Mark Coleman's career has been a lot like the way he fights. It hasn't always been pretty, and it sure as hell isn't perfect. But he redefined the sport and forced an evolution. Coleman ushered in the era of the wrestler and forced everyone to cope, which helped to force strikers to evolve anti-wrestling and submission fighters to realize the importance of controlling the body from the bottom. There is no denying that the man who won three major tournaments, the first UFC heavyweight champion, and the "grandfather of ground and pound" is one of the true legends of our sport.
Let's take a look back at the fights that defined Coleman's career:
vs. Don Frye At UFC 10
Nate did a good job of covering this fight in his recent judo chop. Frye had absolutely blitzed the competition in his debut at the eight man tournament on the UFC 8 card, taking only 3:10 seconds to rack up three wins. Frye then returned at UFC 9 and picked up another TKO victory over Amaury Bitetti in the ill fated UFC 9 and made the finals of the UFC 10 tourny where he met Coleman.
Mark was able to bust Frye up throughout the bout. Repeatedly putting him on his back and repeatedly throwing fluries of heavy punches downward and providing an exclamation point to the beating with a few heavy headbutts, a Coleman trademark.
The always dangerous Frye was in a fight where he was forced to be on the defensive from the opening bell. It was the perfect statement that a new force had arrived on the scene. The only real negative for Coleman was that he looked to be gassing toward the latter part of the fight.
vs. Brian Johnston At UFC 11
With a first round win in yet another of the UFC's 8 man tournaments Coleman was now sitting with a 4-0 record. It wasn't known at the time that this was to turn into the championship bout in the tournament due to several injuries preventing a final bout from taking place, but in the end that is how things went down.
Johnston was a decent striker, he had a reasonable amateur boxing pedigree and he wasn't afraid to use his legs.
It only took Mark 2:20 to pull off the submission victory due to strikes but yet another flaw in Coleman's game emerged in that brief time. At a few points in the contest Johnston threw leg kicks which the stiff moving Coleman did not defend. After the second leg kick landed Coleman was visibly bothered by the shot and looked uneasy. Rather than play around any longer with the stand-up game, Mark timed the next kick, shot in and pounded out the quick submission.vs. Maurice Smith at UFC 14
Coleman became the first ever UFC Heavyweight Champion with his UFC 12 win over Dan Severn and came into UFC 14 at a perfect 6-0 and the judges had yet to need to weigh in on one of his bouts. Smith, on the other hand, was a former world kickboxing champion who brought a losing record in MMA to the Octagon. Every loss in his career had come by way of submission but there had been an anti-wrestling element to his game that was not fully understood at the time.
It wasn't a shock when Coleman scored an early take down but Smith was able to work from his back well enough to avoid damage while making Coleman work. Mark was able to get mount and back control but again Smith was able to avoid any of the damage that had befallen all those who had fought "The Hammer" to that point.
With Coleman working constantly and not getting much done by way of damage the flaw from the Frye fight showed up and fatigue set in. Suddenly Smith was able to start to not only defend but get out from under Coleman. The 15 minute round ended with Maurice stating to work leg kicks and straight punches. Then for two 3 minute overtimes Smith tee'd off with a leg kick based attack while Coleman sucked in a lot of wind.
With no finish after the two overtime periods a decision was rendered and it was a clear Smith victory. It took one fight to prove that wrestlers were not just going to run over strikers, the sport was evolving again.
vs. Pete Williams at UFC 17
Nate has covered this one and the Smith fight in one of his MMA History installments. Originally slated to be Coleman returning to take on the new heavyweight champion Randy Couture. Couture pulled out with an injury and Lion's Den member Pete Williams stepped in to fill the slot.
Williams was no pushover and in 1998 having a camp to train with other dedicated high level fighters who understood multiple aspects of the game was still a rarity.
Early in the fight Coleman got the take down but got his arm caught in an armbar and was very close to being forced to submit. He survived though and went back to that old ground and pound style that had brought him success in the past. It was a more patient attack focused on working Williams' body aswell as elbows to the head.
