Mark Coleman is a certified Hall of Famer, but perhaps the least recognizable member of the UFC’s pantheon of greats. All but two of his fights in the last decade were for Japan’s Pride promotion, so many UFC fans born and bred on Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin never experienced Coleman in his prime. Now, the legend has returned, trying to capture the imagination of a new generation of fight fans. Jonathan Snowden sat down with Coleman to talk about his highs, his lows, and what fans online are calling “Age in the Cage,” his UFC 109 main event with fellow old man Randy Couture.
Heavy.com: How happy are you to finally get in the cage with Randy Couture? I know your managers used to call up the UFC to try to tell them you would wipe the floor with Randy. It’s a fight you’ve been thinking about for a long time isn’t it?
Mark Coleman: Just about every fan that I talk to, the first thing they ask me is when I’m going to fight Randy Couture. The question has been asked to me so many times-it gets kind of bothersome. I’ve been forced to think about it. But I’ve never really picked or choosed who I fight. So I didn’t really pick this fight. The fans kind of picked it for me I guess. Let’s just put it this way: I’m glad it’s happening. I didn’t pick it, but I’m glad they picked it for me.
Heavy.com: You and Couture kind of took separate paths in wrestling,between Greco versus freestyle and the battle of the two OSU’s (Coleman went to Ohio State, Couture to Oklahoma State). Do you think the wrestling community will be divided?
Mark Coleman: I think the wrestling community will definitely follow this fight. High school, college, freestyle, Greco-Roman-they’re all going to follow it. I don’t think it’s going to be freestyle versus Greco-Roman, because, yes, he specialized in Greco-Roman. But he’s done plenty of freestyle as well. I don’t think it’s going to be all the freestyle guys pulling for me. I think it’s going to be people he knows pulling for him and people I know pulling for me.
Heavy.com: When it comes to the battle of the wrestling styles, we’ve kind of seen a preview of this. When your teammate Kevin Randleman fought him, he put Couture right on the mat. Do you think that what worked for Randleman will apply to you as well?
Mark Coleman: That was a long time ago. I think that fight has no bearing on this fight at all. I think that fight was irrelevant. Randy is a completely different fighter now and me and Kevin Randleman are completely different fighters. I do hope and expect to be able to put him on his back. And if I can’t put him on his back, I’ve been working on my standup game quite a bit. Hopefully I can pull the trigger. I do know I punch a lot harder than he does and I think I can take a pretty good punch. I think I’m ready for any area we end up in.
Heavy.com: You went toe to toe with Rua and beat Bonnar. Why aren’t people taking you seriously as a real contender?
Mark Coleman: I didn’t get much credit for the Shogun fight, because people chalked it up to him being out of shape. The bottom line is I thought I really tired him out with my wrestling. At the same time, I did not have a good training camp against Shogun. I stayed back in my hometown and I trained myself for that fight. I didn’t train much wrestling at all. I went in with the idea I was going to standup with Shogun, but my instincts took over within the first two seconds. Next thing you know I was in a fifteen minute wrestling match. I think I wore Shogun out, but at the same time, I completely exhausted myself.
The Bonnar fight, I did leave Columbus and came out to Vegas. I had a great training camp, and when I’m in shape, I’m going to be a problem for just about anybody out there. Especially at the 205 pound weight class. If I’m in shape, I’m going to give everybody problems.
Heavy.com: You and Couture have roughly the same records and accomplishments. Do you think he gets more adulation from the fans because much of your career played out in Japan and his was here in the UFC?
Mark Coleman: A lot of it is about being in the right place at the right time. When this sport hit its peak, when it started rising up and getting popular, I was stuck over in Japan. None of the fans really knew anything about me so I had to kind of reestablish my name. This fight can go a long way in bringing my name all the way back to the top. I was totally caught off guard by the offer to fight Couture, but like I said, I’m sure glad they did offer it to me. I hope to take advantage of it for sure.
Heavy.com: When you look back, was winning the UFC title the highlight of your career, or was it winning the Pride Grand Prix?
