By Zach Arnold | March 3, 2013
By: Brian J. D’Souza
During the last year, there have been reports from a variety of news outlets and publications that have revealed shocking new details regarding the fall of PRIDE FC. In February 2012, the debut episode of Spike TV’s MMA Uncensored aired a segment with an interview conducted by veteran MMA journalist Dan Herbertson that showcased Miro Mijatovic—former manager of Mirko Cro Cop and Fedor Emelianenko. Mijatovic revealed how his extortion by the yakuza led to the criminal investigation that had PRIDE pulled off of Fuji TV in 2006. Rick Wallace of The Weekend Australian Magazine produced a general-interest feature about Mijatovic’s involvement in the fight game that was published on December 8, 2012. Prior to this, lawyer and anti-yakuza crusader Toshiro Igari’s final book, dealing with Mijatovic’s management of Cro Cop and Fedor, and Mijatovic’s criminal complaint against DSE’s yakuza owners, was published posthumously following Igari’s death in August 2010.
More recently, I published Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts, a book that chronicles the lives and careers of five men who I consider the greatest MMA fighters of all time, a list that includes Fedor Emelianenko. In order to promote the book, this week I did a two-part Q & A on Liverkick.com (Part 1, Part 2) with Miro Mijatovic where we discussed the career of Mirko Cro Cop.
Miro Mijatovic and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic smiling at a press conference before Cro Cop’s April 30, 2003 K-1 match against Bob Sapp
In response to Part 1, Mirko Cro Cop posted a long-winded rant on his Facebook page (full translation at the end of this article) in Croatian that attempted to minimize the role Miro Mijatovic played in his camp. Cro Cop’s post was subsequently republished in Vecernji list, one of Croatia’s two largest daily newspapers (Note that the Ve?ernji list article incorrectly identifies the Liverkick.com interviews as excerpts from Pound for Pound). Among Cro Cop’s claims:
- I met Mijatovic in the beginning of 2002 and I can’t remember who introduced us
- He started to offer his services cause he lived in Japan and spoke excellent Japanese but I refused his offer
- I have to acknowledge that he was very useful for us to order food at Japanese restaurants cause he spoke Japanese and that’s all he did
Left to right: Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Miro Mijatovic and Zvonimir Lucic watching Fedor Emelianenko-Heath Herring at PRIDE 23 on November 24, 2002
Mirko Cro Cop correctly remembers the date that he was first introduced to Miro Mijatovic, which was in March 2002. Cro Cop was at the Shinjuku Hilton in Tokyo, where he was awaiting his fight with Mark Hunt (Cro Cop won via decision) to occur at the 2002 K-1 Grand Prix in Nagoya. Croatian national football (soccer) team member Igor Cvitanovic made the introduction between Cro Cop, his then-manager Zvonimir Lucic and Miro Mijatovic. As Igor Cvitanovic was playing for Japanese club Shimizu S Pulse, he was good friends with Cro Cop, and they often traveled to Cro Cop’s fights together. Cvitanovic can be seen on-camera carrying Cro Cop’s bucket in ring walk-ins—so the idea that Cro Cop “forgot” who introduced him to Mijatovic is hard to believe.
Miro Mijatovic in the background, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in the foreground after Cro Cop’s August 10, 2003 win against Igor Vovchanchyn
Cro Cop himself provided evidence that Miro Mijatovic was, indeed, his manager when he published a letter on January 4, 2004 on the front page of Japanese sports newspaper Sankei Sports announcing the termination of Mijatovic as his manager. Furthermore, many internet articles dating from several years back consistently reference Miro Mijatovic as Mirko Cro Cop’s manager.
Far from being a groupie or hanger-on, Mijatovic had intimate knowledge of Mirko Cro Cop’s career, contracts, business affairs and other insider details. Beyond supplying information about Cro Cop’s trajectory from K-1 to PRIDE, Mijatovic recalled the small personal details that only an insider would pick up on. For instance, Cro Cop’s preference for American fast food—which could be ordered in English—as Cro Cop was a picky eater who did not like Japanese food.
Astute Croatian fans needed little time to pick apart Mirko Cro Cop’s claims that he barely knew Mijatovic. They found photo evidence of Mijatovic’s presence at Cro Cop’s fights, where he served as a manager from the fall of 2002 to January 2004, and began a spirited discussion of Cro Cop’s inconsistencies on various message boards.
