Long before Mirko Cro Cop gained worldwide success as kickboxer-turned-mixed martial artist and countless tournament appearances before Remy Bonjasky was considered a K-1 legend, their paths crossed at K-1 World Grand Prix 2002 in Fukuoka, Japan. Cro Cop won by TKO, but its significance diminishes when one looks over the fighters’ illustrious careers.
Bonjasky is a three-time K-1 World Grand Prix champion whose deteriorating eye condition is forcing him to retire for a second and final time. Whether it’s age, the wear and tear of a 19-year-career, or the threat of being permanently blind, Bonjasky doesn’t have the same aggressiveness.
Following his unofficial retirement in 2009, ‘The Flying Gentlemen’ made an explosive comeback in 2012; defeating Anderson “Braddock” Silva and Filip Verlinden. Since, he’s lost three consecutive matches including a rematch with Silva last December. He showed remnants of the old Bonjasky at GLORY 13, showing he could go toe-to-toe with the much younger Brazilian but the judges gave a unanimous decision victory to Silva.
He doesn’t have great technique or impeccable defensive skills anymore, but Bonjasky will undoubtedly leave everything his has in the ring tonight. GLORY 14 was destined to be Bonjasky’s swan song and Cro Cop is the perfect opponent to wish him adieu.
Cro Cop left kickboxing shortly after his fight with Bonjasky to focus on MMA. While it’s not unusual for a fighter to transition from one sport into another, the Croatian’s success in both is unprecedented. He is the only athlete to win both a K-1 and a UFC championship and while Bonjasky is calling it a career, Cro Cop looks like he still has a few years left in him.
Since returning to kickboxing two years ago, he is 6-0 with a victory at the 2012 K-1 World Grand Prix. The difference between Cro Cop now and the man who dominated opponents in the early part of the millennium, however, is that he doesn’t have the same power. His decision to leave MMA is justified because kickboxing doesn’t need the submission game that leaves a fighter drained, meaning that Cro Cop can cope with a lack of power by staying one step ahead of his opponents. GLORY 14 is where Cro Cop will show that his career will continue by adjusting to his ageing body diminishing skill set.
The Cro Cop and Bonjasky that face off tonight are shadows of the men who stepped into a K-1 ring twelve years ago, but it doesn’t mean that they won’t put on a great show. One is fighting so he can keep fighting while the other is there to remind kickboxing of who he was. Both are among the greatest of all time and tonight we’ll remember why.