Mirko Cro Cop might not be all the way back. But at least he got the biggest loss of his career back.
The MMA legend finished Gabriel Gonzaga by TKO at 3:30 of the third round in the main event of UFC Fight Night Krakow on Saturday in Poland. After losing the first two rounds and looking largely listless, Cro Cop landed a vicious standing elbow that rocked Gonzaga in the clinch. Cro Cop poured it on with more hard elbows on the ground. Gonzaga was left a bloody mess and referee Leon Roberts stepped in.
Cro Cop (31-11-2, 1 NC) was knocked out via head kick by Gonzaga at UFC 70 in 2007. A win in that fight would have earned the highly touted Cro Cop a UFC heavyweight title shot against Randy Couture. The former PRIDE grand prix champion never lived up to his hype in the UFC and it all started with that stunning KO -- Gonzaga finished Cro Cop the same way Cro Cop had done to so many previous opponents. It has gone down as one of the best knockouts and most stunning victories in UFC history.
Getting that loss back was one of the reasons Cro Cop, 40, cited for wanting to come back to the UFC in the first place. This was his first fight in the organization since 2001. Cro Cop, whose real name is Mirko Filipovic, seemed healthier in recent fights, including two wins over Satoshi Ishii in Japan last year. The second victory over Ishii came via head kick and it seemed like the Croatian had a little bit of his spunk back.
It did not look that way the first two rounds Saturday. Gonzaga took Cro Cop down and got to mount in both rounds relatively easily. Cro Cop didn't do much offensively and seemed to be a shot fighter. Not so in the third. Cro Cop rallied with those big elbows and avenged the worst loss of his career.
Filipovic, who brought Stipe Miocic in for this training camp, looked emotional afterward. But he's not going anywhere. When color commentator John Gooden asked if we'd see him again, Cro Cop said, "Of course."
Gonzaga (16-10) has now lost three in a row after putting together a stretch of five wins in six fights.
In the co-main event, Jimi Manuwa didn't start putting the pedal on the gas until the final minute of the fight, but he was still able to pull off a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) win over Jan Blachowicz. Every round was close with most of the action (or lack thereof) happening in the clinch, but Manuwa likely won all of them barely.
Manuwa (14-1) was coming off a broken foot that forced him out of a fight with Mauricio Rua in December. He fell to Alexander Gustafsson in March 2014 for his first career loss. The 35-year-old Brit is ranked in the UFC's light heavyweight top 10 and said afterward he wants to begin picking off those top-ranked guys.
Blachowicz (18-4) had won six in a row coming into the fight, including a TKO of Ilir Latifi last October.
Pawel Pawlak pleased his hometown fans with a unanimous decision win over Sheldon Westcott. While Westcott wanted to stifle Pawlak against the fence, the Polish welterweight teed off on Westcott at distance with big punches, body kicks and knees. Pawlak (11-1) was coming off a loss in his UFC debut last year against Peter Sobotta. At 26 years old, he's a solid European prospect.
Maryna Moroz pulled off the upset of the night in her debut, submitting Joanne Calderwood with an armbar in just 1:30. Afterward, Moroz got up on the Octagon and pointed at UFC women's strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Moroz called out Jedrzejczyk in the post-fight interview and Jedrzejczyk got up out of her chair and made a bring-it-on motion.
Moroz (6-0), who was making her UFC debut, was actually lighting up Calderwood standing up before jumping an armbar and forcing the tap. It was a stunning, impressive performance for the 23-year-old Ukraine native.
On the prelims, Leon Edwards put on the performance of the night by knocking out Seth Baczynski in just eight seconds with a straight left hand. It stands as the second quickest KO in UFC welterweight history. Duane Ludwig still holds the record with a six-second knockout of Jonathan Goulet.
Aleksandra Albu of Moldova made her UFC debut with a guillotine choke victory over Izabela Badureak in the second round and Stevie Ray of Scotland pulled off a nice TKO of Marcin Bendel in the second round.
Also on the prelims, Bartosz Fabinski beat Garreth McLellen, Sergio Moraes defeated Mickael Lebout, Yaotzin Meza took out Damian Stasiak, Anthony Hamilton defeated Daniel Omeilanczuk and Taylor Lapilus beat Rocky Lee, all by unanimous decision.