Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Mirko Cro Cop | PRIDE Final Conflict 2003
While in the midst of a 13-fight win streak, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (“Big Nog”), after already winning the 2000 King of Kings tournament in Rings, defeating Heath Herring at PRIDE 17 in November 2001 to become the inaugural PRIDE heavyweight champion. He’d win another five fights in a row, which included wins over Bob Sapp, Semmy Schilt and Dan Henderson, but he dropped the PRIDE title in his first defense against Fedor Emelianenko. He’d rebound with a win over former UFC champ Ricco Rodriguez.
While his kickboxing resume was highly praised by this point, Mirko Filipovic (aka Mirko Cro Cop) didn’t have that much professional MMA experience. Within his first two years in the sport, he’d have nine fights, but he held a 7-0-2 record, which included finishes of Kazushi Sakuraba, Herring and Igor Vovchanchyn, as well as battling Wanderlei Silva to a draw. And even in his short time in MMA, everyone knew to beware of Filipovic’s deadly head kicks.
It all led up to their interim championship meeting at PRIDE Final Conflict in November 2003. Plenty went in thinking this bout would be a barnburner. And for how long it lasted, it certainly was.
Filipovic landed the crisper, strong strikes in the first round, and he consistently stopped Nogueira’s pursuit of the takedown. Filipovic knocked down Nogueira in the closing seconds of round one with a kick and follow-up punch, but the bell to signal the end of the round rang before referee Yuji Shimada could step in.
Filipovic looked to continue his momentum into the second round, but Nogueira was finally able to get past his takedown defense and get into the full mount. After working over Filipovic in top control with strikes, Nogueira suddenly locked in an armbar and forced a tap, handing the kickboxer his first loss as an MMA pro and sending the Tokyo crowd into a frenzy.