Mirko Cro Cop is one of the biggest stars in MMA history. Yet, he rarely did any MMA sparring in preparation for his fights.
The former PRIDE grand prix winner told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour that he never really did any sparring with MMA fighters before previous fights -- just mainly jiu-jitsu players and kickboxers. For this training camp, ahead of his bout with Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC Fight Night 64 on April 11 in Poland, Cro Cop will bring UFC heavyweight title contender Stipe Miocic to Croatia.
"I was always managing to have either top jiu-jitsu fighters or top kickboxers," Cro Cop said. "I never in my life prepared myself for a fight with a complete MMA fighter and a top one, especially a top one. That's the key. Sparring is the key. You need to spar with complete MMA fighters."
Cro Cop (30-11-2, 1 NC) and Miocic, a Croatian American and longtime fan of the legend, met in Croatia last summer and made the agreement to one day train together. Cro Cop asked Miocic to fly to Croatia for his Gonzaga training camp and Miocic obliged.
"He's one extraordinary person," Cro Cop said. "Really nice and humble guy and a top fighter. He's really good and he's young. Definitely a big future is front of him."
Miocic (12-2) has a main event bout coming up, too, against Mark Hunt at UFC Fight Night 65 on May 10 in Adelaide, Australia. Cro Cop has fought Hunt twice, once in PRIDE and once in K-1, and Miocic has beaten Gonzaga. So the two will likely compare notes. Miocic is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Junior dos Santos at UFC on FOX 13 in December.
Cro Cop, 40, has won two in a row, both over Satoshi Ishii in Japan. The latter was via Cro Cop's famous left head kick. He looked like the Mirko Filipovic of old in that bout and signed with the UFC last month with the hopes of seeking out rematches against men he has previously lost to. Gonzaga, who knocked Cro Cop out with a head kick in 2007, was at the top of the list.
Cro Cop had eight surgeries during his 3-7 run with the UFC. Couple that with never leaving Croatia for camps and he probably was not the best fighter he could have been. Cro Cop said he has attempted to leave home for a week to train, but hates everything about it, from the food to being without his family.
"I just can't go outside of Croatia to train," he said. "I have two sons. I have a family here. It would definitely kill me, personally.
"There is huge benefits to training at a big camp, to have an opportunity to change sparring partners. It's just not an option for me. I just can't go out of Croatia."
So Miocic is coming to him. And maybe with some more varied training, we'll see an evolved Cro Cop, even at age 40.
"The kickboxer doesn't know how to take me down," Cro Cop said. "The jiu-jitsu fighter doesn't know how to punch me on the ground. I need a complete fighter who knows how to throw elbows on the ground, who knows how to do ground and pound. All those things are very important in an MMA fight."