THE CROATIAN COP ROUTS THE AXE MURDERER
On April 28th, 2002, Mirko Cro Cop vs. Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva gave us one of the most intense stare downs in the history of combat sports and delivered on one of the most exciting fights that kept fans on the edge of their seats. You can read about the first encounter between the Croatian Cop and the Axe Murderer here.
The fight went the distance and was declared as a draw under special rules, leaving fans debating which of these fighters were truly the best during PRIDE. But sure enough, the violent sacrifices of Kazuyuki Fujita’s brain and Hidehiko Yoshida’s legs coaxed the MMA gods into reuniting Wanderlei and Mirko again for the second time around in an open weight grand prix.
Many argued that the first encounter between Mirko Cro Cop vs. Wanderlei Silva was during the peak of prime. However, this was not the case as the two moved on separate ways leaving several more bodies their wake. Fans would finally get another chance who would come out on top after a long four years — this time on September 10, 2006, at PRIDE Final Conflict Absolute.
On May 18th, 2006, news of Fedor Emelianenko’s injured hand forced him out of PRIDE’s Open Weight Grand Prix, with Wanderlei Silva going in as the replacement — news that would inevitably result in a showdown between the Cro Cop and Axe Murderer once again.
Since the draw, Mirko had picked up a staggering 21 more fights, amassing a total record 19-4-2 under the PRIDE banner. Cro Cop’s fight before meeting Wanderlei for the second time featured him advancing to the quarter finals by chopping out Hidehiko Yoshida’s legs in dramatic fashion. This was no longer a transitioning MMA fighter, this was Cro Cop at his best–sending foe after foe to hospitals and cemeteries.
Wanderlei hadn’t skipped a beat during this time span. He had fought 14 more times, bringing his total record to a spectacular 31-5-1. It was as if the draw with Mirko created a monster who was intent on attempting to lobotomize everyone in opposition. Wanderlei’s fight before meeting Mirko in PRIDE’s Open Weight Grand Prix was Kazuyuki Fujita, where the Axe Murderer literally tried to soccer kick Fujita’s brain out the other ear.
Four years is a long time for fighters to change and adapt. Success is usually higher among those who continue to readjust their fight game. It didn’t seem like Wanderlei changed much, since he found tremendous success with extreme aggression, employing both his signature looping left and right haymakers. He went into the fight in typical “Axe Murderer style,” swinging his hatchets-for-arms around, trying to take off Cro Cop’s head.
Cro Cop was definitely ready for this the second time around. Mirko exploited the same patterns in their first encounter, providing the blueprint on how to counter looping haymakers, and delivering one of the most spectacular knockouts in PRIDE history, all in the first round. His keys to victory are:
1. BREAK THE WIDE ARC
Do you like drinking games? Here’s a fun one: watch vintage PRIDE-era Wanderlei fight and take a shot for every attack he sets up with a jab. Pro-tip: plan for a dull evening.
In fact, Wanderlei’s opener is often a wild left haymaker that is immediately followed up by a right haymaker. During the first encounter between the two, Wanderlei would successfully throw haymakers into the clinch for a takedown or reset.
Mirko took note of this and became much less susceptible to this tactic the second time around by utilizing an inside stiff arm to stop the initial wide arcing trajectory of the first haymaker, and darted out of the way before the second reached him.
A. Mirko anticipates Wanderlei going on the offensive and takes a wide step out with his right.
B. Wanderlei throws his wild left haymaker, but Mirko stiff arms it.
C. Mirko immediately darts out of range of the predictable second wild haymaker from Wanderlei.
E. Mirko stiff arms Wanderlei’s left haymaker again.
F. Mirko darts out of range of the following right haymaker.
G. Mirko hits the angle and darts back in with a nice counter.
2. STRAIGHT DOWN THE CENTER
Wild, looping haymakers have long recovery and start-up times, and wide arcs. Short punches straight down the center are often used as a counter since they take the path least traveled. Not only did Wanderlei continue looping rights and lefts after insufficient success, he did it with forward momentum — essentially running right into Cro Cop’s left straight.
3. “LEFT KICK, CEMETERY“
Cro Cop effectively sealed the Axe Murderer’s right eye shut after the straight left and brutal ground and pound. We saw during the first encounter Mirko’s left kick doing tremendous damage to Wanderlei’s midsection (leaving imprints of his toes). In this encounter, we saw the same left kick landing in the same spot as before since Wanderlei kept a traditionally high guard to set up his haymaker.
With Wanderlei having difficulties seeing out of his right eye, Cro Cop throws another left kick that essentially separated the Axe Murderer from his senses.
H. Cro Cop starts up his left kick and Wanderlei recognizes it.
I. Wanderlei starts to brace for impact for a kick he thinks is going to the mid section.
J. …Cro Cop was actually going high.
This left head kick arguably kicked off the great decline of the Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva. Silva continued to put up beastly fights after the tournament and remained a fan favorite for his violence, but was never able to put together momentum as strong as he did before.
Mirko moved into the finals of the tournament to defeat Josh Barnett in same night to claim the PRIDE 2006 Openweight Grand Prix Championship. To top it all off, Cro Cop’s night of triumph all occurred on his 32nd birthday.
Folks, if it’s one thing we learned from reviewing the great rivalry that is Wanderlei-Cro Cop, it’s that you give Cro Cop whatever the fuck he wants on his birthday.
- Daniel Nguyen is a packaging engineer who trains Muay Thai as a passionate hobby. With a smoker fight under his belt, his ultimate goal is to convince others to join in by conveying his passion for the sport and writing about his experiences.