Old ‘Cop’ and the Art of Bowing out Gracefully

By Jake Rossen Jun 15, 2010
Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (left) file photo: Sherdog.com

It’s a bit of a stretch to say Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic looked good against Patrick Barry Saturday. He was dropped twice in the first round, which would normally be cause for opponents to take advantage of a fighter idling on his butt, but Barry just blinked at him. He turned it on later in the third round, though sinking a choke against someone of limited ground ability is not a USA/Russia hockey level of adversity.

None of this is intended to discount his victory, by any measure impressive considering his recent performances, but it was not the display that would give fans any ideas about his status as a contender.

In a move that is spectacularly out of character for a fighter, Filipovic himself seems to recognize this. Arriving back in Croatia, he told a local newspaper (translated by Fighter’s Only) that “I am now too old for this…I have no motivation for the fight, no mental strength for all the Spartan training. I am no longer so hungry for victory.”

Fighting is such a grind that it takes either an obsession or a fear of poverty to push yourself through the months leading up to bouts. Filipovic seems to have neither: if he commits to an exit, it would mark one of the very few times a high-profile MMA athlete has chosen a decent performance as his last. (The current trait isn’t walking away, but getting wheeled away.)

What makes “Cro Cop” so self-aware? He seems to be heavily invested in Croatian politics, which means he’s able to define himself in ways other than in fighting. He’s financially secure after years as a star when Japan could afford to be generous. He doesn’t appear to have the same insistence over wringing every last bit of effectiveness from his body that other fighters do. And he seems to realize that if you’re not angling toward a belt in the UFC, you’re spinning wheels.

There is a pretty starling contradiction between Filipovic’s attitude and Chuck Liddell, who has suffered a steady succession of TKO losses in the past three years but insisted on ignoring what his body was trying to tell him. Odd, too, that “Cro Cop” would have the maturity to reflect on retirement after a win while some expect Liddell could angle for a third fight with Tito Ortiz.

Filipovic may not have to consider it, but there’s something to be said for remaining a little enigmatic at the late stages of your career. If you’re still perceived as a dominant participant, endorsements and seminar revenue are going to swell more than if you get tied into knots. It’s also a pretty revealing piece of character: you’ve got other things going on besides fighting. It’s what you do and not who you are.

Once an athlete displays a decline in skills, becoming a trophy head for younger fighters is inevitable. Why exhaust every last ounce of skill and effort in allowing it to play out? What fighter has ever plodded into a ring, reflexes eroding, and managed to squeeze out another five or six victories? When the body is kind enough to warn you of pending trouble, you should take it as a clue not to sign a contract extension.

Naturally, much of what a fighter has to say about their career in the hours and days following a fight should be ignored: it’s usually contradicted once they have time to settle their head. Filipovic might change his mind again. But he’s made this noise before, and this time seems pragmatic about his fatigue. If he’s looking for an exit, it means he’s an anomaly among his peers: he knows when the show is over.
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