint with the Lucko Anti-Terrorist Unit that left him unblinking in the face of intimidation.
Let’s step back and take a look at the landscape upon which these two would do battle. At the time, Cro Cop was considered to be a notable threat, entering the MMA ring with an impressive K-1 resume with a record of 23-8. Some of his wins were against big names such as Mark Hunt, Jerome Le Banner, and Bob Sapp (reducing the latter to a sobbing puddle of a man in the middle of the canvas).
Then there was the Axe Murderer, the middleweight champion busy brutally dispatching fighters and ramping up his killing spree with a record of 7-0-1 (six stoppages by hulk smash) in PRIDE.
This particular fight was under regular PRIDE rules with the exception of three rules that were negotiated in Cro Cop’s contract to help make a smoother transition from K-1 to MMA: (1) The fight would have no judges and be automatically ruled a draw if it went the distance, (2) there were five three-minute rounds, and (3) the fight would be restarted on feet if it went to the ground and goes to the ropes.
IMMOVABLE & UNSTOPPABLE
Both killers were braving the unknown at this point, with Wanderlei testing the K-1 striker and Mirko not yet comfortable with the idea of getting taken down.
The fight was a measured display by both men, but each had in mind an explicit game plan to dismantle the other. Wanderlei came into the fight in short bursts looking to use his signature curving haymakers and taking trades into close range while Mirko looked to just smash his left leg into Wanderlei as much as possible while avoiding take downs.
AXE MURDERER: Haymakers & Trades -> Close Range
Wanderlei was focused more on setting up his haymakers to smother Mirko and get into clinching range for a take down where Cro Cop was not as well-versed. This game plan found success at several points in the fight, effectively neutralizing the full extent of Mirko’s kicking potential by preoccupying him with threat of a take down and soccer kicks to the head on the ground.
See above as Wanderlei closes the distance rapidly by winging haymakers at Cro Cop. The Croatian Sensation backs up and runs out of real estate where he gets caught in a double underhook.
Wanderlei would also make trades to blitz in on Mirko. For example, Wanderlei was willing to absorb a kick just to get a trip or push through to land some trademark haymakers. Not sure if this was the best thing to do since Mirko had some devastating kicks, but hey, it was 2002 Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva — he ran right through them anyways.
Here Wanderlei catches kicks to the midsection and pushes in for a trip and take down where he would try some ground and pound.
CRO COP: Left Kick All The Time (…Most Of The Time)
Mirko preferred to keep the fight standing and hadn’t really experienced tremendous adversity on the ground yet. His K-1 credentials certainly didn’t let him down as he exploited Wanderlei’s high guard. This would be Mirko’s bread and butter throughout the fight — delivering rib-crushing kicks as soon as there was an opening.
Here we can see Wanderlei often keeps a high guard up with elbows flared out to deploy his patented haymakers quicker. This commonly leaves a large opening for Cro Cop to continually place a shin there all night. These are just two examples of jaw-dropping roundhouses Wanderlei took throughout the night that would have folded any normal human being up like a lawn chair.
Unfortunately, the fight went the distance and was ruled as a draw under the special conditions listed in Cro Cop’s contract.
Fans argue that Wanderlei Silva got the best of Mirko Cro Cop that day, yet they were denied a proper ending that would definitively conclude a winner. However, the two would be reunited once more where one of them finished the job and put a stamp on who was the better man during golden age of PRIDE.