For Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic motivation is the sole reason he fights at an elite level.
The Croatian kickboxer turned MMA fighter Tuesday spoke to the media of his return to the UFC after a 21-month absence. He faces British fighter MustaphaAl-Turk at UFC 99 in Cologne, Germany, on Saturday.
Filipovic lost two of his three appearances in the Octagon after winning the Pride Absolute Grand Prix in dominating fashion almost three years ago. There were physical problems to contend with, Cro Cop said, like his knee and foot, but mostly, his mind wasn't right after the tournament.
"I think I was just empty in my head," he reflected. "It was a head problem, not body. In my case, motivation is the biggest thing. I remember in the Grand Prix final, I don't want to underestimate anybody, but anybody could enter the ring that night, there was no chance for me to lose that night. I was just so motivated I can't explain."
Cro Cop returned to the country that made him a star after the UFC debacle, winning two fights against serviceable opponents, with one no-contest to top-ranked Alistair Overeem.
He was recovering from a May knee surgery when he reached out to UFC president Dana White.
"I think I owe a lot to the UFC and the UFC fans," he said. "I owe a lot. Right after the surgery, when I was in the hospital, I was just thinking and I had it in my mind, I will fight in Cologne. Because UFC was coming to Germany, where (there's the) biggest Croatian community there, and it was my biggest wish to participate there. Even my doctor didn't believe I would make it, but I did."
White would not confirm a one-fight deal with the Croatian star, but said a formal deal was still being finalized. It was the first time in nine years at the UFC helm that he'd booked a fighter over the phone.
Cro Cop said he was currently at 233 pounds and had shut out everything in regular life to get ready for the fight.
"Nothing but training and every morning I have to take my dogs out in the forest, and that's all I'm doing," he said. "I'm practically not going out of the house. That makes me happy, and I want to stay that way. I'm staying out of all things that can take out my concentration and energy for training."
Cro Cop says he underestimated what it would take to fight in the cage his first time in the UFC and will not do so this time around.
"It was not so easy to adapt," he said. "It's much easier to go from the cage to the ring than the ring to the cage. Many experienced fighters from the UFC, they like to use the cage, their elbows. It's not so easy when someone puts you on the wire, you just cannot move. In the ring, you can just put your head out of the ropes, referee will stop the fight, they will put you back to the middle of the ring, and it's much easier for escape. But if you're on the wire and you don't know how to escape, you're in trouble."
Al-Turk, primarily known as a ground and pound artist, would appear a prime candidate to exploit the weakness, but Cro Cop says he's ready for wherever the fight goes.
"Definitely Al-Turk will try to take me down. I watch his fights, but even if he goes to the ground, so what," said Cro Cop. "I will get back on my feet again."
Cro Cop said a title shot was his primary motivation for returning to the cage.
"Like every fighter in the world in the beginning of their career, the motivation for most of them is money, how to secure his life, the life of his family," he said. "Today, those things are behind me, but I have the strongest motivation... I just want to return to the top. I just want to prove to everyone that they were wrong."