Sunday, March 18, 2007

State mat titles only whetted his appetite

By Ryan Autullo

In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Ryan Autullo talked with 1992 Olympic freestyle wrestler Mark Coleman of Fremont.

Before reaching international success, Mark Coleman won two state titles at St. Joseph Central Catholic in Fremont and reached All-America status at Miami (Ohio) before transferring to Ohio State and winning the 1988 NCAA title at 190 pounds.

After retiring from wrestling in 1996, Coleman joined the Ultimate Fighting Championship and immediately became one of its biggest stars. He won his first seven matches before finally losing a year after his debut.

Coleman, 42, lives in Columbus with his daughters Mckenzie, 9, and Morgan 7. He now fights in the mixed martial arts organization, PRIDE, and won its inaugural Grand Prix tournament in 2000. Coleman occasionally trains fighters for his Hammer House team.

Mark Coleman was not always a prominent name. Though he won two state wrestling titles (it could have been three if not for an injury) Coleman attracted minimal interest from Division I programs. A three-sport star, Coleman's prestige was spread between wrestling, football and baseball. He ultimately accepted a wrestling scholarship from Miami (Ohio) but soon had aspirations of transferring to a larger university where he would have the necessary resources to reach his goals of becoming an NCAA champion and an Olympian.

"I WENT TO MIAMI out of necessity. Even though I was a two-time state champion I wasn't really considered a top caliber recruit out of Ohio because Division III at the time didn't get respect. I really wanted to go to Toledo but basically Toledo said they already had their 190 and 177 pounders. I was very, very disappointed and somewhat shocked. I wanted to go to Ohio State, but it was the same thing - the interest just wasn't there. I ended up taking a scholarship from Miami. It really wasn't my first or second choice, it was my only choice. The game plan down at Miami was to get out of there. And the way to get out of there was to be an All-American. But I do feel like I could have won nationals had I stayed at Miami.

"IN HIGH SCHOOL I didn't hide the fact that I wanted to play pro football or baseball, or be the best wrestler in the world. I wish I would have tried harder at school, but I kind of knew what I wanted to be at a really young age. I set my goals to be a state champion and I achieved them. Fortunately for me I've been able to use my wrestling skills effectively to make a living, but I recommend to other people to take school seriously. I could have worked harder in school, but I never missed a workout.

"THE FIRST GOAL was to become a state champion, then a national champion. Coming out of high school I was expecting to be a multiple national champion and here I was in the fifth year of college and I wasn't even the favorite. When I finally did win it, it was by far the greatest athletic achievement. Coming out of high school you're just so cocky, you think you're going to win two or three of them and when I got it, it was a big-time highlight, that's for sure. You think it's going to last forever but it lasts a couple weeks then you realize that's over and you have to reset your goals and move on. You can't live in the past too long or you wind up getting your butt whooped.

"AT THE TIME I didn't appreciate the Olympics enough. I was pretty selfish. I wanted to win the gold medal. That's what mattered to me. I almost skipped out on the opening ceremonies, but thank God my head coach made me go to them. Looking back, I was very lucky and fortunate just to be there.

"I was disappointed to get seventh place, but looking back, what a great experience it was. I'm honored to have been in the Olympics and to have represented the United States. My whole family made the trip. At the time I tried to win for them and now when I fight I try to win for my family - for my kids and for my parents.

"IT'S HARD TO focus on being world champion because my kids are so important to me. I'm worried about what they're doing. I need to get away to focus on training but then I just miss my kids because they're my life. They're my girlfriends - they won't let me have one that's for sure. They're the boss. At first it was hard to leave my kids and now I know I owe it to them to go and prepare for these fights. They don't want to see me get hurt.

"I'VE GOT TWO fights left on my contract. I need to win them both and possibly see what happens after that. I'm healthy right now. I hope in October I'm feeling like I do now and I'll continue to fight until I can't compete with these guys. It's a very good paycheck. That's how I make a living. I haven't been hit that many times in the head and I enjoy it. It's what I do. I don't write stories too well and math wasn't my specialty, this is what I do. I still have that desire to be a champion and I still think I can do it if I put in the proper homework. If I do the training, I still have a chance to beat anybody out there.

"WHEN I WON the PRIDE Grand Prix I was not supposed to win the thing. I just was in there because I had a good name. I was totally counted out, but I did pay my dues. That's the hardest I've worked in a long, long time. I put in six solid months preparing for that tournament. I wasn't that shocked myself, but I did surprise a lot of people. That turned things around for me because people thought I was finished, but I really was just getting started.

"WHEN UFC TOOK away the head butt they completely changed the sport. It was a weapon that I used and a weapon that I was very effective with. I didn't really need a whole lot of other tools besides my head and my left and right hand, and my ability to take my opponent down. Maybe the way I was effective doing it sped up the process of it becoming illegal. When they made it illegal I had a lot of catching up to do. That's what the sport is about - everybody adjusts to what is going on. Now it's 12 years old and if you're in the big leagues you're basically a black belt in all three positions. Back in the day I was one-dimensional, but it was very effective."


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