For Cro Cop, its another stop on what has seemed like a meandering professional course full of much talk and little action since his departure from the UFC. In September 10, 2007, Cro Cop had just won PRIDE’s Open Weight Grand Prix in dominant fashion. In the process, he defeated Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett on the same night and some were suggesting that he, and not Fedor Emelianenko, was the best heavyweight fighter in the world.
Cro Cops upset loss to Gabriel Gonzaga changed that and his career his never really recovered. In what was supposed to be a “tune up” bout, Gonzaga smothered Cro Cop and roughed him up on the ground before unleashing his own version of Cro Cop’s signature kick. Mirko never saw it coming, and he crashed to the mat like he’d been shot with his leg folded awkwardly beneath him.
Since the loss to Gonzaga it has been almost impossible to keep up with the various twists and turns in Cro Cops career. After another UFC loss, this by unanimous decision to Cheick Kongo where Cro Cop looked listless and gun shy, his management announced that he had suffered a broken rib in the first round and was having trouble breathing. Furthermore, Cro Cop suffered from a deviated septum that made breathing difficult. After some deliberation, he had surgery to correct this condition and announced that he was ready to re-commit himself to his career as a fighter.
Its been an eventful year for Hong Man Choi as well. 2008 began with a loss to Fedor Emelianeko on the Yarrenoka New Years Eve event, in which the Russian fighting god briefly struggled with Chois 72 330 pound frame before submitting him. In April, he joined the Korean army for his compulsory military service only to be relived from his duties after medical tests discovered a brain tumor. The tumor was removed in June, and Choi was back in the ring in late September. He lost to then K-1 heavyweight champ Badr Hari in his comeback fight, and lost again to Ray Sefo in a reserve match at the recently completed World Cup GP. The losses prompted K-1 president Sadaharu Tanikawa to curiously announce that Choi had been laid off from the kickboxing promotion due to perceived erosion in his skills.
Tanikawa’s comments notwithstanding (and with the realization that they may be as much storyline as anything else) Choi is really the same as hes always been. Hes a physical mismatch for any opponent and while his striking style is awkward at best, it has proven to be reasonably effective. His reach is insane, and his size allows him to get a ridiculous among of leverage from his knee strikes.
This fight isnt about competition as much as it is about commerce. Cro Cop remains one of the most popular foreign fighters in Japan, and with the proven success of freak show matchups this may have been the most attractive opponent for him from the promotions standpoint. Its a fight that Cro Cop should win, and in Japan at least a victory over Choi would have at least some significance.