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Mirko ?Cro Cop? Filipovic (22-6-2 MMA, 1-2 UFC) has left the UFC and signed with a new fight promotion called DREAM, it was announced today at a press conference in Japan.

Filipovic will make his debut with the organization at DREAM 1, a March 15 show in Saitama, Japan.

The new organization was founded by the Fight Entertainment Group, which is the parent company of the successful K-1 promotion, and former executives of the now-defunct PRIDE Fighting Championships, which was bought out and dismantled by the UFC?s parent company a year ago.

Rumblings that the Croatian fighter may be leaving the UFC heated up over the past few days as Filipovic posted blog entries teasing a big announcement. Over the past few days, MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) spoke to numerous sources close to the UFC, who could only confirm that Filipovic ?might? be on his way out of the organization.

Filipovic, who made his octagon debut at UFC 67 with a first-round TKO of Eddie Sanchez, has since suffered back-to-back losses to Gabriel Gonzaga and Cheick Kongo. They were the first consecutive losses of the fighter?s career, and they led to speculation that Filipovic might consider retirement.

After the September 2007 loss Kongo, Filipovic did admit that the thought of quitting crossed him mind. However, he later stated that he expected to return to the UFC in early 2008.

However, during press events for UFC 81 earlier this month, UFC President Dana White said that Filipovic and his camp hadn?t been in contact with the organization. White said he was forced to implement a Feb. 4 deadline for the fighter to confirm whether or not he would be continuing his career with the UFC.

It?s believed that the UFC requested that Filipovic renegotiate a new deal. During UFC 66 in December 2006, the UFC officially announced that Filipovic, the PRIDE FC 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix champion, had signed a lucrative two-year, six-fight deal with the organization. Apparently, Filipovic was unwilling to do redo the deal, and the UFC opted to let him walk instead.

* * * *

In addition to Filipovic, DREAM today announced other fighters taking part in its inaugural show.

Shinya Aoki will meet Gesias ?JZ? Calvancante in the opening round of a lightweight grand prix tournament that will be held at the March 15 show. The first round of a middleweight tournament bout is also expected to take place.

In addition to Filipovic, who?s expected to fight for the organization?s first-ever heavyweight title, other fighters competing in bouts include Norifumi ?Kid? Yamamoto, Kazushi Sakuraba and Kiyoshi Tamura.

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During today?s press conference to announce that Mirko ?Cro Cop? Filipovic has left the UFC to fight for the new DREAM organization, the company?s executives announced that they had struck a deal with M-1 Global, which could mean a future bout between DREAM?s Filipovic and M-1 Global?s Fedor Emelianenko.

The news comes from Yahoo! Sports, a content-partner site of MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com).

According to reporter Dave Meltzer, the two upstart organizations have signed a business deal ? a move that could open the door for the promotions to share talent. Melzter said that Emelianenko (as well as free agent UFC hall-of-famer Royce Gracie) both appeared in videotaped messages saying they planned to compete for DREAM.

DREAM was created by former Dream Stage Entertainment staff members (who operated PRIDE Fighting Championships before it was bought out by the UFC?s owners last year) and FEG, the parent company of K-1 kickboxing and HERO?S MMA. DREAM will replace HERO?s as the organization?s MMA arm.

The Japanese-based organization appealed to the Croatian Filipovic.

?I never liked fighting in the cage,? Filipovic said at today?s press conference. ?I always liked fighting in the ring. The second thing is that I like fighting in Japan? I don?t want anyone to think that I?m running away from the UFC.?

Emelianenko and Filipovic first met in a highly anticipated bout at PRIDE Final Conflict 2005, where Emelianenko earned a hard-fought unanimous-decision victory. During the August 2005 bout, the two fighters were among the most popular and dominant anywhere in MMA.

After winning the 2006 PRIDE Open-Weight Grand Prix, Filipovic (22-6-2) signed a six-fight, two-year deal with the UFC. The signing turned out to be a fairly significant flop. Although he defeated Eddie Sanchez in his debut, he then suffered a stunning first-round knockout to Gabriel Gonzaga and a lackluster unanimous decision to Cheick Kongo. His split with the UFC was amicable and neither side has ruled out his return to the organization, according to published reports.

Emelianenko (27-1), one of the world?s top-ranked heavyweights, is the only fighter who?s been confirmed as an M-1 Global signee. The former PRIDE heavyweight champion owns a 27-1 mark, though he?s faced largely outmatched or sub-par competition over the past two years. A fight with Filipovic could change all that, though.

DREAM officials today stated that Filipovic could fight at its inaugural show on March 15 ? possibly for a new heavyweight title. However, if Emelianenko isn?t booked as an opponent, they?ll have future opportunities. The 2008 schedule released by DREAM includes:

March 15: Heiwa Dream 1 at Saitama Super Arena

April 29: Olympia Dream 2 at Saitama Super Arena

May 11: Heiwa Dream 3 at Saitama Super Arena

Mid-June: Olympia Dream 4 at TBD

July 21: Heiwa Dream 5 at Osaka Castle Hall

Mid-September: Dream 6 at Saitama Super Arena

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