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[The following article was originally published at the MMATorch VIP website and our UFC 100 Mega-Coverage App as a preview article to the UFC 100 pay-per-view. With Mark Coleman vs. Stephan Bonnar aired on TV for the first time tonight as part of the Spike TV special, we bring you this profile of Bonnar's UFC career leading up to the fight airing tonight.]
The Tournament – July 12, 1996 vs. Don Frye (UFC 10: The Tournament)
Coleman, as was often the case in the sport back then, made his debut in a tournament. Fighting three or four times in a single night was a trial by fire. This was especially so when a fellow competitor in the tournament was Don Frye. The two met in the finals. Frye, himself a former Division I collegiate wrestler and pro boxer, was 6-0 in the UFC and had looked excellent in his previous fights, including his UFC 8 tournament win. But while Coleman was less experienced, he had two advantages over "The Predator": a better wrestling background, and great physical size advantage—30 pounds of muscle.
This was more than just a battle between wrestlers, however. As Clyde Gentry's book NHB: Evolution documents, a man with UFC management connections named Richard Hamilton had previously advised Frye and was now Coleman's manager (he picked Coleman over Tom Erickson and Mark Kerr to fight for him at UFC 10) Hamilton held a grudge against Frye over their parting, and he believed Coleman could extract a pound of flesh in revenge for him. Coleman says that Hamilton had built Frye up as "an evil person."
During the fight, Coleman attempted to beat that perceived evil out of Frye while Hamilton shouted encouragement from the sidelines ("Kill him!"). Coleman's wrestling, muscle, and ferocity lead to a sustained ground and pound session that bled and battered Frye. Particularly effective were Coleman's headbutts, a form of attack that was legal at the time and that the "The Hammer" used liberally. It went on long enough that Coleman wondered why the fight was not being stopped. Finally, referee "Big" John McCarthy decided he had seen enough, and brought Frye to the doctor so as to call a halt to the bout at 11:36. Coleman was the UFC 10 tournament champion and, by virtue of his domination of Frye, immediately one of the top heavyweights in MMA.
Heavyweight Champion – February 7, 1997 vs. Dan Severn (UFC 12: Judgement Day)
In many ways, Dan "The Beast" Severn was like Coleman. He, too, had an excellent amateur wrestling pedigree, and he usually won his fights by ground and pounding his opponents. The difference was that Coleman was the superior wrestler, younger, stronger, and with a mean streak that Severn did not possess. It was the correct fight for the UFC to put together to crown its first heavyweight champ: Coleman had won two tournaments in a row, while Severn was the Superfight champion (the original UFC title belt) and the most accomplished competitor in the UFC at that time. But stylistically, it seemed a bad match-up for Severn.
Severn's best strategy appeared to be to use his advantages in experience and endurance. As Torch columnist John Williams wrote:
"Knowing Coleman would go out fast, the plan was to let Coleman do the riding early and play defense, to keep from getting damaged and let Coleman run out of gas. If there was one weakness Coleman flashed in his earlier matches, it was that he could get winded. The question was what would happen if you could take him long, and not suffer the type of damage Don Frye suffered."
The match began with Coleman stuffing two Severn takedown attempts, pushing Severn down to the mat the second time. Coleman briefly obtained mount, but Severn managed to roll out of it. After some brief ground and pound, however, Coleman had mounted Severn again. This time, Coleman voluntarily gave up mount when he shifted to side control for an arm triangle choke attempt. Coleman wrenched the hold with all of his strength, but he did not have it properly sunk in. He adjusted his positioning, and his biceps bulged again with the effort to choke Severn. This time, he succeeded, as Severn tapped out to the move just 2:57 in the bout. Coleman had become the first UFC heavyweight champion in less than three minutes.
