Jenelle Schneider / Vancouver Sun
Sunday, June 13, 2010 | 2:23 a.m.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — For a 35-year-old fighter who everybody has heard of by now, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was sure full of surprises at UFC 115.
In a stirring performance that brought the sellout crowd at GM Place to its feet Saturday, Filipovic choked out Pat Barry in the third round of their co-main event in what was the Croatian’s first submission win in more than five years.
Shortly after, he headed into the post-fight press conference to hand out quotes and deliver one-liners to members of the press.
It was the first time Filipovic seemed so friendly and comfortable at a press conference since, well, ever.
“I like the new ‘Cro Cop’,” said UFC President Dana White, as Filipovic dropped one joke after another following his win over Barry. “One of the things I always thought he needed when he first came here was to stay active. He’s been active and we’ll have to see what happens next in his career.
“But I like the funny Mirko Cro Cop.”
Filipovic (28-7-2) opened up to the tape recorders in Vancouver during the last week, admitting he had a rough time transitioning to the UFC from his glory days with Pride.
Whether it was getting those feelings off his chest or the fact that some MMA fans had given up on him, Filipovic turned in one of the best performances of his career at UFC 115 both inside the octagon and out.
When asked what it was that prompted his attitude change toward the media and fans, Filipovic responded with a joke before addressing it more seriously.
“When I was sparring, I got a punch in the right place so something in my mind turned,” Filipovic said. “No, I’m just kidding. But it felt good (to do interviews) this time. I’ve got to tell you the truth, I’m always known as the guy that skips (interviews) if possible, and I just want to pay back for the past.
“I took it seriously this time and I think I was open enough for the whole press.”
Filipovic’s fight became nearly as intriguing as the night’s main event, due to the level of respect Barry (5-2) goofily admitted feeling for him leading up to it.
Midway through the first round, it appeared Barry was well on his way to dispatching his idol when he knocked him down twice with a strong right hook.
Instead of moving in for the finish, however, Barry hung back and continued to smile at his opponent, prompting Filipovic to smile back and even hug him right in the middle of the round.
At that point, Barry began fighting like a guy trying to respectfully pat an old veteran on the back instead of finishing a fight, and momentum started to swing.
Filipovic dominated the second and third rounds before ending the fight just 30 seconds before the final horn.
“To be honest with you, I think Mirko played into it a little bit,” White said. “Barry respected him, but I think he had this feeling like, ‘I know I’m going to take him out tonight.’ I think he played that fight all wrong.”
In Barry’s defense, his opponent didn’t exactly follow his scouting report.
Instead of growing weaker throughout the fight as Filipovic admits he has done his entire career, his best action came late in the fight — a development he says is due to using sparring partners in training camp for the first time.
“I won the Grand Prix Pride championship in 2006 and tonight my conditioning was better than it was then,” Filipovic said. “I spent six weeks training very hard and I feel dedicated now.
“For my whole career, I didn’t have sparring partners. I was frustrated when I came to the UFC because after a few minutes of the first round, I would feel dead because I had no sparring partners. For this fight, I brought in two professionals and my conditioning was very good.”
The submission win and the time in which it came was a big statement for Filipovic, who should have no problem negotiating a new contract and potentially ending his career with the biggest MMA organization in the world.
And as far as his moods go, there’s reason to believe that "funny Mirko" is here to stay, as Filipovic swears this really is how he is in private. He’s just letting the rest of the world in on it now.
“I was always like this but just didn’t like to show it,” Filipovic said. “You’re right, I’ve been too serious during press conferences before. Maybe I should be more like this. People seem to like it.”
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.