By now you’ve heard the reports that Mirko Cro Cop has signed on the fight with “Dream,” the new offspring of K-1 and former staff members of PRIDE.
How Cro Cop found his way back “home” to Japan has become a topic of debate. Has he received a full release from the UFC or was he granted special permission to fight outside of his contract? At this early juncture, it’s hard to say for certain.
Whether you want to call it a release, sabbatical, indefinite vacation, excused absence, career resuscitation, or whatever; you should call it a move that’s in the best interest of the UFC, Cro Cop, and the fans.
That being said, my feeling is that there had to have been a release of some kind.
While I’m sure the UFC retained the right to re-negotiate Cro Cop’s contract or accelerate it as a result of poor performance, I’m even more sure it was probably not an exclusive deal. As such, the UFC almost certainly had to sign off on something to allow Cro Cop to compete outside of his current contract.
Personally, unless Cro Cop faces Fedor Emelianenko and defeats him, I don’t see him fighting in the UFC again. Ever. Why would he fight for less? If he was willing to fight for less then he could have just re-negotiated with the UFC and stayed there. Unless the UFC is going to pay what he was making, what incentive does he have to return?
In the end, the decision could prove to be a smart gamble for the UFC. There’s a chance Cro Cop’s reputation can be rebuilt to some extent in Japan, and at no cost to the UFC. If a rematch between Cro Cop and Fedor is signed and Cro Cop wins, then the UFC stands to gain a lot. And you better believe Cro Cop vs. Fedor II has a realistic chance to happen, because according to reports, Fedor will be fighting for Dream at some point in the future.
If Cro Cop were to defeat Fedor, the UFC already has him under contract. It’s not as if they have to go out and re-negotiate everything from scratch. At that point, they could bring him back and have him face their heavyweight champion. Or, perhaps there comes a time when the UFC and Randy Couture work things out.
Couture wants Fedor but that match will have to wait. The problem is, if Fedor loses in the meantime then the market appeal of that match will suffer greatly. If someone beats Fedor, that fighter could position themselves as the disputed number heavyweight fighter in the world. As of today, Couture vs. Cro Cop doesn’t have great appeal. But Couture vs. “The guy who beat Fedor” could have some box office potential.
In regards to Cro Cop, a legal separation from the UFC could be just what the sports psychologist ordered. No, I have no idea if Cro Cop sees a sports shrink, but after failing to perform to his potential in the UFC, something had to give.
While Cro Cop has never been one to show great emotion, his showings in the UFC were lackluster, at best. The marriage between the UFC and Cro Cop was a rocky one from the start and those who claimed his heart was still in PRIDE have proven to be correct. If a return to familiar scenery can awaken the beast once known as Mirko Cro Cop, then everyone will come out ahead.