(Photo courtesy of MMA Weekly.)
It came as no surprise to MMA fans when Mark Coleman was inducted into the UFC’s Hall of Fame last March. After all, the former Olympic wrestler became the UFC’s first-ever heavyweight champion when he defeated Dan Severn at UFC 12 in February 1997, and his legendary career has also seen him win PRIDE’s 2000 Grand Prix and score victories over the likes of Don Frye (twice), Ricardo Morais, and Mauricio Rua. What was surprising was that at 43 years of age, Coleman announced he was returning to the Octagon, and would take on the hulking Brock Lesnar in his first fight back.
Though that match was scrapped when Coleman suffered a knee injury, Coleman is now fully recovered and will begin the next chapter of his career at UFC 93 on January 17th — just over ten years after his last UFC appearance. He’ll also be competing as a light-heavyweight for the first time, in a rematch against Mauricio Rua. (Infamously, their first fight ended with a broken arm and a foot on Wanderlei Silva‘s neck.) We caught up with The Hammer to talk about the mental challenges of MMA, his gameplan for the fight, and what may be in store for the future…
CAGEPOTATO: Hey Mark, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. What have you been up to this week?
MARK COLEMAN: Just trying to keep myself together mentally and emotionally. It’s getting close to the fight, and at least half this sport is mental so I’m trying to stay strong. Physically, I feel fine; training went well, and I just gotta get through a few more practices and I’ll be ready to go.
Could you tell us more about those mental and emotional challenges that come up before a fight?
Just in general, it’s a tough sport. It’s the most demanding sport in the world, so you gotta keep the warm-up doubt out, you gotta stay mentally strong, you gotta believe in yourself, stay confident, because if you don’t believe in yourself, you don’t stand a chance. But I believe I can do this. I put in a lot of hard work, and I plan on winning the fight.
Would you say your health is 100%, or is your knee injury from last year still somewhat of an issue?
No, the MCL healed up 100%, it’s not a problem.
This is the first time you’ll have to cut weight for an MMA match. How much of a challenge will that be for you, and how are you making it happen?
Surprisingly, it’s not going to be as difficult as I thought. Right now I’m just a little under 220 pounds. I had a very strict diet combined with hard training, and the weight came off pretty good. I don’t anticipate there being a problem making weight. I don’t think I lost too much strength, and I’m very pleased with that as well.
You’ve said that you’ll have a strength advantage on Shogun. Does that mean your plan will be to outwrestle him?
I’m not sure what’s gonna happen once the bell starts. I’ve been working my standup quite a bit, and I do feel like I have a lot of power in both hands. It only takes one good shot to win some of these fights, so I wouldn’t mind trying to trade with him and see what happens in that area, but if things aren’t going so well there, definitely I’ll be taking him to the ground and taking care of him there.
You have a four-fight contract with the UFC. Do you think you’ll go back into retirement after those four fights, or does it really depend on how those fights play out?
Everything depends on this first fight. We’ll see how this one goes, and hopefully we’ll be looking for a second fight. You can’t look too far into the future, especially at my age, so I just gotta get through this first one and take it from there.
If you’re successful against Shogun, are more heavyweight fights a possibility at some point, or do you think you’ll finish out your career at 205 pounds?
I definitely feel that I’m a 205-pounder now, but I don’t turn down offers to fight anybody, so if a huge fight came up at heavyweight down the road, I would certainly take the fight.
Your last match was a little over two years ago. Besides getting re-signed by the UFC, inducted into their Hall of Fame, and training, what else have you been up to in that time?
I’ve spent a lot of time with my kids, and that’s been very special to me. I think the hardest part about this sport is being away from your children. They’re what motivates me. They’re both athletes — my oldest daughter is a great gymnast, and my youngest daughter is an all-star softball player — I love going to watch them and being around them. They’re what puts a smile on my face. They’re my life.
You were the fifth fighter inducted into the UFC’s Hall of Fame. Who do you think should be inducted next?
A lot of people could be in there, but it’s not up to me to decide. We’ll leave that in the hands of the owners and Dana White. But I was very appreciative and very grateful for them putting me in there. It was a great night in my life, and one that I’ll never forget.
You started fighting in the UFC before it was owned by Zuffa. Is it strange coming back to an organization where the management is completely different?
Well, it is different. I remember when Rampage came back he talked about how different it was and all the added pressure, and I have to agree. The magnitude of it seems a heck of a lot bigger than it was over in Pride. Even though the fight is in Ireland it’ll be on TV here in America and it’s very special to me. But just like I said, you gotta keep yourself together and right now I’m feeling pretty good.
Well that’s all I have for you, Mark. Is there any people or sponsors you want to shout out before we sign off?
I definitely need to thank Cage Fighter, MMA Authentics, MMA Elite, my Aunt Mary — she’s been a personal sponsor of mine for years — my parents, my family, and Hammer House teammates, and last but most importantly, the fans that have been so kind to me. I’ve always gone out of my way to be extra nice to the fans because they’ve always made me feel good. I appreciate their support and I really want to do well for them.