UVF 4: Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman Consecrate Wrestling in the Land of Jiu-Jitsu

Mark Coleman truly wanted to introduce ground-and-pound to the world.

One month after defeating five opponents and winning two consecutive tournaments at UFCs 10 and 11, NCAA wrestling champion Coleman and his team traveled to Rio de Janeiro. Coleman went to the birthplace of Brazilian jiu-jitsu to corner his pupil, Kevin Randleman, at Universal Vale Tudo Fighting 4. This event also brought the likes of Dan Severn and Dan Bobish to the Metropolitan Concert Hall, and Americans largely dominated on Oct. 22, 1996.


Coleman and Randleman Take to Rio

Even with Coleman in peak form in 1996, more stories developed from his time in the nation rather than him being cageside. The week the Americans arrived for UVF 4, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu national championship and luta livre state championships took place. Master Joao Alberto Barreto, a disciple of Helio Gracie and one of the event promoters, had the idea of bringing the American wrestlers to see the “martial atmosphere” of Rio de Janeiro. Two drastically different experiences unfolded that week.

Coleman and Randleman began their tour at the Brazilian jiu-jitsu championship, where they were received with an embarrassing coldness. The horrible atmosphere for these foreign competitors came largely following the release of Tatame Magazine no. 15, which featured Coleman on the cover. At the end of UFC 11, Coleman famously challenged Rickson Gracie, Royce Gracie and Renzo Gracie, confidently claiming he could beat them all on the same night. Brazilian fans were not thrilled by this show of bravado.

Upon arriving at Iate Clube Jardim Guanabara, the club where the event occurred, Coleman and Randleman were introduced to Carlos Gracie Jr., Ze Moraes and Wallid Ismail. Noticing the unfavorable atmosphere, the fighters moved to a more secluded area, where they played soccer with some children. With locals looking on with disdain, the two wrestlers soon asked to go to their next destination, the State Luta Livre Championship.

During the van ride, Sherdog spoke to both Americans, who revealed the poor reactions would not deter them and still enjoyed Rio de Janeiro greatly.

“I thought I was going to find a violent and dangerous city and, in the end, I saw the most beautiful city of my life,” Randleman explained. The man later known as “The Monster” continued, discussing his feelings for his vale tudo debut the next day. “I spent my life competing in wrestling. Lately, I help Mark with his training almost daily. Surely, having three fights in one night won’t be worse than that.”

An excited Coleman first noted that he couldn't wait to explore the local beaches. After receiving a copy of Tatame Magazine no. 14, where Rickson Gracie stated Coleman was not special, Coleman reiterated the challenge made after UFC 11.

“I respect him and his entire family a lot, but if he said that here about me, why doesn’t he stop talking and fight? I can beat him, and I will,” Coleman boasted.

A man who typically lets his work speak for itself, Coleman did muster up a few thoughts on the rivaling style of jiu-jitsu compared to his wrestling.

“It’s a great fight[ing style], but it’s very monotonous,” Coleman noted. “They have to learn to throw punches and headbutts. The jiu-jitsu technique is nullified against very large opponents who know a little about [fighting].”

Upon their arrival at the Luta Livre event, the wrestlers were stunned. Neither man spoke a lick of Portuguese, and they were met with a massively different reaction than before. Having introduced himself to the combat sport-following masses with two tournament victories earlier in the year, Coleman was instead greeted like a hero. Even with wrestling the “enemy” sport, the Americans were met with loud applause, and fans followed them in droves, asking for photographs and autographs.

After serving the fans, Coleman and Randleman took dozens of photos with luta livre icons Hugo Duarte, Eugenio Tadeu and Marco Ruas. They returned to their hotel to enjoy the late afternoon and went on to take a trip to Leme Beach. The fighters relaxed, other than Severn—who was preparing for a superfight that did not materialize as he expected.

Randleman Reigns Supreme

The formation of the UVF 4 card generated plenty of controversy for the jiu-jitsu practitioners and the fans of the sport. At a time when wrestling was beginning to gain a foothold in the mixed martial arts scene, it appeared to be an insult to the sport’s history. The meat-and-potatoes Americans, who largely relied on their skills on the mat instead of the microphone, were viewed as inferior by some in Brazil. To others, it seemed like bringing wrestlers to the country for a tournament felt improper without any noteworthy representatives of the “gentle art” on the other side of the bracket.

“What these promoters are doing is absurd,” remarked Ismail about UVF 4 on the event day. “They used expressionless guys to represent Brazil. They are making a name for the foreigners.”

Fabio Gurgel, who competed at UFC 11 with Coleman, was approached a few days before the event. Gurgel was allegedly offered $10,000 to compete at UVF 4, but he angrily declined.

“It is very unprofessional for them to call me under these conditions. It is jiu-jitsu that attracts the public and brings profit to the event,” the 1996 Brazilian World Champion grappler told Sherdog.

The event’s technical director and matchmaker, Barreto, countered Wallid and Gurgel’s criticisms.

“Brazilians are funny; they go abroad and fight for nothing, but here, at home, they want exorbitant purses,” Barreto said with a laugh. “I spoke to Hugo [Duarte], Ricardo Morais, ‘Carlao’ Barreto, Murilo Bustamante, Wallid and Roberto Traven, and they all asked me for more than Dan Severn. The only Brazilians who can ask big money today, because they won abroad, are Rickson, Royce and Marco Ruas. The rest have to build their history.”

