When a shoulder injury forced Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic to pull out of his bout against Anthony Hamilton, which was scheduled for later this month, and then unexpectedly decided to end his combat-sports career after nearly two decades of swinging leather, it seemed like a bittersweet ending for one of the greatest heavyweight fighters of all time. At 41 years old, with nearly 80 combined professional MMA and kickboxing bouts on his record and far more brutal knockout losses than his fans would care to remember, it probably wasn’t the worst time for Cro Cop to call it quits, even if it was unfortunate that he was forced to do so as a result of the nagging injuries that had hampered the second half of his career and not on his own terms.
Then, barely over 24 hours after the announcement that Cro Cop was hanging up his gloves, a second major item hit the news wire. Cro Cop had failed his recent USADA test and was being suspended.
Suddenly, Cro Cop’s retirement looks more like an effort to save face and get out in front of the news cycle. Even though he’s almost certainly injured to the point where he wouldn’t be fighting in a few weeks regardless of a suspension, this isn’t a good look for one of the best heavyweight fighters the sport has had to offer.
Obviously, this isn’t the way Cro Cop or his fans would like to see him go out. However, with his career all but wrapped up, this is one drug-test failure that fight fans can probably allow themselves to ignore with somewhat of a clean conscience, especially if the Croatian is truly done with the sport.
If we’re being honest, there really wasn’t much Cro Cop could do to hurt his legacy at this point in his career. While he’s still a major attraction for many fight fans and almost certainly would have held a few more high-profile spots on UFC cards, no one was expecting a Cro Cop comeback tour where he would have started knocking out heavyweight contenders left and right. A few extra fights tacked on to the end of his resume, whether he won or lost, wouldn’t have changed the opinion of the fans that still get butterflies in their stomachs when watching old Pride footage. This failed drug test won’t (and probably shouldn’t) sway those fans either.
I hesitate to say this about someone who was such a dominant force in the sport, but Cro Cop has been a shell of his former self for almost a decade now. The fighter that once had people quoting his “right leg hospital, left leg cemetery” mantra in a semi-serious fashion hasn’t really been around since Pride folded back in 2007. All of his big wins following the Pride era have mostly been viewed as gutsy performances from a once mighty legend. In combat sports, where it’s so difficult for fighters to accept the right time to walk away, many of the greatest of all time have the latter part of their careers glossed over in favor of nostalgia. Cro Cop has been among that group for quite a while now.
It’s difficult to forget about a career-killing setback like a failed drug test no matter who the fighter is, but due to the circumstances and Cro Cop’s 15-year career having no other blemishes, it’s going to be easier to let this one slide. For one, in the Cro Cop press release sent out to announce his retirement, he mentioned undergoing “daily therapy, injections of blood plasma and various cocktails of drugs” to try to be able to compete for the UFC in a few weeks. As it turns out, the “various cocktails of drugs” Cro Cop was taking to try to keep his shoulder functioning ended up containing growth hormone and was the cause of his USADA failure. The fighter admitted to taking the substance after becoming “desperate” and reportedly came clean to the UFC and USADA immediately after the fact. Cro Cop has maintained that he only took the substance to try to allow his injury to heal, and not to gain an unfair advantage. Obviously, Cro Cop took an illegal substance and should be punished accordingly, but it does provide some clarity as to why a fighter who’s been clean for over a decade would fail a test so late into his career.
This failed drug test is going to hurt Cro Cop’s reputation for a while and give some ammunition to his detractors, who could imply that this wasn’t a one-time thing. However, as far as anyone knows, this is the first time Cro Cop has been implicated in the use of performance-enhancing drugs. With it happening so late in his career and before the scheduled fight actually took place, this is more than likely just going to end up as an ugly footnote in an otherwise incredible career for the former Pride Grand Prix winner.
It now looks like Cro Cop was forced into retirement more so than he initially admitted, but the fact that he’s able to walk away from the sport on a three-fight winning streak — and to do so just months after avenging what many had called the most devastating defeat of his career — has to be considered somewhat of a victory to his fans. Remember, it wasn’t all that long ago that Cro Cop had suffered three straight knockout losses and appeared to be completely washed up, so this might have been as close to a perfect ending as possible, minus the failed drug test.
The drama that’s engulfed the very end of Cro Cop’s career isn’t going to matter in the long run. Fans are going to remember Cro Cop for his wars with Fedor Emelianenko, his left high kicks and his status as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. They will not reflect too heavily on his run of knockout losses that ended his second UFC stint or the failed drug test that ended his third. And that’s exactly how it should be.