The UFC's debut in Poland looks to be a good platform for storied kickboxer Mirko "Cro-Cop" Filipovic's return to the octagon.
He's back in the UFC, and his return bodes strong sentiment as he takes on a man by whom he was deprived of a UFC title shot. He's facing Gabriel Gonzaga in a rematch of their encounter at UFC 70; nearly eight-years ago.
Gonzaga knocked out Cro-Cop in highlight reel fashion. A sharp head kick did the job; a move by which Cro-Cop lived during his kickboxing career. At 4:51 into this fight, the Croatian was sent out the door to the melody which led him there. Worrisome, it would be, if Mirko Filipovic didn't want to have his revenge against the Brazilian.
Now, might be the best of moments for him to do just that. Gonzaga, 35, is the embodiment of a grappler. Broad-built, strong-shouldered, and punishing on the cage floor, he is a fourth-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He can fuss any Heavyweight on his best day, but conditioning has been a recurrent issue as he has lost two straight in the cage and may be nearing the end of his career. A win here would extend his run in the UFC indefinitely, while a loss would, at very least, foist him back towards the fringes of MMA.
That could be avoided, but may demand further travail than he's been able to endure in recent fights. Cro-Cop has performed well in recent kickboxing events, winning the K1 Grand Prix in March of 2013, and defeating Jarrell Miller at Glory 17. He also has a pair of MMA wins over Satoshi Ishii in Japan, and is 3-1 overall in his last four MMA contests. His striking remains a immutable hazard in any competition, and Gonzaga must look to neutralize Cro-Cop's range and offset his striking patterns if he is to win this fight.
Gonzaga doesn't need a takedown to defeat Cro-Cop. He can work on the feet but only if he closes the distance and looks to catch some of the 40-year-old's kicks. They're still dangerous, but also certain to be coming slower than they did some years ago. Gonzaga will be anticipating that at every turn. Likewise, Cro-Cop had best use his reach as much as possible, but still look to wear on "Nepao's" body with punches and knees if he can shift this one to in-fighting.
There is no clear-cut route for either fighter to win this contest, but rather certain simple tasks each man can perform to improve his chances. Cro-Cop's ability to keep his distance and be efficient whenever Gonzaga closes the distance could help him win the fight. While Gonzaga's preparation could be of much importance if he isn't able to score another early demolition of Filipovic. Don't hold me to it, but I expect Gonzaga to repeat with a unanimous decision win. It won't come as distinguishably as last time, but it will be just what is needed at this point in his career.
UFC Fight Night 64 will be available live, in it's entirety, on UFC Fight Pass.