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Mirko Cro Cop confirms retirement, leaves door open for ‘farewell’ bout

Mirko Cro Cop
Mirko Cro Cop is awarded a belt after winning the 2016 Rizin openweight grand prix.

Whether it’s one fight left as a goodbye or none at all, Mirko Cro Cop’s time as an MMA competitor is over.

The legendary heavyweight confirmed reports to Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. Cro Cop said his age — 42 years old — and injury issues, including a knee he will need surgery on, contributed to his decision.

“There will always be a fire inside of me,” Cro Cop said. “But there is a time where you have to say enough.”

Cro Cop is coming off an incredible Rizin openweight grand prix victory earlier this month. He defeated Muhammed Lawal in the quarterfinals, then Baruto in the semifinals and finally Amir Aliakbari in the championship bout Dec. 31 in Japan. All of those victories were earned in a span of three days. The wins over Baruto and Aliakbari were on the same night.

It was 10 years earlier that Cro Cop had won the 2006 Pride openweight grand prix. For the Croatian superstar, this was a fitting way to go out.

“There are so many champions in the combat sports — in MMA, in kickboxing, in boxing — who just didn't know when to stop,” Cro Cop said. “There is always younger and stronger fighters that are coming and coming and coming.

“I think it’s priceless to leave the sport as a winner. With a belt. I think it’s priceless.”

Cro Cop (35-11-2, 1 NC) did leave the door open for one last fight, preferably in Japan, where he has had some of the biggest contests of his career, a place he calls a second home. Whether or not that farewell bout happens is contingent on his health. Cro Cop said he likely needs knee surgery in about 10 days. If he’s able to come back and do a full training camp, thee could be one last fight on the horizon.

“It would be nice if I will be able to recover enough that I can have a farewell fight, maybe in Japan,” he said. “It would be nice, but to tell you the truth I don’t know how the surgery will do.”

Cro Cop said his knee swelled up every time he trained during this past eight-week camp. He needed to go to the doctor multiple times a week to get it drained. Cro Cop said he initially injured his right knee eight years ago and re-injured it recently.

If this is indeed it for the man who was born Mirko Filipovic, he will go down as one of the best heavyweights of all time. He owns victories over the likes of Josh Barnett (three times), Mark Hunt, Wanderlei Silva, Kevin Randleman and Mark Coleman. In his prime, Cro Cop and Fedor Emelianenko were the two most feared fighters in the world.

Cro Cop was hugely popular in Japan and almost as big a name in the United States when he to the UFC for the first time in 2007. His two separate UFC runs were uneven, culminating in a two-year doping suspension after he admitted to using growth hormone to treat an injury.

That, though, will not be his legacy. He remains one of the iconic names in MMA history.

“I’m grateful,” Cro Cop said. “Huge support I had in my career. Sometimes I ask myself, do I deserve it? I had unbelievable support.”

Three wins over the course of two events in a span of three days — and the trophy, belt and money to go with it — would be the perfect cap to an illustrious 16-year career.

“I think it’s important how you leave the sport,” Cro Cop said. “If I was younger, of course it would think different. Being at the age of 42 — I will be 43 in September — enough is enough, you know? Enough is enough.”

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