Peter Aerts has shown us that while a 40-year-old body that has endured a lifetime of physical punishment may not respond as vigorously as it once could, a smart gameplan can still provide a path to victory for an older fighter. Aerts’ shocking upset of Semmy Schilt in 2010 and near upset of Rico Verhoeven in 2013 was a testament both to his unreal physical and mental toughness as well as to his ability to execute an effective gameplan that pushed his opponents out of their desired fighting styles. Indeed, adapting and finding a way to win is both Peter Aerts’ unique forte and the source of his career longevity, remaining in the top-10 across multiple decades and generations of fighters.
When 39-year-old Mirko Cro Cop makes his Glory debut, he will find himself in a division full of dangerous young opponents ranging from skilled technical fighters like Rico Verhoeven to bloodthirsty knockout artists like Daniel Ghita, Gokhan Saki, and Errol Zimmerman. After enduring years of trauma fighting through the ranks of K-1, Pride, and the UFC, Cro Cop will have to fight smart, trading physical prowess for intelligent and perceptive kickboxing. He will have to become a crafty and tactically adept fighter to stay afloat in a shark tank of heavyweight talent.
Perhaps sensing the need for reinvention, Cro Cop has actually developed a close-ranged dirty boxing style in his return to kickboxing. This tactic appears to have paid off for the Croatian, who has now gone 6-0 with notable wins over SuperKombat veterans Ismael Londt, Pavel Zhuravlev, and Loren Javier Jorge as well as young American upstarts Randy Blake and Jarrell Miller, controversial home town decisions notwithstanding. While his new style may not please those who wish to see Cro Cop turn back the clock, the move reflects Cro Cop’s growth as a fighter and signifies his maturing expectations. It’s a wise decision that has allowed him to remain competitive in today’s kickboxing world.
While a fight against semi-retired Remy Bonjasky may not necessarily provide great insight into Cro Cop’s place in the heavyweight division, it will undoubtedly offer kickboxing fans around the world the chance to see one of the great legends of the sport return to the sport’s grandest stage, and in 2014, following a year of upsets which saw long-held titles, ranks, and orthodoxies overturned, Cro Cop may have some surprises--which hopefully include some vintage LHK finishes--left in store.