Gabriel Gonzaga beat Mirko Cro Cop at his own game in 2007, and has the opportunity to do it again eight years later.
"Napao", who surprisingly knocked out Cro Cop with a high kick at UFC 70 to earn a shot at then heavyweight champion Randy Couture, is set to welcome the Croatian heavyweight back to the Octagon in the main event of UFC Fight Night 64 in Krakow, Poland, on April 21.
Gonzaga admits he didn’t watch any of Cro Cop recent fights, and was surprised when the UFC made the offer.
"I wasn’t expecting this fight," Gonzaga told MMAFighting.com. "I knew he was still fighting, but I had no idea he was coming back to the UFC. But I’m here to fight anyone they want, and this is a good fight. I haven’t watched his fights, but some friends did and told me he was fighting well and winning."
When Gonzaga fought Cro Cop in 2007, the Croatian fighter was coming off first-round finishes over Eddie Sanchez, Josh Barnett, Wanderlei Silva, Hidehiko Yoshida and Ikuhisa Minowa. This time, Cro Cop enters the bout fresh off a pair of wins over Satoshi Ishii, but that doesn’t mean "Napao" feels less threatened.
"He’s always dangerous, doesn’t matter how he looked in his last fights," Gonzaga said. "Cro Cop is a great fighter, you can see how many knockouts wins he has in his career. I’m going to get ready, focusing on what I’m going to do. I’ll try to take this fight to the ground. I won’t let him use his best weapons."
Gonzaga calls his win over Cro Cop "the most important fight of my career" because he was finally able to quit other jobs to focus only on his MMA career. This time, a win over Cro Cop has a different importance for his future.
"This fight keeps me alive in the UFC," said Gonzaga, who lost to Matt Mitrione and Stipe Miocic in his past UFC fights. "If I lose this fight, the UFC will probably… Everybody knows how the UFC works. Three losses, it’s rare who stays in (the UFC) after that, and I want to stay in the UFC, so I have to win this fight.
"My goal is to win this fight the best way possible," he continued. "In the first fight, I took him down and worked there, and saw an opening to throw the kick. He wasn’t expecting that. I believe he’s expecting everything this time, but I will try to finish him with a kick, a punch or a submission."