One of the most influential fighters in mixed martial arts history, Mark Coleman first earned his title of “The Godfather of Ground-and-Pound” in the Octagon and that reputation only grew in PRIDE before he returned to the UFC. So with the UFC’s 25th anniversary approaching, it’s the perfect time to take a look back at the former Ohio State standout’s biggest moments.
Moti Horenstein – July 12, 1996 – UFC 10 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Result – Coleman Wsub1 (Strikes)
An NCAA National Champion in 1988 and a 1992 US Olympian, Mark Coleman had achieved a lot in his athletic career, but in 1996, the 31-year old didn’t know what was next. Then he turned on the television one night.
“I was definitely at a crossroads,” Coleman told me in 2008. “With wrestling, there wasn’t a whole lot of pay involved, you were doing a lot for personal pride, and I was definitely not sure about what my future held. That’s why it was so exciting when I saw the first UFC on TV. I was immediately attracted to it and I knew immediately that it was what I was gonna do.”
Back then, an athlete could just say ‘hey, I want to do that,’ and could. That’s how it was back in the Wild Wild West days of the UFC. But the moment the bell rang at UFC 10 and Coleman engaged with Moti Horenstein, it was evident that we were witnessing something different, something special. It was quick, it was punishing, and it was clear – Mark Coleman was going to change the fight game.
Don Frye I – July 12, 1996 – UFC 10 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Result – Coleman TKO1
Back at UFC 10, it took three victories in one night to walk away with the tournament title and the check that went along with it. Coleman had no doubt that he was going to be the one holding that oversized check.
“Back in ’96, me and a bunch of wrestlers may have been naïve, but we just really believed that we were gonna get in there and win these things,” he laughed. “I guess that was a good thing because confidence will take you a long way in this sport.”
And after beating Horenstein, he did the same thing to established UFC fighter Gary Goodridge, setting up an intriguing matchup with Don Frye, who was 6-0 at the time and coming off two wins of his own that night over Mark Hall and Brian Johnston. Fans of this new sport were certainly being given their money’s worth with this one, but Coleman wouldn’t be denied as he pounded out a victory over Frye in just over 11 and a half minutes. “The Hammer” was born.
Dan Severn – February 7, 1997 – UFC 12 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Result – Coleman Wsub1
Just two months after his UFC 10 tournament victory, Coleman defeated Julian Sanchez and Brian Johnston in the same night to take the UFC 11 tournament, and then got a princely five month break before being matched up with Dan “The Beast” Severn for the first UFC heavyweight championship. Again, Coleman was too much for his opponent, a future Hall of Famer, and he won by submission in under three minutes. Six wins, six finishes, all in less than seven months. If you thought Mark Coleman would never lose, you weren’t alone.
Masaaki Satake – January 30, 2000 – PRIDE Grand Prix 2000 – Opening Round (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Result – Coleman Wsub1
One of those who didn’t think Coleman would ever lose was the man himself.
“Unfortunately, I started reading too many quotes and I paid the price,” he said. “The reason I did so well in 10, 11, and 12, and in amateur wrestling was because I outworked my opponents. I wasn’t used to the exposure and the fanfare, and I got caught up in it and started believing what I was reading too much, and it was a very humbling experience when I did finally lose.”
That loss came to Maurice Smith in 1997, a huge upset at the time, and two more UFC losses to Pete Williams and Pedro Rizzo would follow in succession. Many wrote Coleman off, but he was about to resurrect his career in Japan’s PRIDE organization, and his true return began in his third overseas fight (the opening round of the PRIDE Grand Prix 2000) against the Smith-trained Masaaki Satake, who got dumped with a double leg takedown, punched, punished and then submitted by a neck crank. It was vintage Coleman.
Igor Vovchanchyn – May 1, 2000 – PRIDE Grand Prix 2000 – Finals (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Result – Coleman Wsub2 (knees)
With the sport of MMA bigger than it’s ever been, there are always a few fighters from the past who have fallen through the cracks and become forgotten men. Igor Vovchanchyn, who retired in 2005, just before the big MMA explosion, is one of those men. So for those who may not know about him, let’s just say that the Ukrainian powerhouse was a certified bad ass, a concussive puncher who faced anyone and everyone during his ten year career. So when Coleman went in against Vovchanchyn in the PRIDE Grand Prix Finals and dominated him from start to finish, it was one of the most important and impressive victories of his career. The win re-established Coleman on the world scene, and if you didn’t love his post-fight celebration, you’re watching the wrong sport.
Allan Goes – March 25, 2001 – PRIDE 13 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Result – Coleman TKO1
10 months after his win in the PRIDE Grand Prix, Coleman returned to take on Jiu-Jitsu ace Allan Goes. Many believed that if Coleman got the fight to the mat as usual, Goes would have the grappling skills to not only survive, but to submit “The Hammer.” It didn’t happen. After Goes missed with a series of bizarre kicks to start the match, Coleman took him to the mat and after landing some thudding body punches, he unleashed a series of ferocious knees to the head that knocked Goes out at the 1:19 mark.
Stephan Bonnar – July 11, 2009 – UFC 100 (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Result – Coleman W3
In the years following the win over Goes, Coleman fought erratically both in terms of performance and activity, and after a 2006 loss to Fedor Emelianenko, Coleman went on a hiatus from the game without officially announcing his retirement. In 2008, he was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame and made it clear that he was going to make a return. That return came at UFC 93 in early-2009, and while he lost in a rematch to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, he showed that he still had something left in the tank. But something wasn’t going to get it done at the UFC level, so he moved to Vegas for his training camp before a UFC 100 bout with Stephan Bonnar.
“I’ve pretty much known that I needed to change things up for a long, long time, but I just never had the guts to pull the trigger and make it happen,” he said before the fight. “Quite honestly, I’ve been a father first and a fighter second, and I always hated leaving my kids. I trained at home and I did the best I could with what I had at home and I probably knew deep down that it wasn’t enough, but this time I’m doing it for the kids as well, and I think they’re gonna understand and be pleased in the long run that I did come out and did receive some help from so many people in Vegas. I’ve had so many people willing to help me and wanting to help me that it’s been great.”
And it showed on fight night as he pounded out a clear-cut three round decision win over Bonnar that ultimately proved to be the final win of his storied career.