"He'll Fight in an Alley" – July 27, 1997 vs. Maurice Smith (UFC 14: Showdown)
Maurice "Mo" Smith was a one-dimensional kickboxer, and everyone knew what happened in MMA when wrestlers met kickboxers. At least this was Mark Coleman's view of Smith and his chances of winning heading into their bout at UFC 14. Smith had never fought in the UFC, but counting his Pancrase and RINGS bouts (which used rules more restrictive than those of modern MMA and especially of "no holds barred" promotions at the time), his record was an unsightly 4-7. However, he was the first and only heavyweight champion of Battlecade: Extreme Fighting, a rival organization in the U.S. to the UFC. When Extreme Fighting folded, the UFC brought him in for a champion vs. champion fight with Coleman. Coleman was so confident that he didn’t seriously train for the contest, though he tellingly showed up with huge muscles and a ripped physique anyway. As Torch columnist John Williams put it at the time, Coleman's UFC career was "a chemical game of all or nothing." The "all or nothing" part was especially true for this bout because of "The Hammer's" lax preparation.
Perhaps if Smith was the fighter Coleman envisioned, then muscles and aggression would have been enough. But anyone who watched "Mo" in Extreme Fighting knew otherwise. Smith had been the decided underdog against the 6'2", 245 pound Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter Marcus "Conan" Silveira. But Smith had been improving his ground game under the tutelage of Frank Shamrock and Tsuyoshi "TK" Kohsaka. It was a group that called itself "The Alliance," as Smith worked with Shamrock and "TK" on striking while they taught him grappling. Particularly helpful to Smith against Silveira was the "'TK' Guard"—the nickname for Kohsaka's effective, defensive guard game. Smith's guard work frustrated Silveira, impressive consider "Conan's" jiu-jitsu background. Eventually, Smith put Silveira away with a high kick. Smith demonstrated he was not "just a kickboxer."
After Smith commented that Coleman "hit like a girl," Coleman gave him a particularly menacing stare as he jogged around the Octagon prior to the start of their clash. Coleman took Smith down early and began to hammer him with ground and pound. As against Silveira, Smith was able to hold up underneath the pressure. A little past 9 minutes into the 15 minute regulation period, Smith escaped to his feet. He threw a high kick that landed as a glancing blow, but Coleman still had a hand on the ground, and recent rule changes that endure to this day prevented a fighter from kicking his downed foe in the head. After a brief pause, action resumed, and a tired Coleman managed to drag Smith to the mat. Near the end of regulation, Smith reversed Coleman and got to his feet again. Coleman appeared exhausted.
In the first, 3 minute overtime, Coleman failed in every attempt to take Smith down. Smith responded with thwacking leg kicks. At 2:11, Smith connected with a series of punches followed by a head kick, prompting color commentator Jeff Blatnick to remark that "Smith is now ahead."
Near the beginning of the final overtime, Smith risked another head kick, and missed completely, falling to the ground. Coleman was so gassed that he did not have the energy to capitalize. Suddenly, the lights in the arena flickered on and off. Coleman motioned for a reprieve, but Smith wanted to continue. With 15 seconds to go in the bout, more lights went off, prompting play-by-play man Bruce Beck, in one of his most memorable lines, to exclaim that, "It doesn't matter to Smith. He'll fight in the dark! He'll fight in an alley!"
Soon, the match was finished, and so was Coleman's championship reign. Maurice Smith had claimed victory via unanimous decision in one of the most significant upsets in MMA history. Torch Supervising Editor Wade Keller summarized it at the time:
"Maurice Smith's victory over Mark Coleman surprised virtually all followers of UFC. Most believed it was a foregone conclusion that Coleman would win. Others believed Smith had a chance at an early knock out, although others countered by saying that Coleman would be able to easily take Smith to the mat before absorbing any blows. Coleman did just that. But others, who believed Coleman would take Smith down, said if Smith could last ten minutes, Coleman would be too tired to do anything. They were right."
For Coleman, it would be a long road back to the top.
