Mirko Cro Cop knows his MMA career is winding down. But there are a few more things he wants to accomplish before he steps away for good.
The legendary striker was intrigued by the idea of signing with the UFC because of the potential losses he could avenge in rematches. Gabriel Gonzaga was at the top of the list. Cro Cop will get his chance to get Gonzaga back for a stunning knockout in 2007 in the main event of UFC Fight Night 64 on April 11 in Krakow, Poland.
"It was one of the fights I will never forget, and I just want a rematch with him," Cro Cop told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I can't say I will beat him, but I will die trying. That's how I feel. I feel good right now. There are a few things I still want to do and definitely fighting Gabriel Gonzaga is one of them."
Cro Cop (30-11-2, 1 NC), the former PRIDE grand prix winner and K-1 champion, would have gotten a UFC heavyweight title shot with a winner over Gonzaga at UFC 70 on April 21, 2007. Most people know what happened next -- the Croatian star was knocked out with his own trademark move: a left head kick.
After that, Cro Cop, now 40, had a mediocre run in the UFC, going 3-6. He calls the defeat against Gonzaga the worst of his storied career.
"I really believe that I'm a better fighter than Gabriel Gonzaga," Cro Cop said. "I don't want to be a big mouth and I respect him. He's a great fighter. But I will do my best, definitely. He will do his best. We are going to perform a great show and the fans will be happy."
Cro Cop, whose real last name is Filipovic, is coming off two straight TKO wins over Satoshi Ishii in Japan. The latter came via a left head kick as he looked like the Cro Cop of old. Since leaving the UFC in 2011, Cro Cop is 3-1. He said he feels healthier than ever and during his UFC career he was saddled by numerous injuries -- including eight total surgeries.
"I'm training with a smile on my face," Cro Cop said. "This is what I want to do. No big mystery. No big philosophy. This is my job and I love to do it."
Cro Cop said he signed a three-fight deal with the UFC, intending to earn rematches with men who defeated him in the past. Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson and Brendan Schaub are all fighters on the UFC's heavyweight roster who have knocked him off. Cro Cop said this will be his final run in combat sports and his kickboxing career is already over.
"Even if I fail, which I don't think I will, I know I tried," Cro Cop said. "That's how I function. That's how I think. That's me. That's my life philosophy."
He feels that way about the fight with Gonzaga, which will take place in the UFC's Poland debut. But Cro Cop is confident.
"I already studied all his fights after we fought," he said. "No big surprises. I know exactly what he's going to do. Things will be different this time."
Cro Cop said he has no trouble watching the first fight now -- it doesn't bother him. And he doesn't spend much time wondering what would have happened if he got that title shot against Randy Couture.
It's water under the bridge for the iconic fighter, but it's a bridge Cro Cop wants very badly to cross again.
"I really want that victory [against Gonzaga] more than anything," he said. "Believe me. More than anything."