The recent Mark Coleman-Shogun Rua fight has brought up the issue of Coleman's place in MMA history for me. It was a foregone conclusion that Rua would pound Coleman with ease—even I was over looking one of the great fighters in UFC history.
At the age of 44 he is regarded as a-has-been, while 45 year old Randy Couture is still considered a legitimate threat. When Coleman pushed Rua to the brink of decision, many pointed to Rua falling short as opposed to Coleman stepping up.
Coleman is not without his share of accomplishments—an NCAA Champion Wrestler at Ohio State, UFC 10 and UFC 11 Tournament Championships, UFC Heavyweight Champion, and 2000 PRIDE Open Weight Tournament Champion—a list that rivals almost any list of accomplishments.
Being the first UFC Heavyweight Champion, the first member of the UFC Hall of Fame, and the inventor of the ground-and-pound style seen throughout MMA today, Coleman gave wrestlers their first success in MMA.
His early success in the UFC was very impressive, and during those early years, his ground-and-pound style seemed unstoppable.
However, several defeats in the UFC sent Coleman to PRIDE where there was a controversy in his loss to the 2-6 Nobuhiko Takada—many accusing Coleman of throwing the fight.
This loss seemed to refocus Coleman—winning his next five fights—including a PRIDE tournament but again accusations of steroid use overshadowed his victories and accomplishments.
Coleman never shied away from big fights which were his down fall late his career with losses to elite fighters in their prime like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Filipovic and Fedor Emelianenko.
They represented a new step forward—one that Coleman was not able to follow—rounding out abilities. To be an elite fighter today, you must be at an extremely high level in at least two styles—striking and ground.
Coleman never learned BJJ, never worked on his boxing, and never really worked on his game plane. He preferred dragging you to the ground and pounding your face in until you tapped or the referee saved your life.
But as fighters became more versed in defense and offense on the ground, he became less and less effective and his stardom eventually faded. Coleman couldn't adjust to the new fight game unlike Couture.
I think Coleman will be remembered as one of the great figures in the early MMA history when it was truly style versus style. The sport advanced and has become mixed martial artist versus mixed martial artist.