There was no bluster from Randleman, who went to Brazil strictly for business and not pleasure. Throughout the evening, Randleman ran through his opposition by earning three knockouts. That night, Brazilian Luis Carlos Maciel was first up to face him, a boxer known as “He Man.” By all accounts, Maciel handled himself well enough until he hit his back. From there, Randleman pounded away on him until Maciel surrendered to strikes before referee Fernando Yamasaki could intervene.

In his second appearance of this one-night tourney, Randleman had his way with Geza Kalman, one of two participants from Canada—the other early Ultimate Fighting Championship vet Dave Beneteau. The Hammer House fighter had the advantage on the feet immediately, and he did work until taking Kalman to the ground. Once on top, it was merely academic, as Randleman took advantage of the vale tudo ruleset—or lack thereof—by smashing the Canadian with headbutts and punches.

On the other side of the bracket, Dan Bobish, the heaviest fighter in the tournament who weighed 145kg or a little under 320 pounds, dominated the opposition he encountered. Bobish strangled Brazil’s Mauro Bernardo in under two minutes with his forearm, and he overwhelmed Beneteau en route to a cut stoppage to line up against Randleman in the final for the UVF 4 title.

After showcasing his better-than-expected boxing again in the final showdown, Randleman took down Bobish and concluded the fight with punches while still in closed guard. A delighted Coleman stormed the cage after the victory, where he celebrated with his pupil and carried the heavyweight on his shoulders. At night’s end, Randleman earned a cool $10,000 for his handiwork, amassing 18:41 in total combat time for his professional debut.

At the end of the event, Randleman spoke about how the event did not meet his expectations. Namely, he did not get to take on any noteworthy jiu-jitsu practitioners.

“I thought that because I was in the Gracie family’s land, I would have the chance to beat some big name in jiu-jitsu, but they preferred to make excuses,” Randleman remarked. “I hope that at the next event, one of them will have the courage to try to steal my belt.”

Three Men Answer Coleman’s Challenges

Before the grand final between Randleman and Bobish, Coleman went up to the cage and challenged any Brazilian present. “Carlao” Barreto and Duarte followed closely behind. Even though some declared they would gladly face him, “The Hammer” did not compete for any organization other than the UFC or Pride Fighting Championships, while not meeting a Brazilian until Pedro Rizzo in 1999.

“I'm here representing the real jiu-jitsu, the Carlson Gracie team. I challenge you, Coleman,” shouted “Barreto.”

Hugo Duarte took the microphone and gave his message afterward, declaring, “I will fight in the name of Brazil. Let’s put an end to the arrogance of these Americans.”

“Carlao” regained the microphone and took it further, proposing an elimination event between him and Duarte to determine who would represent Brazil against the foreign wrestler. Duarte accepted immediately. Before anything came of that, Ismail, a fighter who competed in the 185-pound range, crashed the cage, where he issued a message from his coach, Carlson Gracie.

“Tell the foreigners to make a list of those who want to fight with us, and we will take them one by one,” claimed the boisterous Gracie student.

Ismail and Coleman locked eyes for a time, and Coleman, who did not speak Portuguese and had no translator in sight, stood and clapped. When Ismail departed the cage, Sherdog asked him his intentions since all the American wrestlers he wanted to face were heavyweights.

“If size matters, the elephant would be the king of the jungle,” the black belt wisely replied.

When women's MMA was not even being considered, Severn's coach, Becky Levi—who stood six feet tall and weighed around 215 pounds- challenged Brazilian women to combat. The crowd responded by chanting the name of boxer Nary Tyson, but options were limited for women in that era of the sport. The judoka went on to compete eight times as a professional from 1996 to 2000, losing once when Marloes Coenen landed a flying armbar on her.

A Late Replacement Shines

To complete the dominant night of American wrestling, veteran Dan Severn topped Mario Neto, the latter a purple belt in jiu-jitsu. Neto, also called “Sukata,” replaced Pedro Otavio, who injured his finger the day before the event. With Severn already in Brazil, the organization made several proposals for replacements. When the bout was on the verge of cancellation, Neto appeared on fight night, accepting the offer and competing against the 1986 Wrestling World Cup gold medalist for a whopping 40 minutes.

The man from Paraiba acquitted himself on his feet, and when Severn took him down, Neto protected himself effectively from damage. “Sukata” attempted a triangle choke during their encounter, and Severn, who tapped out from the same maneuver from Royce Gracie two years earlier, had learned the proper defense. When the 40-minute period elapsed, judges decided in favor of Severn. “The Beast” grabbed the microphone but did not use his time to call out opponents. Instead, he showered his short-notice replacement opponent with praise.

“He is a warrior,” Severn stated gladly. “I only knew he would fight me 10 minutes before the fight, and he fought very well. He certainly has a future.”

Severn was not wrong in that regard, as “Sukata” went on to fight 17 more times professionally. Of note, Neto represented Brazil in UVF 6, defeating Gary Goodridge and facing Randleman in the semifinals. He, Ebenezer Fontes Braga and the aforementioned “Carlao” battled Randleman on that March 3 show in 1997, and the third of the bunch managed to beat the wrestler.

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