I just got off the phone with former UFC heavyweight champion and the most recent inductee into the UFC Hall of Fame, Mark Coleman.
What can you say about that?
Talking to Coleman is like talking to a salty sailor. Not only does he swear like one, but he's got some amazing stories. Some are about the fish that got away. But others are about the 13-foot marlin mounted on the wall.
And even though he's a former NCAA National Champion wrestler, former Olympian, first-ever UFC Heavyweight Champion, and first-ever PRIDE Grand Prix Champion, Coleman remains surprisingly humble.
They don't make two of this guy. If they made a movie about him, Mark Coleman would be played by fucking Mark Coleman. That's what I'm talking about.
Coleman and I have talked several times over the past few weeks, but usually off the record. The guy doesn't do many interviews — he's done two in the past year and a half, he says, and this is one of them.
Let's get to it.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Your announcement at UFC 82 that you are NOT retiring, of course, didn't surprise me because we had talked a few weeks before that. You're now set to face Brock Lesnar on August 9. Did you ask for this fight specifically?
Mark Coleman: I can't say specifically, but I just made it clear to the UFC: Anybody. I was heading down to 205, actually. I've been on a real strict diet. I told them I'll take on anybody — 205 or heavyweight. This is the one that made sense.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Sure, with two national wrestling champions against one another, it should be a good match. So after this fight, do you plan on dropping down to 205, or are you just going to see what happens?
Mark Coleman: I really hope to hell I'm not dropping down to 205, because that would mean I would have lost the fight with Brock. If I beat Brock, then of course I'm moving on to another heavyweight. I've been in this sport a long time, I don't even want to talk about potentially losing. I don't want to talk about the next fight. Let's put it this way, if I'm at 205 the next fight, it's not a good sign. I was heading that way just in case. I didn't find out about this fight until Thursday night (February 28). I didn't need any time to give them an answer.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Before joining the UFC, Lesnar reportedly was walking around at 295, but of course he has to make the 265 limit. Knowing Lesnar's sheer size, how do you plan to prepare for the fight?
Mark Coleman: Are you asking if I'm gonna try to gain some weight?
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well, sure, but also just to deal with his weight.
Mark Coleman: I didn't anticipate this match-up and just found out about it myself. In my mind, I thought I was possibly going to be fighting at 205 my next fight. So yeah, I am a little light. I'm probably walking around at 225. But there's no sense in me trying to add a bunch of weight, because it'd be useless weight. I've been real strict on my diet to weigh 225, but I'll probably come in around 230.
But you're right, how am I going to deal with this guy's size and strength? I said back in '96 and was one of the first guys to say that, in this sport, size does matter. So it is an important factor. I'm going to have to hopefully overcome it with my experience and my quickness. In other words, I don't want to take this guy on straight forward. I'm going to get a lot of input from other people to help me prepare for this fight. And I'm looking at it like I need to improve in all areas.
I've got five months — almost half a year. I have to improve my game in all areas. And I have to most definitely come in in incredible cardio shape so that I can move. I don't want to take this guy on straight forward and have to stand still with him. Because, like I said, size is an advantage, and as wrestlers, both Brock and I know that. But I'll find a way to overcome that, there's other ways to beat size, as Frank Mir showed ya.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Sure, in that fight, Mir showed that Lesnar was still a novice when it comes to submission defense, which is understandable given his newness to the sport. Do you plan to exploit this at all, his submission defense, or lack thereof?
Mark Coleman: Well I don't want to give your readers too big of a laugh and try to say I'm gonna fucking try to submit Brock Lesnar. I don't anticipate that happening. That's his weakness, and we all know that jiu-jitsu and submissions are not exactly my strength. I do plan on working in that area quite a bit in the next five months, but no, I don't plan on submitting him.
I am gonna get a lot of people's input on this. I'm going to go to a real training camp for once, and let somebody coach me. There's many reasons why I haven't done that in the past. But truth is, my game's not where I want it to be right now. Still, you can't look back and do things differently, you can't change the past. But I got five months, and I plan on doing it right for the next five months. I've done pretty well doing things my way, but people have offered me their assistance — experts in the MMA field — and I'm gonna take advantage of it.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Seeing as how your last fight in the UFC was at UFC 18 in 1999, do you think this puts you at a disadvantage or should the rookie Lesnar be worried about his own lack of experience?
Mark Coleman: Well I have to hope that experience is the one thing that's on my side. In the last question, you asked how I'm going to deal with his size and strength. Well, that's one of the answers. I have to give myself the advantage in the experience area. That's a good thing, because if Brock's had 10 years of experience ... well. I highly respect Brock, and I said after his fight with Mir that he's an incredibly dangerous fighter. When he does eventually get that experience, I look for him to do very well. But for now, that's the one reason I think I can beat this guy — because of my experience. I've been doing this ... 12, 15 years now.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You will be fighting Lesnar in his home state of Minnesota. Does that work to his advantage or are you not concerned about that?
Mark Coleman: Well it can work to his advantage, but it can work against him as well. There's gonna be a lot of pressure on Brock Lesnar in front of his hometown fans. Some people can handle it, some people just thrive on it, but other people can crumble under that pressure. So I really don't know. We'll find out that night.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): I read somewhere that you signed a four-fight contract with the UFC. Is that right?
Mark Coleman: Yeah. It's a four-fight deal.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): With wins over some of MMA's biggest names, from fellow UFC Hall of Famer Dan Severn, to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, what is your all-time favorite fight that you've been a part of?
