Sometimes, when you watch a fighter, something happens and you suddenly realize that he (or she) is much bigger than that particular moment; that they are going to become something greater than anyone could have imagined.
At UFC 10 on July 12, 1996, a fighter named Mark Coleman walked into the Octagon as a relative unknown, but given his wrestling background, most who had followed the sport up to then thought he could be something; we just didn’t know what.
Back then, a pedigree was simply a teaser; many a fighter looked to be bringing in a wealth of experience, only to fall apart in the chaotic storm that was frequently found in open combat with few rules. Sure, he was a monster of a man with a great wrestling background, but was he a fighter? How would he react to being in the cage with another human being looking to break his face?
His first fight against Moti Horenstein was impressive, but his opponent had no true ground skills and it was almost a given that due to the clash of styles, Coleman was going to win by simple gravity and size.
His second bout of the night saw him paired up against former UFC 8 finalist, Garry Goodridge. While this was thought to be a much stiffer test, Coleman was, in many ways, simply applying the formula that the current and “reigning” UFC champion, Don Frye, had used to win the tournament strap months before.
Thus, Coleman was still simply a big man treading down a well-worn path, standing upon the shoulders of the notables that had come before.
Then, came his bout with Frye, a fighter that had mown through the competition, had his mettle tested, and was found to be an honest possessor of “True grit.”
And Frye was not only a solid wrestler, but a damn hard puncher with a mean streak a mile long. If that wasn’t enough, he was a protégée of the fabled Dan Severn, a fighter who had many UFC accolades under his belt.
Now, we would learn if Coleman was, as they say, a “contender or a pretender.”
As we watched, Coleman rose to the occasion and beyond as he battered Frye from pillar to post. In nearly every single area the fight was contested, Coleman prevailed, leaving Frye a bloodied and beaten man by the time the referee, “Big” John McCarthy, decided he had seen enough.
Coleman’s hand was raised and from there on out, we knew nothing would be the same.
The defeat of Frye could not be dismissed as one fighter having a bad night; Frye had dominated all opposition up until the finals that night and his defeat was utter and total. In doing so, he had displayed a kind of ferocity in hammering his opponents on the floor, earning himself the title of “Godfather of Ground & Pound.”
Coleman would go on to win the next tournament at UFC 11 before claiming the UFC Superfight Title from Dan Severn; a title which is now recognized as the UFC heavyweight title, cementing Coleman as one of the true pioneers of the sport.
His fall came soon after, at UFC 14, when he was defeated by Maurice Smith in a bout that saw Coleman dominate early, but wear himself out, leaving him to absorb punishment like a punching bag until the judges rendered their decision.
He would go on to lose his next three fights before finding a new lease on his fighting life in the PRIDE Fighting Championships in Japan — a promotion that would give Coleman a slot in the biggest tournament to-date in the world of MMA: The PRIDE Grand Prix 2000. Coleman went on to win that tournament and become the defacto heavyweight champion of the world’s largest promotion, although it was his successor, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, that officially holds that honor.
While his career would see him enjoy great success and endure great downfall, in total it was more than enough to earn him induction to the UFC Hall of Fame.
And it all started in the finals of UFC 10, when he beat the man to become the man, showing all of us that he was for real.