Mark Coleman: UFC 10, 11, and 12, they all combine together. They were all about the same high. The Grand Prix, it was very special. Because I had been left for dead by just about everybody in the whole world. Done, finished, career over. I knew I was going to come back. But to be able to do it, and silence the critics a little bit, that was special. There’s reasons I’ve had a lot of highs and lows in my career. I don’t want to make excuses, but it’s more than just the injuries. I’ve been fighting for 12 years and my daughters are 10 and 12 years old. Right after I started fighting, I had a baby daughter. That will change a man. It definitely changed me as a person, definitely changed my priorities. It was a lot of responsibility and I take a lot of pride in being a father. I’m a father first and a fighter second, so I didn’t really take advantage of my potential. I didn’t have any coaching,I’ve mostly coached myself for the last 10 or 11 years. That’s not a good thing. But I felt like I needed to be home for my children. Maybe I should have left and got some training. Maybe then I’d be getting the same paycheck Randy’s getting right now. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t suck it up and leave, but at the same time, I’ve gotten to see both my daughters grow up into two beautiful young ladies. You couldn’t trade me that for nothing.
Heavy.com: Was the match with Nobuhiko Takada the low point (Writer’s Note: Coleman allegedly lost the match on purpose to give the Pride star some much needed credibility)?
Mark Coleman: It was what it was. I needed to support my family. They guaranteed me another fight after that and I needed that security. It was what it was. I’m going to leave it at that.
Heavy.com: It’s great that you were able to come back and make the most out of that opportunity in Pride. The Grand Prix was interesting, but could have been even more interesting. You were real close to being matched up with your old friend and Smashing Machine co-star Mark Kerr. How would you have handled a fight with Kerr if it had come to that?
Mark Coleman: If I ever had to fight Mark Kerr, I had a lot of confidence I could beat him. I was a little older than him and I think he kind of looked up to me. I really honestly feel he was a little intimidated by me. I would have looked at it as just another fight and done whatever I had to do to beat the guy. It would have been a tough fight, but definitely one I could have won. I think I was much tougher than him mentally. Mentally I had a big edge on Mark Kerr and I would have found a way to beat him. Him potentially fighting me in the second round had a lot to do with him losing in the first round.
Mark Coleman: Mentally. Not that he lost on purpose, or anything like that. I’m saying mentally. Obviously Kerr’s story was shown on The Smashing Machine. He had a lot of issues and he never really did enjoy fighting. It was something he did for the money. We were quite different in that way. I enjoyed fighting. I looked forward to it. Mark, and I don’t want to use a harsh word, was pretty scared. Every time a fight came around he was pretty scared. He was intimidated by the whole situation and that is probably what led to him using pain killers. To take the fear away. I’m just more mentally tough than him.
Heavy.com: I saw you at the “Shogun”Rua-Lyoto Machida fight and you got pretty intense about the decision. Does it make you madder because of the Pedro Rizzo fight where you got jobbed and the Kevin Randleman-Bas Rutten fight where Kevin got cheated?
Mark Coleman: Me and Shogun have a lot of respect for each other. And sometimes when you lose to a fighter there is a bond. You kind of pull for them to win. I just felt that was an amazing performance by Shogun. I just know how hard he worked for that fight. I just know how devastated he was. There’s no worse feeling in the world. I still feel the Pedro Rizzo fight. I know Randleman still feels the Bas Rutten fight. You put in so much training, so much time and work and energy. To have something taken from you like that, it really changes your whole career. I was never the same since then. I can remember fighting Akira Shoji in the Pride Grand Prix. And I think I may have landed 300 punches to about two. But after you lose a fight, a judge’s decision, like that, you aren’t the same person. I remember coming over to my corner and asking them if I won the fight. They were shocked that I asked that question, but really in my mind, I couldn’t be sure. It will mess you up mentally for quite some time.
Heavy.com: Tracking back to the Couture fight, there has been a lot of talk about a combined age of 91. Have you heard the age question 91 times yet? When it comes to two Olympic class athletes, does age matter?
Mark Coleman: That’s just a lot of naive people who don’t know what they are talking about. I did five five-minute rounds today and they were the best rounds I’ve had in my entire fight career. Most people reach a certain age and they have no drive, no desire, no determination and they just give up. There are a few people out there in this world, in other sports as well, that hit 40, 41, 42. It doesn’t mean they are going to give up. It just means you have to dedicate yourself more and be more strict in all areas. Your diet, everything you do, you have to be more strict. You have to be willing to pay the price. Randy Couture has proven numerous times that he can still fight with the best of us. Hell, he gave Brock Lesnar a hell of a good fucking first round. What more could you ask of a guy? How can you say anything negative about Randy Couture? He’s still fighting his ass off. Me, there’s some deserved criticism. I haven’t prepared properly for a lot of my fights. I blame nobody but myself. I’m going to salvage whatever career I have left and make the most of it. Bottom line, I can still fight. I’m still learning, still improving, I just have to show it.
Coleman would like to thank his sponsors: Cage Fighter, MMA Authentics, and MMA Elite.