Restraining Orders


by Jake Rossen [March 1, 2010] --

Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic has an explanation for why he looked sluggish against late-replacement Anthony Perosh in Australia last weekend: Despite being in the hurt business, he did not wish to hurt anyone.

“I am very sorry that I had to hurt Perosh,” he told a Croatian news site in a story Fighter’s Only translated. “I tried to fight with as much consideration for him as I could. I even avoided the ground because I am seven, eight kilos heavier than he is. … I just couldn't do that to him when he was so bloody.”

Beyond the expected understanding of fouls, “consideration” is not a word we hear often in the context of a prizefight. The goal is to render the other man a loser, which frequently involves hammering and battering him into semi-consciousness or submission. That Filipovic admits his attitude can change based on his personal feelings -- Perosh is a fellow Croatian -- or in a flash of mid-fight sympathy is a telling contradiction of a fighter’s mindset. (And if you follow this sport with any regularity, you’ll know it’s one of many.)

Filipovic was not always so generous. In 2006, he turned Wanderlei Silva’s face into something like a cantaloupe dropped from a fifth-story window; after doctors determined Silva could continue, Filipovic launched his dreaded high kick on the same side as the eye he had welded shut.

Knocking out a blind man is ruthless business. So what accounts for Filipovic’s change in thinking? Dozens of fighters have expressed concern for their opponent’s well-being, though most reserve it for the moments after the fight -- and bank account -- has been settled. The majority see injury as a necessary condition of winning or losing. Very few would take any actual delight in ending a career or snapping a limb. But it’s not always a conscious decision: Frank Shamrock did not slam Igor Zinoviev in 1998 with the promise of ending Zinoviev’s career, but I would wager he knew that was one of the possible outcomes. He and Zinoviev, like all fighters, entered with an understanding that injury without malice is still injury.

David "Tank" Abbott.Being aware of those consequences isn’t just about damage delivered. Had Filipovic pushed the issue, he may have been able to finish Perosh with a spectacular concussion and collected the bonus winnings for having the most impressive cap of the night. But it appears Filipovic’s sense of ring morals interfered -- an easy choice to make when lucrative superstardom in Japan may have made that extra $50,000 an inconsequential deposit.

Japan was a Wild West of competition, where drug use, loose rules and excitement were valued above meandering and smothering victories. Japan in the ‘00s mirrored US MMA in the 1990s, which was railed for being unnecessarily violent and politically infected. Some of the sport’s most violent moments came during this era: Gary Goodridge pinning and hammering a defenseless Paul Herrera, David “Tank” Abbott’s smirking brutality, bare-fisted hematoma festivals. Hurting someone unnecessarily wasn’t something to be avoided. It was often the point.

This merciless offense was certainly due in part to barely skilled athletes and poor officiating, but isn’t it possible ultra-violence came as a partial result of not having to answer to anyone? Today’s MMA athletes are quickly becoming corporate mascots for companies as homogenized as Reebok and Under Armor. Will Wheaties hesitate in putting Frank Mir on a box cover if he happens to snap Shane Carwin’s arm in half? Are these considerations running through the subconscious in the brief instant when a fighter has to decide whether or not to be cruel?

If the new breed of combat athlete is as caring as Filipovic, it might be a powerfully compelling reason to never see fights contested between reluctant friends. Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva have sworn never to fight; Rashad Evans and Keith Jardine won’t even entertain the idea. And if promoters force them, as they’ve indicated they would in an effort to decide who the best is, we may find ourselves victim to this line of thinking. If Machida had Silva wobbled, going in for the kill might be impossible. And a fight hampered by that kind of hesitance is really no kind of fight at all.

Filipovic may have simply been taking the media for a ride, offering a sympathetic excuse for why he looked so lazy against a man who clearly had no business in the ring with him. Or he might be a fighter who now allows his humanity to infect his fighting. Eventually, he will find himself against someone who has no such internal conflict. If Perosh had found himself in an advantageous position, would he have hesitated in pulling cartilage from the bone?

This is the problem with compassion in combat: It’s an unwritten rule. And if you are prepared to show mercy to an opponent, you need to be prepared for the possibility he will have absolutely none for you.


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