Mark Coleman: It's very close, but the Don Frye fight at UFC 10 was very, very special. Coming from a wrestling background to all of a sudden being on pay-per-view and winning that thing. And also, I was 31, but I was still 21 in my mind. Plus, I was getting a pay check for doing something that I just absolutely love and enjoy. It was just a perfect night for me.
When I grew up as a kid, I grew up wanting to be a middle linebacker or a tailback in the NFL, or a Major League Baseball player. But that's because I didn't have nobody to watch doing mixed martial arts, doing the Ultimate Fighting Championship. If I would have seen that as a kid, that's what I would have wanted to do, for sure.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): The Don Frye fight was an exciting fight, I actually watched it recently.
Mark Coleman: And it was the first, you know. But they were all great. UFC 10 was my best moment, but the PRIDE Grand Prix was very special because I had been so counted out. I needed that one. My career had been counted out as being over, and to be able to make a comeback like that was a good feeling. It took me a long time and a lot of bucks just to get back in this baby.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): After discussing your fight with Lesnar, Dana White was asked about how he feels about Fedor Emelianenko. White said he thinks Fedor doesn't deserve to be in the Top 5 Heavyweights in the world. He said Fedor's last "real" fight was in 2005 against Mirko Cro Cop, and that Fedor "hasn't fought anyone since." Considering you fought Fedor since that time, do you have any comment on White's description of Fedor?
Mark Coleman: Well, Dana White says what he wants, when he wants. I have no problem with his opinion. The bottom line is, Fedor hasn't fought that much at all in the last couple years. No doubt about it, Dana is correct there. And I definitely wasn't at my best when I fought Fedor as well. So, it doesn't bother me. That'll motivate me as a matter of fact. Hearing something like that just motivates me.
I definitely have to come back against Brock Lesnar a much better fighter than I was against Fedor. And I plan on having a much better training camp. Let's hope and pray that I can avoid any serious injuries, because when you train hard, you take risks.
When I did win all these other fights back in the day, when I did win my wrestling matches, it was because I paid my dues, I busted my butt, I took a lot of risks in practice. You're only as good as how hard you train and how smart you train. You gotta be willing to take risks in practice to be great in a fight. And there's been a lot of times in the past that I haven't been able to do that for one reason or another — lack of notice for a fight, etc.
I've done a lot of training on short notice, so I've trained a lot against machines, running against the hill and stuff like that. But the only way to really get better is by going against another man, if not two different men, if not three different men. It's called shark bate. I gotta go back and get shark bated and take the risk of getting injured. If I don't train 100 percent for Brock then I don't stand a chance. But if I do train 100 percent, I still have to be smart, because at my age, the injuries just don't heal up. So I gotta train harder and smarter than I did in the past.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Have you lined up anybody specifically for your training camp, or are you still in the process of doing that?
Mark Coleman: No, I'm still in the process. Right now I have five months, which I've never in my life had five months. That was the best thing about getting this call. With my most recent fights, I would get a call and it's an opponent like a Fedor, a Cro Cop, a Nogueira. In all those fights, it was short notice. I'm not blaming the organization, I should have stayed in shape year round. But personally — I'm not speaking for all fighters — but I personally have a tough time shifting gears, turning it up a notch, if I don't have a contract signed. It's distracting. You don't even necessarily need to know your opponent, just finding out I got a fight in five months would have kicked my ass in gear.
But in the past, I had a lot shorter notice, which makes it hard to train. On the one hand, the organization's counting on you to step in that ring, but on the other hand, you can't be going out and getting suplexed in practice when you got a fight in 25, 30 days.
I just had two guys in practice yesterday — two guys in one of the first times they went at it. I saw the potential for injury happening, and sure enough 15 minutes into practice, one of them ... I'm praying to God, we don't know how bad it is, but a possible knee blown out, in practice. So you gotta train hard, but you gotta make sure the other guy's on the same page. You gotta train smart.
But like I said, whenever I've done good it's because I've taken a lot of chances in practice and turned it up a notch. You have to be a little lucky in this sport, and I was lucky enough to get through some good camps in the past and not get injured. I have to be able to avoid the injuries, but like I said, if I train (for Lesnar) like I did against Fedor, well then I'll get my ass whooped. But I don't plan to train like I did against Fedor.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): I gotta ask, in watching tape of your celebration following the first ever PRIDE Open Weight Grand Prix, when you bounced off the ropes, do you still get a laugh?
Mark Coleman: I don't laugh too easy. I've seen it enough times when I don't really laugh. It amazes me how many people do get a kick outta that, so I have no problem with it. I guess it's funny to me. You gotta be remembered for something. If I wasn't known for something, then I wouldn't have got this offer, so it don't really matter I guess.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well Mark, as an NCAA National Champion wrestler, former Olympian, first ever UFC Heavyweight Champion, and first ever PRIDE Grand Prix Champion, I think you're known for a hell of a lot more than that. You've had an amazing career, and as a fan of you and as a Bucks fan, I'm looking forward to seeing you back in the Octagon.
Mark Coleman: Oh, are you a Bucks fan?
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Hell yeah, I'm from the Dayton area originally.
Mark Coleman: Well good. Go Bucks.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Thanks again, Mark. Really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. Anyone you want to thank before we wrap this up?
Mark Coleman: No problem. Thanks. I'd like to of course thank my beautiful kids and all the MMA fans out there. I'd also like to plug my sponsors MMA Authentics and Cage Fighter.