Just over two years since his last fight, Mark "The Hammer" Coleman officially retired from mixed martial arts this week. The 48-year-old mixed-style pioneer, a brutal force when he was at his best, will be remembered as one of the most influential heavyweights this demanding sport has produced.
Defeating Dan "The Beast" Severn in 1997 to become the first UFC heavyweight champion (MMA heavyweight championship lineage timeline), Coleman, a 1992 Olympian in Barcelona after winning an NCAA title at Ohio State University, established himself as the dominant force in UFC with a 6-0 start. Then the wheels fell off. He dropped three straight in the Octagon before taking another defeat, albeit a dubious one versus Nobuhiko Takada in Pride.
Coleman, the "Godfather of ground-and-pound," delivered the highest of highs and lowest of lows -- emblematic, one could say, of the man himself.
Immediate UFC dominance
Try as he might, Moti Horenstein, Coleman's debut opponent in 1996, had no hope of defending takedowns. Gary Goodridge lost by exhaustion. And while Don Frye, as hard a fighter as there ever was, managed to push Coleman into the 12th minute, he failed to match Coleman's speed, power, wrestling ability and unmerciful ground attack. That was UFC 10, an eight-man tournament Coleman used to introduce himself to the MMA world. Two months later, he won a four-man bracket at UFC 11, beating little known Julian Sanchez and well regarded Brian Johnston in a combined 185 seconds. That success led him to a title unification of sorts with Severn, then the reigning UFC Superfight champ, which he won. He undoubtedly inspired wrestlers to join up, a trend that significantly benefited MMA over the years.
Ground and pound master
There wasn't anyone worse to have on top of you in a fight than Coleman, especially when rules were liberal and he showed up in shape. Takedown to control to punches and headbutts. He ushered in this way of fighting at a time when grappling in the UFC meant the jiu-jitsu man held an advantage.
Pressure from politicians had as much to do with the tightening of UFC rules as anything else, and Coleman's pounding head trauma was a perfect example of that. The visage of him slamming his head into another man's while on top of him was gruesome. But so, so effective. After the UFC prohibited headbutts in Oct. 1997, Coleman seemed to lose steam. He was limited in terms of skill and relied on simply overwhelming the man underneath him. That was bound to catch up with Coleman at some point, and the rules adjustments hastened that reality.
Coleman became the frontman for a group of wrestlers turned fighters based out of Columbus, Ohio. They were never known for their skill, but man could they punish people. In fact, that's what training consisted of. Just beating the snot out of the other guy. Coleman's success propelled the team, which also included eventual UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman.
After struggling through four straight losses, Coleman was matched with well known Japanese pro wrestler Nobuhiko Takada, Pride's first star. There's no way Takada should have defeated Coleman, even in this topsy turvy sport, but he did, and it immediately drew questions. Coleman has said he took the fight because he needed to support his family and was guaranteed another contest. He's never come out and admitted the bout was in fact a work, but he's never denied it either.
Pride Grand Prix 2000
Following the Takada mess, Coleman's record stood at 6-4, leaving him desperate for a turnaround. Over the next year and a half, he did exactly that, reeling off six straight wins, four of which leading to his resurrection as the Pride Grand Prix 2000 champion. The tournament was epic, and Coleman, largely dismissed heading into the 16-man competition, memorably bounced off the Pride ring ropes after stopping Igor Vovchanchyn to win it all on May 1, 2000.
The Smashing Machine
Several years after the Pride GP 2000, HBO aired "The Smashing Machine," a documentary that tracked Coleman and his friend Mark Kerr during their participation in the tournament. Kerr's story of drug addiction stole the director's focus. Coleman was grounded and professional by comparison, almost serving as a hero at the end. It remains one of the best pieces of film ever done about MMA.
Allan Goes destruction
Serving as a reminder of just how devastating he could be with less restrictive tools at his disposal, Coleman engineered one of MMA's scariest results when he repeatedly kneed Allan Goes in the head at Pride 13. This was the event the Japanese promotion opened up such tactics, including stomps and soccer kicks. Goes was forced to the hospital with bleeding on his brain, and Coleman seemed poised to dominate yet again. But a new breed had arrived, and his momentum was halted by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in his next fight.
Shogun win, Chute Boxe brawl
Fresh off one of the best stretches any mixed martial artist has ever put together, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, the 2005 fighter of the year, was matched with Coleman. The contest ended in 49 seconds after Coleman drove Rua to the floor and the Brazilian suffered a broken arm. Coleman, however, continued to attack Rua, apparently unaware of what happened, and the Chute Boxe camp, including Wanderlei Silva, stormed the ring. It was wild. Silva was rabid. Phil Baroni, a member of Coleman's corner, responded in kind. It even spilled into the locker room area, with "The Axe Murder" declaring "war" on anyone associated with Hammer House.
Coleman consoles daughters after losing to Fedor
Of all the images Coleman produced over his career, none was more poignant than the sight of his two young daughters sobbing in the ring after their father was armbarred by Fedor Emelianenko. Afterwards the loss he spoke over a house microphone at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, speaking of his love for his daughters. They stepped through the ropes, leading to incredible image of "The Hammer," his left eye horribly swollen, reaching out to his girls who seemed utterly terrified. Pride folded and Coleman returned to the UFC, where he lost a rematch to "Shogun," beat Stephan Bonnar at UFC 100, and fell to Couture.