Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be writing a fight preview in which I believed that Roy Nelson would defeat Mirko Cro Cop. But it’s happening right now. It certainly wouldn’t be the case in 2006, when Cro Cop won the PRIDE Open-weight Grand Prix, defeating Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett on the same night to do so. But this is a different Cro Cop, a fighter who has badly faded in a number of ways, and is a mere shell of what he used to be.
It all started with Cro Cop’s brutal KO loss to Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 70. In all of his fights since then, Cro Cop has appeared very afraid to attack. I would go so far as to say that about Cro Cop’s fights against Tatsuya Mizuno and Hong Man Choi. Even though Cro Cop easily won both fights, he just didn’t seem to have that calm, stoic demeanor that he was known for in his earlier career. That trend has persisted into Cro Cop’s recent UFC career, including his wins over Mustapha Al-Turk, Anthony Perosh, and Pat Barry, and his losses to Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir, and Brendan Schaub.
A proponent of Cro Cop might point out that his recent losses are to some seriously badass fighters. Junior dos Santos is good enough that he may have beaten Cro Cop in his prime. Frank Mir is definitely a very high-level heavyweight opponent, and Schaub is still very highly respected despite his KO loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Losses to those fighters don’t necessarily mean that Cro Cop has nothing left in the tank.
But that’s not why I called for Cro Cop to retire following his loss to Schaub at UFC 128. The reason was the way he lost. After being knocked out cold by a Frank Mir knee at UFC 119, Cro Cop was knocked out cold by a Schaub punch at UFC 128. And he was knocked out so suddenly that he landed headfirst on the canvas. It was the kind of result that isn’t exciting at all; it’s depressing, and it’s very difficult to watch the once-great Cro Cop losing fights like that.
Despite that, the UFC is giving Cro Cop yet another chance to show that he belongs in the promotion, and that will happen against Roy Nelson at UFC 137. Now, there was some controversy stirred up around “Big Country” following his loss to Frank Mir earlier this year. Mostly, Nelson was criticized for carrying around a belly that Quinton Jackson famously referred to as “the moon.” Nelson gassed out badly against Mir, and the fight ended up being completely horrible. While some were calling for Nelson to go all the way down to light-heavyweight, Dana White said that he’d be happy if Nelson just got down to 240 pounds.
While Nelson’s conditioning may be quite compromised by his portly frame, he still possesses the skills needed to be a dangerous fighter. He has a very strong overhand right that he used to knock out both Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve, and possesses a very legitimate submission wrestling game. If Nelson can take Cro Cop to the ground – and Cro Cop has been increasingly susceptible to this in the recent past – he may have the ground game to accomplish the rare feat of passing Cro Cop’s guard and attempting submissions.
Now, while Cro Cop is far from what he used to be, he still knows how to strike, and if this fight is contested at distance, I would have to give Cro Cop the advantage. Still, I’ve completely given up on the idea of seeing another head kick KO, and Cro Cop’s kicks in general just seem slower and less powerful than they used to be. This would seem to be the effect of 15 years of professional combat sports experience: Cro Cop’s chin is shot and his strikes are only a shadow of what they once were.
I have a feeling that we’re going to see a lot of clinch work in this fight. Cro Cop clinched a lot against Frank Mir, and he clinched a lot against Brendan Schaub. This may be something of a defense mechanism; it’s hard to get knocked out in the clinch. But if these two do clinch, then it’s likely to be with Nelson pushing “the moon” into Cro Cop, against the fence. If that’s the case, prepare for an uninspiring, dull, depressing kind of fight.
SILVA PREDICTION: ROY NELSON (30.48) OVER MIRKO CRO COP (27.03)
I think Cro Cop’s best chance in this fight is for Nelson to completely gas himself out, like he did against Frank Mir. If that’s the case, I can see Cro Cop firing off some straight punches and kicks, and perhaps beating Nelson by TKO. But it’s at least equally likely that Nelson lands one of those big right hands and turns out the lights on Cro Cop, like Mir and Schaub did. As much as I have enjoyed watching Mirko Cro Cop fight in the past, I really feel that he should have quit last time, and as much as I’ll be pulling for him, I’ll also be bracing for yet another letdown on Saturday night.