Big John stood the fighters up after a little more than 5 minutes and Coleman was clearly tiring as he pushed his mouthpiece out to get more air. Williams began to score with leg kicks which Coleman still hadn't seemed to learn to defend. It was the Smith fight all over again. Coleman shot and a fast paced scramble followed which only served to tire Mark more. Eventually Mark got him back to the ground but resorted to laying on top, his legs too tired to form any solid base as the regulation time ended.
Then, with the overtime period just getting under way...it happened. Williams landed a solid leg kick and a flurry of punches. Coleman shot in weekly and ate a knee. Williams turned to throw a kick and Mark lowered his hands expecting yet another leg kick, but instead Pete's shin met Mark's face and it was all over. It would become the most replayed moment of Mark Coleman's career.
vs. Igor Vovchanchyn at PRIDE Grand Prix 2000 Finals
The Williams loss was followed up by a decision loss to Pedro Rizzo and a new contract for PRIDE Fighting Championships. In his first bout for PRIDE Mark would drop his fourth consecutive fight as he was submitted by Nobuhiko Takada in what many fans felt was a "work." One rebound victory over Ricardo Morais was enough to get Coleman ready for the 2000 Grand Prix where he was able to advance to the finals with wins over kickboxer Masaaki Satake, the always tough Akira Shoji, and a "win" over the man who ousted Mark's good friend Mark Kerr from the tournament in Kazuyuki Fujita.
Coleman came into the fight with the advantage of receiving a pass into the finals when Fujita was unable to continue on in the tournament while Vovchanchyn had to go ten minutes with Kazushi Sakuraba. Still, Igor was the tournament favorite coming into the evening and he had gone 32 stright bouts without picking up a loss.
Even with Mark being the fresher man, no one could have predicted the ease with which he was able to dispatch his Ukranian foe. Coleman was able to repeatedly score takedowns and do effective work from the top before getting into position to land knees to the head of Vovchanchyn in the second round and force the stoppage.
Mark had gone from undefeated machine to a string of four straight losses back to the top of the mountain. Now all he needed to do was keep the momentum.
vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at PRIDE 16
A quick and violent win over Allan Goes kept the roll going for Coleman when he met RINGS veteran Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Right away Nogueira brought the fight to Coleman through leg kicks and combination punching. When the distance was closed Coleman was never able to keep Nogueira from getting an underhook which kept Coleman from getting the takedown. The fight stayed standing with Mark getting picked apart until a high kick was missed allowing him to pounce onto the top position on the ground.
Once they were on the ground Nogueira controlled the wrists and moved from submission attempt to submission attempt before finally locking in a triangle which transitioned into an armbar when Mark moved to attempt a slam escape. There was no choice but for Coleman to tap out as his elbow was extended.
In hindsight the loss was nothing to be ashamed of, but at the time it was a shocking upset of the number one heavyweight on the planet. Mark would not fight again for close to two years following the loss.
vs. Stephan Bonnar at UFC 100
The remainder of Mark's run in PRIDE was largely unsuccessful as he only managed a lackluster win over Don Frye and a fluke victory when he broke Mauricio "Shogun" Rua's arm on a takedown.
In 2009 Coleman would return to the UFC Octagon that had made him a star thirteen years prior, but at a new weight of 205 pounds. In a rematch with Rua he was able to give as well as he got for the early portion of the fight but, again, cardio seemed to be a major factor and eventually "Shogun" was able to get the TKO late in the final round to ruin the homecoming.
Coleman would come back to fight again on the historic UFC 100 card where he took on Stephan Bonnar. For three rounds Coleman was able to secure takedowns and do a decent amount of damage from the top, waiting for the correct moment to shoot in and put Bonnar's back to the mat. For those three rounds Coleman was back to being the wrestling and ground and pound force that he once had been.
After 15 minutes the scores were read, all 29-28 and all for Coleman. It wasn't quite the heights of UFC 10 or 11 and it wasn't the same as winning a Grand Prix. But it was Mark Coleman winning a fight, in the UFC, in 2009.
vs. Randy Couture at UFC 109
Saturday night we'll see a fight that we were supposed to see all the way back at UFC 17. Coleman says that he'll keep fighting win or lose, but everyone knows that a loss ends his chances of ever being relevant in the title picture again.
In a career of highs and lows, wins and losses, and ground and pound...It's awful hard not to pull for "The Hammer" to make one last run at that mountaintop.