The 2000 Pride Grand Prix was the closest Mark Coleman ever came to facing a wrestler in MMA who could trouble him. Coleman braced himself for Kazuyuki Fujita’s shot, but the Japanese man crumbled to the ground only two seconds after the bell rang. (Fujita’s corner, anticipating he would be unable to compete in the semifinal fight due to existing injury, was braced to throw in the towel.)
Crisis averted: Coleman beat Igor Vovchanchyn to win the tournament title.
In Coleman’s heyday, he was not a man overly eager to face competition that had roots in his own sport of amateur wrestling. Against Dan Severn a few years prior, he “gently” applied a suffocating submission on the ground rather than turn Severn’s face into chuck patty. But the sport has changed and so have attitudes: in 2009, Coleman not only agreed to fight fellow wrestling standout Randy Couture, he requested to.
The two wrestled in amateur competition 20-odd years ago, with Coleman edging out a win on points. Their career methods have since split: Couture pursued Greco-Roman grappling, which focuses on upper-body work, while Coleman was a freestyle wrestler. Both applied themselves successfully into MMA, though it was Couture -- whose clinch work avoided some of the striking dangers faced by Coleman’s shooting in -- who remained in the public eye longer.
The fight is both threat and opportunity for Coleman, who may find his wrestling negated by Couture and will be forced to display a more wizened game. It’s not particularly a battle of wrestling vs. wrestling, but a question of whose manipulation is better suited for MMA.
What It Means: For the winner, a chance to contend for the title after May’s Lyoto Machida/Mauricio Rua rematch; for the loser, nothing beyond some fleeting disappointment.
Might Look Like: Couture’s fight with Mike Van Arsdale, an accomplished wrestler in his own right who exchanged tie-ups with Couture before succumbing to a choke.
Wild Card: Coleman’s rejuvenated mindset following the discovery of trainer Shawn Tompkins. For Coleman, a man used to training and pushing himself, that’s a game-changer.
Who Wins: Couture possesses more submission and striking acumen at this point. Coleman may hit a double or two, but if Couture can escape out from underneath Brock Lesnar, he can get this fight back to the feet and in front of a panting Coleman. Couture by decision.