Grand Prix Gold – May 1, 2000 vs. Igor Vovchanchyn (Pride Grand Prix 2000 – Finals)
Nearly three years after his fall to Smith, "The Hammer" had his opportunity for championship redemption in the finals of the 2000 Pride Grand Prix (for more details of the tournament, see Coleman’s Fighter History). In his way, though, was number one ranked Ukranian wrecking machine Igor "The Northern Weapon" Vovchanchyn, a kickboxer and Sambo artist.
The fight was to consist of 20 minute rounds until one man was stopped or submitted. Virtually every minute of the first 20 looked like the others. Coleman took Vovchanchyn down, but he could not, as in his glory days in the UFC, use his vaunted headbutts or even elbows to the head. However, he was effective working from Vovchanchyn's guard and from side mount with punches and knees to the head and body. Since his UFC fights, Coleman had dropped some excess muscle, and now paced himself much better in his bouts. The punches and pressure came not in furious flurries, but a steady stream.
The most dramatic moment of the first round came 15 minutes in, when Coleman nearly submitted Vovchanchyn with a keylock. The fireworks, though, came a few minutes into the second stanza. Coleman quickly slammed Vovchanchyn and passed to North/South. From this position, he let loose with knees to "Ice Cold" Igor's head. Some were partially blocked, but many landed with full force. Just as Coleman threw his 18th knee, Vovchanchyn tapped out.
Coleman's celebration turned comical: overjoyed, he inadvertently bounced his body off the top rope and landed awkwardly on the mat. But there was nothing comical about his brutal knees, his Grand Prix Championship, and his reclaiming his position as the sport's premier heavyweight.
Pier Six Brawl – February 26, 2006 vs. Mauricio Rua (Pride 31: Dreamers)
It was supposed to be a heavyweight tune-up for Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. He was slated to compete in Pride's 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix, and the 42-year old Coleman seemed like a safe opponent. The 24-year old Rua had looked like a top pound-for-pound fighter in his 205 Pound Grand Prix victory the previous year.
Coleman came in much lighter than in years past and looked to be in excellent shape. He got the quick takedown on Rua, but "Shogun's" jiu-jitsu skills made it look like Coleman's wrestling and improved conditioning would not matter much. "The Hammer" managed to slam out of a triangle choke attempt less than 30 seconds in, but he was nearly snared in an ankle lock. As Coleman escaped, Rua tried to stand up. He was greeted with another Coleman takedown. Rua stuck his his arm out to minimize the damage as he fell. Bad mistake. Coleman drove Rua's weight down on his arm, snapping it. The referee ascertained what had happened and jumped in to stop the contest after a total of only 50 seconds of action. As unexpected as the ending was, what came afterward was even more so.
Murilo "Ninja" Rua immediately entered the ring to check on his brother "Shogun." Coleman, still pumped up from the fight, threw the ref aside that was attempting to restrain him. "Ninja" noticed Coleman posturing over his brother and shot up to face him, perhaps afraid Coleman would continue the attack. Coleman, reading "Ninja's" movement as an aggressive act, began mouthing off. As Pride officials filled the ring to separate the two and check on "Shogun," Coleman's and the Ruas' teammates (the Hammer House and Chute Box gyms, respectively) climbed into the ring as well. The Chute Box fighters were not happy about Coleman's actions and charged at him. As Wanderlei Silva was about to get to "The Hammer," Coleman training partner Phil Baroni tackled Silva to the mat. Coleman added insult to injury by putting his foot down on Silva's throat. The officials finally managed to separate the fighters and prevent the brawl from continuing.
Backstage, after Coleman gave an interview and debriefed Quinton "Rampage" Jackson on what happened, the Chute Box team came looking for Hammer House. Wanderlei Silva did not accept Coleman's apology and told him that this meant war on Coleman, Baroni, and Jackson (Jackson was surprised to hear this since he had nothing to do with the skirmish).
Though no series of fights between Hammer House and Chute Box resulted, Coleman and "Shogun" would rematch at 205 pounds in January 2009 at UFC 93. "Shogun" obtained victory via third round stoppage.
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