Former UFC Heavyweight Champ Prepares for Comeback
By Loretta Hunt (email@example.com)
The cage is all the rage, as UFC heavyweight contender Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic is finding out the hard way. So, the feared striker has invited Ricco Rodriguez to join him in his Croatian homeland at the end of this month for a lesson in the nuisances of the Octagon.
“He’s asked me to come out and show him some of the ground-and-pound techniques, getting out and up from the bottom, the mechanics of the cage,” says Rodriguez, who has mastered key outings in both apparatus during his eight-year career. “We’ll be exchanging information. There’s absolutely a difference between the ring and a cage.”
Rodriguez, who utilized a ground-and-pound arsenal to capture the UFC Heavyweight Championship from Randy Couture in 2002, will assist the former PRIDE star in his training for his Sept. 8 UFC 75 bout against fellow stand-up artist Cheick Kongo in London, England. The fight will be Filipovic’s third career turn in a cage, after claiming a first round TKO over Eddie Sanchez last February and a surprise loss via head kick by Gabriel Gonzaga in April.
Cro Cop, a member of Croatia’s elite special police unit and a Parliament representative, has spent the majority of his career competing in the ring, rising to notoriety in K-1’s world-class kickboxing tournaments and PRIDE Fighting Championships. Cro Cop capped off a fruitful run for the Japanese promotion with a 2006 Grand Prix Championship before defecting to the UFC. Rodriguez reports the stone-faced assassin revered for his instantaneously crippling left high kick has imported a cage for his training complex in preparation.
The prestigious invitation comes at an opportune time in Rodriguez’s career as the heavyweight wages a comeback during the sport’s most lucrative time yet. Though the 29-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has been offered a steady stream of bouts, including a marquee fight against the world’s number one-ranked heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko in bodogFIGHT last December, Rodriguez has been adamant regarding his financial worth in a market in demand for the division.
“I know everybody hates when I say it, but for all the effort I’ve put in, I’d like to get a good paycheck,” he says.
At a time, Rodriguez was considered among the world's top heavyweights, demonstrating above average agility and athleticism for his weight division in performances against Andrei Arlovski, Paul Buentello, Jeff Monson, and Couture. In 2003, Rodriguez lost a highly contested unanimous decision over former PRIDE Heavyweight Champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in Japan after challenging the jiu-jitsu legend all three rounds.
Rodriguez (25-6) lost the UFC title to a hungry Tim Sylvia at 2003’s UFC 41, and has since wrestled with a host of demons, including obesity, heavy partying, and drug use.
Topping out at 350 pounds when he dropped a decision to an unknown Robert Beraun in Arizona, Rodriguez earned four back-to-back victories in 2006, including a vindication rematch to Ron Waterman at July’s WFA 4 “King of the Streets.” Rodriguez was dealt a setback in November, when a California State Athletic Commission-administered drug test revealed the presense of cocaine. Rodriguez has since served a six-month suspension that completed in mid-May.
Rodriguez’s weight has gradually melted down to 265-270 pounds, where he’s hovering for a super heavyweight bout in November with American Top Team up-and-comer Antonio Silva, who underwent tumor removal surgery in June, at Pro Elite’s “EliteXC” promotion. Rodriguez aims to drop as far as his body will allow, possibly even to the svelte 235-pound frame he carried during the five-fight win streak he enjoyed in the Octagon leading up to taking the crown.
A recent father to one-year old son Ricco, Rodriguez’s experiences have been filmed for the last ten years for a pending documentary on his life. The film will include his rise to the UFC championship, his downward spiral, and his comeback, with training footage of him and legendary fighter Kazushi Sakuraba in Japan, his interactions with troubled training partner Mark Kerr of “The Smashing Machine” fame, and Rodriguez’s first day of boxing training with coach Saul Soliz in Texas, where the heavyweight now resides.