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Mirko Cro Cop turns the tables on Gabriel Gonzaga (and Father Time)

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The good news is that Mirko Cro Cop is alive. The bad news is he’s going to have to deal with that dastardly media a little more. Wins don’t come without consequence. But man, enough of the dumb stuff -- that was some heedless violence going on over there in Krakow. A sanctioned stretch of gore where everybody’s elbows were sharper than skate blades and people bled like bloody hell.

The last time Mirko Cro Cop and Gabriel Gonzaga fought was at UFC 70, when the underdog Gonzaga erased the Pride legend with a head kick. That dropped a lot of jaws in 2007, enough to reimagine the pairing eight years later. This time, at UFC Fight Night 64 in Poland, with Gonzaga (now 35) operating as the heavy betting favorite, things were equally cuckoo.

Gonzaga was having his way with Cro Cop, to the point where the eulogists were warming up in the back. He was on his shoulder blades for good portions of the first two rounds, a position where he looked every bit his age (40). Then, in the third round, just as Gonzaga was trying to muscle him once again down to the canvas, Cro Cop smashed an elbow into his skull that changed everything. Suddenly the takedown attempt turned into a desperate grasp to stay conscious. When Cro Cop got on top of Gonzager -- as Dan Hardy calls him -- he dropped some of the meanest heavyweight elbows on record into Napao’s brow. The blood began to pool.

That’s when referee Leon Roberts dove in to stop the action, like the merciful man he is. And that’s how you treat a main event.

Now, what does it mean? This is where it gets tricky, but, realistically, not a whole hell of a lot. Somebody had to win. And that somebody regardless of anything wasn’t (and isn’t) destined for another run at the belt. Not that it was ever about that in this particular fight, which materialized from a stretch of imagination and necessity. Poland needed a good main, and Cro Cop is Croatian, which was close enough.

Still, Cro Cop made the most of it.

And it was admirable to see Cro Cop -- even without the checkerboard on the shorts -- turn the tables on Gonzaga and pump one last fist as he turns toward the twilight. The thing is, though, we all know that isn’t likely to be the case. In all likelihood we’ll see seeing Cro Cop fight again. This makes three wins in a row, after all, and this time it was against somebody not named Satoshi Ishii. If anybody asks how he got the gash above his eye, Cro Cop can roll out the old fight adage: You should see the other guy.

The truth is, I wouldn’t necessarily mind seeing Cro Cop fight again. Even if he looks a little stiffer and a little less mobile he still carries just so much possibility in his fists and feet. Besides, it’s fun to see the curmudgeon answering media questions in the lead-up like somebody who’d rather be -- in the words of Luke Thomas -- drinking Ebola from the cooler. It’s always a joy to behold his stoicism, too. Did you see him take that knee right to the whamberries in the second round? His expression never changed. What is his expression? Nineteenth Century longshoreman.

But then again, that was a pretty high note to go out on, if he cares about such ridiculous things as "high notes." The bloodbath at Krakow, when he turned the tables on Gonzaga -- not bad. It wasn’t the most glorified fight heading in, but he made it memorable. He evened the score on Gonzaga eight years after watching so much slip through his fingers back in Manchester in 2007, when it felt inevitable he was headed for a title shot. He exacted some revenge. He pulled off some stuff that 99% of the world’s quadragenarians couldn’t come close to. It’s an easy place to close the door on his career.

And an easier place to realize just how open the door still is.

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