UFC 115 Fight Pivotal For Both Barry And Cro Cop

UFC 115 Fight Pivotal for Both Barry and Cro Cop

Pat Barry was not ashamed to admit it. He’s a professional fighter days away from his next battle, yet he was forthright, clear and concise over his admiration for Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. Before he started training for MMA, Barry had posters of Cro Cop plastered on his wall. He’d sit with his brother and watch K-1 fights of a guy who made his top-five list of “scariest guys on the planet.”

Among his accomplishments that established him as an international superstar, Cro Cop is a two-time K-1 World Grand Prix runner-up and an open weight Pride FC Grand Prix champion in 2006. He has his legions of followers, but Barry will insist he’s on top of that heap. Cro Cop is also Barry’s opponent Saturday at UFC 115 in Vancouver, so this isn’t strictly a business trip. Barry may have a job to do, but he’s star-struck – he requested an autograph – and he’s not afraid let the love flow.

“When I switched over to MMA he’s like the No. 1 guy on my list. I blame Mirko for the evolution of MMA,” Barry said on a conference call promoting the event. “He caused the rest of us to evolve, so is it difficult to separate star-struckness like from – is it being a regular fight? Absolutely.

“I’ll say this, same thing I said to everybody else, Cro-Cop is still the man he’s always been. He’s still the monster that he’s always been. He’s still as deadly as he’s always been, so he’s not older or slower, weaker, nothing. It’s everybody else got better is what has happened. So anybody, anybody says that Cro-Cop is out of his prime can feel free to fight him for me next Saturday. I don’t mind.”

That last point can be refuted, for you can argue that Cro Cop hasn’t been the same since a devastating head-kick knockout loss to Gabriel Gonzaga on April 21, 2007 turned out his lights and detached a ligament in his knee. He lost his next UFC fight to Cheick Kongo before flying to compete in Japan, where he went 2-0 with one no contest. His return to Zuffa was victorious, but marred with controversy when the referee failed to notice an unintentional poke to the eyes of Mostapha Al-Turk.

Cro Cop has split his last two fights, the first a submission loss to Junior dos Santos when a punch to his left eye forced the stoppage. He’s had to endure three knee surgeries and questions over whether he’s still relevant. His opponent may be convinced, but Cro Cop fought depression after that fight, revealing he felt like hanging himself. This fight against Barry is the last on his UFC contract. MMA is the only sport he knows, the only life he’s been living the past three years. He’s completely healthy and off a win. Saturday in Vancouver is a night he has to own. There is no alternative.

“MMA is growing and the fighters are becoming more and more and more complete than before, but to get to victory today in this competition you also must have your day,” Cro Cop said. “It doesn’t mean that I’m looking for an excuse, you know, but sometimes you just don’t feel good, you just don’t feel, yes, you want to fight.”

Barry needs this, and has to want it too, to take his career to the next level. He was an undistinguished newcomer in the UFC before his stunning second-round TKO win over Antoni Hardonk at UFC 104. Not too long ago Barry was broke and facing eviction. One punch earned him Knockout of the Night and Fight of the Night – and an extra $120,000 – and a spot in the co-main event of UFC 115. A former kickboxer, Barry’s had six MMA fights, three in the UFC, so one TKO win did not suddenly make him a superstar. Barry’s after something more important – legitimacy.

“I never look at any of the fights that I have as launching my career,” Barry said. “I’ve got to look at every fight as this is the furthest that it is as of this moment. I have to keep myself grounded and not look past or try to come up with what possibly is going to come about after this fight. I might win. I might get kicked in the neck and die. I don’t know what is going to happen and therefore my limit is to fight.”

Barry will also determine whether Cro Crop has reached his limit. Cro Cop would like to discuss extending his UFC contract but that door will open only with a win. His days as a law enforcement officer – a Croatian Cop – and in Croatian Parliament are long over and he isn’t exactly considering a career after fighting.

“Never say never, but I don’t think so,” he said about returning to law enforcement or politics. “I’m happy with my life, with the life I have, you know? I will keep fighting as long as I can, as long as I’m going to feel fit, as long as people would like to see me fighting and that’s it. And after that so many good things, you know, to find out, to discover, because I’m living like a soldier for the last 20 years.”

Barry’s followed most of them like an aspiring private. Cro Cop had hung up before Barry made it clear he seriously wanted his autograph. He’ll probably get it Saturday night. By then he’ll know whether he’s written the next chapter of his budding career while penning the final verse of a legend, who in no uncertain terms happens to be his idol.