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Cro Cop vs. Overeem: The talking is for a reason

After defeating inexperienced MMA fighter Tae Hyun Lee at DREAM 4, Dutch fighter Alistair Overeem was handed the microphone. What did he say?

That he wanted to fight Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.

Apparently, there is reason?according to Overeem, anyway?for this desire. He told In The Guard the following:

"My desire to fight Cro Cop began when I read his interview stating nobody wanted to fight him and that's why he fought some walking-punching bag-guy [Tatsuya Mizuno] at Dream 3. My management offered me a fight with him at that event and he declined. Then at the K-1 Amsterdam event my opponent got injured and the promoter attempted to arrange for Mirko to fight, again he declined? ?This really pissed me off because now my fight was canceled because this douche-bag didn't want to fight me while he was saying nobody wants to fight him. That's crap, and that's why I grabbed the microphone, and I'll keep doing so until I get this fight. I will get him."

Interestingly, Overeem's assertions got to the Croatian fighter enough for him to respond before this fight was even confirmed, somewhat of a rarity for a man that has always seemed unwilling to engage in verbal sparring before, during, or after his bouts.

"I've never been offered to fight Alistair Overeem," Cro Cop said. "Why would I decline this offer? . . . I fought the best fighters in the world already. I don't see why I should have second thoughts about fighting Alistair Overeem. On my way back up I need to fight top level competition and I believe that DREAM is perfectly able to put up a strong heavyweight match-up soon."

But then Mirko Cro Cop vs. Alistair Overeem was confirmed for DREAM 6 on September 23. At that point, Cro Cop gave as much of a verbal warning as he ever has to his soon-to-be Dutch opponent.

"Regarding [DREAM 6 on] September 23, I'm expected to fight, but nothing is still officially confirmed. I leave this to DREAM and I have no doubt that I'll be there on that card, fighting whoever they put me against. I'm hoping to face a top ranked fighter, preferably Alistair Overeem. I'm familiar with his latest interviews and many people already asking me what do I think about his words. I don't like commenting other fighters; it's not my thing. But Alistair, you should save your strength for a real fight, because it's coming. When I see you in the opposite corner, then I'll talk."

Those be fighting words, people. Sure we've heard a lot of talk before other profile fights before; much more than what we've heard here, in fact. But you just wouldn't expect it from these two. In other words, this isn't Phil Baroni vs. Frank Shamrock, Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz?noticing a lot of Shamrocks, here??this is Overeem vs. Cro Cop.

The war of words here isn't simply an attempt to publicize the fight because that's not either fighter's style. When you break it down, these pre-fight shenanigans probably indicate two things in the works. First, the obvious?these guys are talking so much because they legitimately don't like each other. Overeem's comments have given some indication that he perhaps doesn't even respect Cro Cop, having questioned his desire to fight him. And that's the kind of thing that will get any real MMA competitor angry. But there's more to this than simple dislike. The verbal sparring surely has something to do with the importance of their upcoming fight as well.

It's a must win for both fighters.

Alistair Overeem has won three straight in the heavyweight division and four of his last five fights. Previous to that, however, he lost three straight in the 205 pound weight class. In the end, Overeem hits hard, has excellent technical striking skills, has great size, and a masterful guillotine choke. He's a great athlete that is better on the ground than some give him credit for as well, having improved immeasurably on that front. But in the end, he has simply fallen short on several occasions where he looked as if he might not. While fighting in PRIDE, Overeem became famous for starting off fights strong only to falter later.

With a win over Mirko Cro Cop, however, his recent streak would shape up to be more than just a flash in the pan. It would likely catapult his MMA career to another level, one that it has never reached previously. A loss, though, would only serve to confirm his 'just short of greatness' status.

Then there's Mirko Cro Cop. Whereas Overeem's career has consistently fallen just short of truly challenging for a title, Cro Cop's has seemingly always been right there. That said, he too had fallen short on numerous occasions?losing to Kevin Randleman at a time when no one thought he would, succumbing to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's armbar during a fight that he was clearly winning, losing to Fedor when he finally got his big chance. But despite falling short of a title on numerous occasions during his fighting career, he finally did come through on September 10, 2006 when he won PRIDE's Open Weight Grand Prix by stopping Josh Barnett in the final. At that point, Cro Cop was widely considered the second best fighter in the heavyweight division. In other words, the second best fighter in the world.

But then he came to the UFC and dropped two straight to Gabriel Gonzaga (devastating knockout via his own special, the head kick) and Cheick Kongo. And suddenly, he was looking to make his way back to the elite after falling off the perch big time. However, a win over Alistair Overeem might start getting people to think about him in the elite heavyweight picture again. But a loss?

Could be devastating.

In the end, the talking before this bout is personal. That said, the verbal barrage would seemingly be about the stakes as well. When there's this much on the line, fighters tend to leave it all in the ring. That's exactly what both fighters need to do here for as long as this fight lasts.

Don't expect a decision here, folks. These two guys are just too explosive on their feet and want a victory too much.