News report of Mijatovic splitting from Cro Cop’s team as manager published in the April 2004 issue of Black Belt magazine
Considering all the evidence that shows that Mijatovic was Mirko Cro Cop’s manager, why is Cro Cop posting a flimsy-worded denial years later, in 2013?
Cro Cop’s Facebook post was intended to discredit Mijatovic, but the message inadvertently confirmed two things 1) There was yakuza involvement within K-1 and PRIDE and 2) Cro Cop refused to fight at Shockwave for $150,000, and only appeared on the show for $300,000. Did Cro Cop go out of his way to share the exact figures involved in his salary dispute with a groupie whose main duties supposedly involved ordering his sushi at restaurants?
Only an idiot can say that I agreed $150,000 and then when I arrived at the stadium and saw 100,000 people there that I then asked for $300,000. Firstly I’m not that crazy or that brave since they would have buried me in concrete in some Tokyo bay if I did that, the real truth is that when we negotiating that fight a few months before they offered me $130,000 and I wanted $150,000 and they didn’t accept it and so we said we’d talk later. After 3 weeks the Japanese call me and I tell them I got injured in training, which was the truth. I hurt my back wrestling and I was under therapy at Dr Bucan. He told me it wasn’t serious but I should rest for 2-3 weeks and I told the Japanese the doctor has ordered rest and that the promoters should find a replacement for me. They laughed and said ok ok we’ll pay you $150,000 but I tell them, you haven’t understood me, I’m in a lot of pain so my price is $300,000. They got really pissed off but they called me back the next day accepting.
The yakuza who allegedly would have buried Cro Cop in concrete in Tokyo Bay were prominent in K-1 and PRIDE. On January 4, 2004—the same day that Mirko published his termination letter to Mijatovic in Sankei Sports—members of yakuza Yamaguchi-gumi subgroups who owned PRIDE were threatening Miro Mijatovic at gunpoint in order to extort the rights to promote then-PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko from Mijatovic.
As for Cro Cop’s story of hurting his back? Cro Cop is fond of telling stories about hurting his back, as happened before Inoki-Bom-Ba-Ye 2003 (promoted by Miro Mijatovic), where Cro Cop was slated to face Japanese pro wrestler Takayama for a purse of $150,000. Cro Cop claimed that he’d hurt his back in December 2003, and was forced to pull out of the show. Cro Cop’s unreliability due to suffering such “back injuries” made him a headache for K-1 as it was a standard Cro Cop negotiation ploy to get more money once a bout had been announced by the promoter.
Part 2 of the Liverkick Q & A reveals details of the extreme favoritism Mirko Cro Cop received from PRIDE. This information is corroborated by Cro Cop’s opponents.
American Heath Herring, a well-regarded journeyman, was Mirko Cro Cop’s first opponent after Cro Cop made the switch to PRIDE full-time. For three months, Herring had been told by DSE that he was fighting a grappler.
“With the Cro Cop fight, for two weeks before it I had no idea I was fighting him. So when it happened I wasn’t ready mentally for the fight,” Herring later told MMAWeekly.com after losing via first round TKO to Cro Cop.
Cro Cop could also handpick easy opponents like Dos Caras Jr. Mirko did not select the Mexican wrestler outright; he just asked for a pushover, which was conducted for smaller fight money in the PRIDE “Bushido” league.
“I was supposed to fight someone else but he was injured and they asked me to fight Mirko,” a naive Caras explained of the match.
Caras, a pro wrestler who was then 3-3 in MMA, was head-kicked into unconsciousness in just 46 seconds. Perhaps if as much time had gone into Caras formulating his strategy as the debate over whether the Lucha Libre performer could wear his mask in the PRIDE ring, he would have lasted longer.
When Cro Cop transitioned to the UFC, just months after winning the 2006 PRIDE open weight Grand Prix—the pinnacle achievement of his career—he overcame easy opposition like Eddie Sanchez and Mostapha al-Turk, but faltered against stronger non-journeyman opponents. Cro Cop often made excuses about lingering injuries when he lost, and never truly performed up to the expectations of a former PRIDE champion.
It was in the UFC that Mirko’s unreliable nature surfaced yet again: scandal erupted after UFC 99 when Cro Cop reneged on a verbal agreement for a three-fight deal with UFC president Dana White to sign with DREAM; Cro Cop then pulled out of his DREAM 10 bout scheduled against Mighty Mo to face then-unheralded Junior dos Santos at UFC 103.
