Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009 | 8:22 p.m.
Former PRIDE star Mirko ‘Cro Crop’ Filipovic’s return to the UFC in June wasn’t exactly a huge success.
The international mixed martial arts star won his fight over Mostapha Al Turk at UFC 99 in Germany when the referee missed an accidental eye-poke that put Al Turk on the defensive.
Then, immediately following the event, rumors swirled that Filipovic had decided to leave the organization after one fight to sign a deal with the Japan-based MMA organization Dream.
Filipovic eventually ended up signing a multi-fight deal with the UFC and will face up-and-comer Junior Dos Santos at UFC 103 on Sept. 19. On Tuesday, he responded to the rumors following his previous fight.
“There were so many rumors on the Internet of this and that, this and that — there was no truth in any of it,” Filipovic said. “I was able to choose. I was free on the market and I wanted to go to the UFC, the only global organization.”
According to the Croatian fighter, not only is he back in the only organization he wants to fight in, he’s also more prepared than ever to make a run through the suddenly loaded heavyweight division.
Despite his impressive 25-6-2 overall record, Filipovic has gone a disappointing 2-2 in the UFC, with back-to-back losses to Gabriel Gonzaga and Cheick Kongo in 2007.
Filipovic says part of that was due to his unfamiliarity with the cage, as he spent the first five years of his career fighting in a ring in the PRIDE format.
“I underestimated the difference of fighting in a cage,” Filipovic said. “I feel much, much more comfortable now. I train in the cage all the time. I have my own cage in my gym. I felt pretty good in my last fight in Germany.”
In addition to wanting to compete for a global organization, Filipovic said the competition level of the UFC was also what prompted him into signing the multi-fight deal following his comeback in Germany.
The UFC heavyweight division especially has grown incredibly competitive of late, a fact that hasn’t been lost on the fighters who inhabit it.
“Right now is the most exciting time in the heavyweight division,” said Gonzaga, who recorded one of the more memorable knockouts in UFC history when he landed a right kick to the temple of Filipovic two years ago. “And I think it’s going to grow much, much more. This is only the beginning.”
Even without Emelianenko, there are plenty of fighters willing to give Filipovic a challenge, starting with the explosive Dos Santos, who has needed just more than two minutes to earn two knockout wins in his first UFC fights.
“The UFC heavyweight division is really hard at the moment, new fighters are upcoming like Junior, like Cain Velasquez -- it is getting stronger and stronger everyday,” Filipovic said. “It’s getting tougher to take the belt. I don’t want to think too much about the future. I want to go step-by-step and we’ll see what’s next.”
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].