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Mirko Cro Cop says he leaves the sport with no regrets, even with the way his career ended

Esther Lin, Sportsfile

It’s been three weeks since the Mirko Cro Cop withdrew from his upcoming bout with Anthony Hamilton and — very abruptly — retired from mixed martial arts via a post on his website. Since then a lot has happened with the Pride legend.

It came to light that Cro Cop, who cited a shoulder injury as the catalyst for his decision to hang up the gloves, had failed an out-of-competition drug test administered by the UFC’s third party anti-doping agency, USADA. He was provisionally suspended by USADA for two years, and the UFC claimed that that was the actual reason for the fight cancellation. Cro Cop was slated to face Hamilton in Seoul, South Korea at UFC Fight Night 79. The Croatian fighter admitted later to taking a small dose of "doctor recommended" human growth hormone and plasma to help overcome his shoulder injury.

It was an unceremonious end to a celebrated 14-year odyssey in MMA for the Croatian fighter, who put on some of the sport’s most memorable bouts competing in Pride FC in the mid-aughts.

During a half-hour appearance on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, the 41-year old Cro Cop said that he was definitely going to back out of the fight one way or another — whether he had failed a test or not. He said he overextended himself in his training camp for the Hamilton fight, and he did damage to the tendon in his shoulder.

In short, he said he over-trained, and it caught up to him.

"And of course in the meantime I didn’t have time to make calls, because if I announced that on the doctor’s recommendation that I take some growth hormone to try to heal, it would be okay," he told Ariel Helwani. "But it takes time. And I didn’t have that luxury of time. And they came to test me and I said I took it, and [they said] you took it and didn’t ask permission. But at the end of the day, I had an injury and definitely I wouldn’t be able to fight, and to wait another five or six months until the next fight when you are 41…I am just not able to make such a long break between two fights."

Cro Cop last appeared in the Octagon this past April against Gabriel Gonzaga in Krakow, Poland. He avenged a 2007 loss against the Brazilian back during his first stint in the UFC, which was a light heavyweight title eliminator at UFC 70. Cro Cop beat Gonzaga via third-round TKO (elbows and punches), thus making it three wins in a row.

Primarily known as the stoical kickboxer in Pride — who uttered the memorable line, "right foot hospital; left foot cemetery" — he never quite captured the same esteem during his time in the UFC. In his first stint, Cro Cop went 1-2, losing to the Frenchman Cheick Kongo in his follow-up fight after losing to Gonzaga. In his second stint, Cro Cop went 3-1 in the Octagon before losing three straight against Frank Mir, Brendan Schaub and Roy Nelson.

He had been on the comeback trail for one last go, scoring back-to-back wins over Satoshi Ishii in 2014 before making his way back to the UFC for the rematch with Gonzaga.

Asked if it bothered him that his career ended this way — with nagging injuries, and the subsequent fallout for treating them against UFC protocols — Cro Cop said reality is reality.

"Listen, that’s life, you know," he said. "This is a violent sport, and in most of the cases the end is violent. You leave this sport either from injury, from serious injury — or you’ve lost three or four fights in a row and you’re employer doesn’t want to give you any more fights. That’s the sad truth about this sport. Either injury or you lost three or four fights and you get fired.

"Of course, it would have been best if I could have finished all three fights on my contract with three victories and after the last fight in the cage say, okay guys, listen, this is my last fight. I’ll never fight again. But it’s not done that way."

Cro Cop said he ultimately didn't have any regrets from his storied career, whether it was opponents he never got to face or from the losses he suffered. He said he was content with what he accomplished in the decade-and-a-half he competed, yet that training just didn’t make him "happy anymore."

"At the end of the day I had 79 professional fights between K-1, Pride and the UFC. And I think it’s enough.

"I think I’ve had enough. I’ve had a long and successful career but it’s got to stop one day. That’s life, and I think definitely that’s the best decision for me."

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