After Cro Cop’s UFC 99 bout with al-Turk, Dana White let it slip that Cro Cop had refused tougher opponents, saying “He turned down every other…fighter I offered him, because I needed him to fight Cain.”
Today, even in the twilight of his career, Mirko Cro Cop enjoys name-recognition and popularity in Croatia. It should be remembered that it was Miro Mijatovic who had the foresight business acumen to negotiate with the FEG and DSE brass in order to secure those broadcast rights to air Cro Cop’s fights in Croatia. With Mirko’s K-1 fight against Bob Sapp, his IBBY fight with Kazuyuki Fujita, as well as his PRIDE classics against Heath Herring, Igor Vovchanchyn and Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira airing on Croatian television, the fervently nationalistic Southeastern European nation discovered a new sports hero.
People need sports heroes. But if there’s anything to be learned from the cases of O.J. Simpson, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong or even K-1 stars like Badr Hari, sports heroes aren’t necessarily the most trustworthy sources of information. This is doubly true when said athletes are asked to comment on the cases where they acted in a selfish, dishonorable, self-serving or criminal manner.
If Oscar de La Hoya can admit to being a cross-dressing, cocaine-binging, alcoholic sex fiend or Lance Armstrong can admit to doping, then certainly Mirko Cro Cop can acknowledge kicking the man who essentially saved his career during perilous times in Japan to the curb for a fistful of dollars. It’s unlikely that Cro Cop would release a statement acknowledging the truth, as he dislikes doing media and prefers the much more favorable view that the public takes of him and his career that bloomed in the vacuum of information he created. But if Cro Cop were able to take such a stance, it would be an action more courageous than any opponent he has faced in the ring.
FULL TRANSLATION OF MIRKO CRO COP’S FACEBOOK POST HERE:
Hi Guys, a few words from me since I haven’t said much lately. My preparations are almost finished and everything is done as planned, my condition is excellent and I’m waiting for 15/3 to see what god gives. Stipe Glavica told me about an article on the net in which Miro Mijatovic mentions me and talks about my psychological profile and in some parts slanders me and talks nonsense and makes up stuff. Unfortunately I have to respond because that man is talking idiocy and falsehoods that not even a dog would eat with butter. I’ve said many times that those who want to promote themselves should do so with their results and successes and not call out people for something that is nonsense just so that they can read their names in print, it’s really sad. I’m writing this for people who respect means follow my career cause I can’t let some Idiot Attack me with unprovoked falsehoods and mud. I met that Mijatovic in the beginning of 2002 and I can’t remember who introduced us but he started to offer his services cause he lived in Japan and spoke excellent Japanese but I refused his offer because my mother didn’t nurse me with ink so that I’d need some representative who would “negotiate” for me and of course something for himself and as for his “Successful” advocacy and management all he did was wait for me the lobbies of hotels before each fight and then after the fights he’d try to hang around with us. so I have to acknowledge that he was very useful for us to order food at Japanese restaurants cause he spoke Japanese and that’s all he did. Then he started to put himself with Fedor and they eventually fucked him off as well and now he wants to talk about some stories about “insider” information. I’m shocked, if Stipe didn’t tell me about this story I would never even have thought of this man. Only an idiot can say that I agreed $150,000 and then when I arrived at the stadium and saw 100,000 people there that I then asked for $300,000. Firstly I’m not that crazy or that brave since they would have buried me in concrete in some Tokyo bay if I did that, the real truth is that when we negotiating that fight a few months before they offered me $130,000 and I wanted $150,000 and they didn’t accept it and so we said we’d talk later. After 3 weeks the Japanese call me and I tell them I got injured in training, which was the truth. I hurt my back wrestling and I was under therapy at Dr Bucan. He told me it wasn’t serious but I should rest for 2-3 weeks and I told the Japanese the doctor has ordered rest and that the promoters should find a replacement for me. They laughed and said ok ok we’ll pay you $150,000 but I tell them, you haven’t understood me, I’m in a lot of pain so my price is $300,000. They got really pissed off but they called me back the next day accepting. And now this has turned into a story that I arrived at the stadium saw it full of people and then I disrespected people which is total stupidity of an idiot. Like everything else he said. But if that makes him happy or if he gets some benefit from this then good on him
Read more untold stories about Mirko Cro Cop, Fedor Emelianenko and the fall of PRIDE in Brian J. D’Souza’s new book Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts.