Did the UFC Conspire against Mark Coleman?
Did the UFC Conspire Against Mark Coleman?
* The perspectives featured in this story have been carefully pieced together through individual interviews taken from the Lytes Out Podcast with the following subjects
– Mark Coleman
– Bob Meyrowitz
– Art Davie
The legacy of being UFC’s first champion is something that one would imagine came with prestige, honor and grace; especially when the inevitable time came to pass the proverbial torch.
The reality of what took place during and after Mark Coleman being crowned the UFC’s first champion would be best described as confusing, mired in ego, and the actions of everyone involved murky at best.
Richard Hamilton was the alleged name of Mark’s first trainer and manager; “Richard” was not just the coach of Team Phoenix; but also a guy living under an alias in the witness protection program.
Hamilton, a self proclaimed sambo expert originally coached Dan Severn and ran a gym out of the basement of an Arizona church.
Having been given 1 slot to fill for UFC 10 tournament; Hamilton found himself at the US Olympic wrestling facility where he met Mark Coleman.
In an interview that we did on the Lytes Out Podcast, Coleman told us that
Hamilton would later be arrested, convicted and imprisioned for having a sexual relationship with a minor at his gym.
With 2 successful tournament wins at UFC 10 and 11, the Godfather of Ground and Pound set the stage in order to be crowned with the inaugural UFC championship belt when he submitted Dan Severn at UFC 12.
Coleman’s fighting style was rough and gritty; no one could stop his takedown and the grind that he put his opponents through struck fear into them prior to the cage door closing.
Outside of the cage at this time; Mark was fueled by alcohol and one could make the argument that he wasn’t much different socially than when he was when fighting…
But it wasn’t just Mark that the UFC brass had to deal with, along with him came longtime best friend and future UFC World Champion Kevin Randleman.
Wes Sims had told me that Kevin loved to call a close employee of Bob Meyrowitz named Paula Romero; he would demand to be connected to Bob so that he could yell at him about whatever issues were on his mind at the time; as scary as a situation like this might seem, to Kevin it was just a part of the game and it meant that he genuinely liked you.
When Lytes Out Podcast co host Miguel Itrrate (Former BoDog and ADCC president) was asked about what it was like dealing with Kevin Randleman; Miguel pauses, is careful when choosing his words and states “Coleman was the much more level headed of the two”.
It was when the title was wrapped around Coleman’s waist that the problems surrounding him, both in and out of the cage seemed to escalate in tandem with his growing fame.
At UFC 13 Mark Coleman was cornering Royce Alger in his fight against Enson Inoue; At the event, Coleman admittedly had been drinking… a lot.
The after fight party was generally when the UFC paid its fighters; At this particular one it also featured Tank Abbott, Paul Herrera and Tito Ortiz instigating a confrontation with a Brazilian contingent consisting of Carlos Barreto, Walid Ismail, Vitor Belfort and a host of other Carlson Gracie students.
Miguel Iturrate who said that when Mark Coleman entered into the fray he stood in the center of the room and challenged every single person in it; making an already tense situation worse Coleman eventually sided with Tank Abbott and was getting ready for a war.
The confrontation between the two parties eventually de-escalated when Carlson Gracie SR talked with the Brazilian’s cooling them off and the UFC owner Bob Meyrowitz having had a stern talk with Tank Abbott and his crew instructing them to leave.
While all of this was going on, a blacked out Mark Coleman was personally attended to by Big John McCarthy in order to ease the situation.
What took place between Coleman and Big John has been publicly contested by both parties; BJM claims that he pinned Mark against the wall and demanded that he leave the area; while Coleman says that although he was blacked out at the time, he couldn’t imagine allowing someone like Big John pin him against a wall.
As chaotic on the surface level as one might imagine the fighter dealings may have been; on the administrative side, the word tumultuous could be used on what was taking place behind closed doors…
In what can best be described as a tug of war in regards to respect; UFC creator Art Davie and UFC owner Bob Meyrowitz were constantly at odds with one another. As gifted as Davie was when it came to finding talent and matching them up, Meyrowitz was as equally impressive inside the courtroom defending and financing the entire organization; I am not sure either of the two ever saw the other as equals in regards to what they had brought to the table, but both of them were incredibly talented.
After Coleman’s victory the newly crowned champion was interviewed by Art Davie in his post fight acceptance speech.
The names Don Frye, Ken Shamrock and Tank Abbott were all brought to Mark’s attention in regards to potential future matchups; Coleman responded that he would fight anyone the fans wanted to see.
With all of the previously mentioned affairs in play Bob Meyrowitz, decided to take some of the fighter duties away from Art Davie and brought in Extreme Fighting matchmaker John Perretti as a consultant.
While Art Davie’s approach allowed matched to come together organically, with the intent of telling a story.
John Perretti was armed with a brilliant combat sports mind; but his ego and demand of respect from the fighters often had him working overtime in order to try to figure out on how to get a particular person beat.
His style of match making was much different than Davie and his addition to the UFC roundtable meant that the power dynamic between Davie and the locker room was changed dramatically.
When we interviewed Bob Meyrowitz he had mentioned that fighter recognition with the fans was paramount in order to establish the UFC as a brand; Bob had also mentioned that he had an enormous amount of respect for Big John McCarthy and that BJM was someone that he consistently talked to whenever he needed advice.
Meyrowitz also admitted that he was not a big fan of Coleman’s fighting style and that he didn’t believe that it lent itself to growing the UFC fan base.
UFC 14 was supposed to be headlined by Mark Coleman and Randy Couture but the fight fell through when Randy dislocated a rib training for that years Greco Roman National tournament.
On the Lytes Out Podcast, Coleman claimed that 2 months prior to the UFC 14 bout, Frank Shamrock had informed Mark that Maurice Smith was training to fight him and that Coleman shouldn’t take Smith lightly; an admittedly out of control Mark Coleman didn’t give the conversation with Frank a second thought.
Two (2) weeks prior to the bout Colman was informed that Couture and the wrestling style Mark had been training for was now going to be replaced by a stand up specialist in Mairice Smith.
On July 27 1997 a man that had never set foot into the UFC cage before, walks into a title fight in what is considered the worlds biggest stage.
All of the above mentioned parties say that Maurice Smith was hand picked by Perretti for the bout.
When the fight begins, Coleman gets the first takedown that he attempts; after 9 minutes of Coleman in top position, a scramble occurs that has Smith escaping from Coleman’s grasp while simultaneously landing an illegal kick to the face of a now tired champion.
Big John McCarthy acknowledges the foul by stopping the fight. Smith was sent to his actual corner where he receives water and advice from his cornerman Frank Shamrock; all the while holding Coleman in a neutral part of the octagon in order to explain to him that a foul took place.
Big John issued a verbal warning to Maurice Smith; while the visibly exhausted Mark Coleman was NEVER questioned if he needed additional time to recover from the foul. Big John restarted the fight immediately
The overtime period, featured a moment when both fighters were circling each other and the lights inside the building had turned off; with both combatants stopped waiting for direction from BJM, they were instructed to continue fighting.
Mark Coleman’s response to this was classy; he humbly stated that regardless of how Big John’s actions may have affected the fight, that he had not put the work in at that time, to remain champion.
In the following weeks after the event, the self regulated UFC decided to eliminate headbutts as a part of their growing rule set.
This change also happens to take away Mark Coleman’s biggest weapon; the unstoppable takedown was accompanied by vicious ground and pound that was set up by the use of headbutts in order that they opened up opportunities to land punches.
When we brought this fact up to Bob Meyrowitz he had mentioned that this was done in order to gain acceptance with Athletic Commissions with the hope to legalize the sport in various states.
When UFC 17 aired, announcer Jeff Blatnick told the viewing audience that the reason headbutts were eliminated from the rule set was done in order to appease the UFC’s growing fan base.
As bizarre as what may have taken place at UFC 14, it pales in comparison as to what happened on May 15 1998.
UFC 17 was supposed to be headlined by Mark Coleman and Japanese legend TK Kosaka.
Having seen the success that Maurice Smith had with Mark, TK had chosen to have his preparation for the bout at Shamrock’s the Lions Den gym.
With 1 week out from the fight, Coleman was informed that TK was injured and that he was going to be replaced and by one of his training partner named Pete Williams…
In the pre fight interview Pete Williams tells the audience that although he took the fight on 6 days notice, it wouldn’t be a factor due to the reason that he was currently in camp for a different fight.
– Oddly enough Williams next bout at UFC 17.5 was against TK Kosaka
UFC 17 took place in Mobile Alabama and Coleman’s opponent shared the same team and cornerman in Frank Shamrock as it did his previous fight against Maurice Smith.
When the fight begins it was with an immediate takedown by Mark Coleman.
With 1:30 into the fight, Coleman defends a tight armbar that was described by him as, “…backstage, some black belt showed me how to get out of an armbar an hour prior to the fight taking place, thank God I rolled the right way; it was really tight.”
Rather than give an opinion as to what I believe may have taken place that night; I would rather stick to the facts.
The following is a running log of times and infractions committed in the fight and the warnings given by referee Big John McCarthy (BJM);
:35 Coleman gets deep in on a take down and lifts Williams into the air; Pete Williams then reaches over the top of the cage to prevent the takedown and is warned to “let go of the top” on the way down to the to the mat Williams is grabbing the fence in order to lesson the ensuing blow – WARNING WILLIAMS
1:17 Pete WIlliams from the bottom position grabs the cage in order to help move his hips into a better angle so that he could land the above mentioned arm bar – No warning
1:55 Pete Williams from the bottom position grabs the cage in order to move his body away from the fence – No warning
2:08 – 2:15 Pete Williams from the bottom position grabs the cage multiple times in order to change his position – No warning
2:32 Pete Williams from the bottom grabs the cage in order to change his position – No warning
2:44 Pete Williams from the bottom position grabs the cage in order to change his direction – No warning
3:47 Pete Williams from the bottom position clinches the cage to alleviate top pressure from Coleman – No warning
3:54 Pete Williams from the bottom position changes his entire body direction due to a cage grab -No warning
4:50 Pete Williams grabs the cage in order to change his position on the bottom – No warning
5:07 Mark Coleman grabs the cage opposite side of BJM to maintain balance – No warning
5:35 BJM stands the fighters up, Colemans activity had not ceased since being in the top dominant position.
8:34 Mark Coleman gets a takedown, Pete Williams grabs the cage in order to stand back up – No warning
8:55 A standing Mark Coleman has Pete Williams pressed up against the cage, Coleman grabbed the cage – WARNING COLEMAN
9:05 BJM again tells Coleman to keep his hands off the cage – WARNING COLEMAN
9:11 With his back against the fence Pete Williams avoids a take down by grabbing the fence in plain view of BJM – no warning
9;22 While pressing Williams against the cage BJM again tells Coleman to keep his hands off the fence – WARNING COLEMAN
9:52 Pressing WIlliams against the cage BJM yells at Coleman to keep his hands off of the fence – WARNING COLEMAN
9:56 Pressing Williams against the cage, BJM informs Coleman that if he grabs the fence again that he is “fouling him out next time that’s it” – WARNING COLEMAN
10:08 Coleman gets deep on a takedown, Williams with both hands grabbing the fence was able to defend the takedown due to the help of clinching the cage – no warning
10:15 Coleman hits another takedown, Williams is able to defend due to both hands grabbing the fence; Coleman readjusts and has Williams mid air tugging at him in order to pry him from the fence, BJM tells Williams to let go of the fence; “there you go” was what BJM said once Pete released – WARNING WILLIAMS
12:38 Williams lands a kick to Coleman’s face that will be featured at the introduction of every UFC for the next 10 years.
– Prior to landing the head kick, Williams is throwing open fingered jabs at Colemans face – no warning
When reviewing this bout with Mark, he gets a little heated and says “Big John fucked me, oh he will have an answer though, but it will all be lies.”
Although we did not get a chance to talk to Big John McCarthy about this fight; a few of the listeners of the podcast were able to submit questions to Big John on his “Weighing In” podcast.
The Martial arts message board known as the Underground Forum has a member that goes by the Screen Name “ShamrockGOATmma”; they had submitted a question stating that BJM may have shown preferential treatment towards Pete Williams in the Mark Coleman fight and what did he remember about the fight.
The question is asked at 55:56 from the following link:
BJM laughed and sarcastically stated “yeah, you know me, allowing Pete Williams to cheat. People if you don’t know what the rules are at the time [you shouldn’t ask questions about the bout.]”
Forum member “Chilz” – also left a message about our interview in the comment section of the podcast.
– As a historian, I might add that I highly suggest listening to the Weighing In Podcast, its a fantastic listen
Onto the next controversy
On Jan 8 1999 a former champion that is now riddled with self doubt, Mark Coleman was pitted against on undefeated Brazilian phenom named Pedro Rizzo at UFC 18.
In the first round, Coleman landed 2 takedowns and rode out the entire 12 minute round on top of Pedro; there was very little exchange on the feet when the fighters were standing.
At the end of the 1st round, Miguel Iturrate was within eyeshot of judge Dave Meltzer when he was filling out his scorecard.
When I saw him write that Pedro Rizzo had won the round on his piece of paper; I knew that we were in for a wild ride Iturrate stated.
As Overtime proceeded, it consisted of the two warriors circling each other with a tired coleman waiting to time a takedown on a lunging Rizzo and Rizzo cirling away not wanting to lead punch with the hope to counter punch a striking Mark Coleman.
There was a lot of circling with very little stand up exchanges between the two, Both fighters had appeared to have taken the overtime period off.
With Coleman in top position for 95% of the initial 12 minute round and Rizzo not mounting and submission attempts; it seemed to be a foregone conclusion as to whos hand should have been raised at the end.
“When I rewatched the fight, I kept waiting for something to happen & nothing did. I just don’t know how I lost that fight” a baffled Mark Coleman responded
The surprising thing is the fact that a person as educated to the sport as Eddie Goldman was, had scored the bout in favor of Pedro Rizzo.
Goldman was an early journalist of the sport as well as friends with Bob Meyrowitz; Eddie is also the main reason that matchmaker John Perretti got his job with the UFC.
As for Coleman, he said that he has no one to blame other than himself, “I should have finished him” is what the former champion reminisced.
In life we all make mistakes…
Sometimes a person has the best of intent, but things just don’t fall into place like they should.
I don’t believe that Mark Coleman’s 3 fight losing streak in the UFC falls into that category.
Although Big John McCarthy has earned the respect of the MMA community; I dont think that this fact puts him above an open conversation about what exactly took place nor the fact that Mark Colman might be owed something as simple as an apology.
To listen to the interviews cited in this article: