Coleman looking for payback at UFC 109

NEIL SPRINGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:16 AM ET

The way Mark (The Hammer) Coleman sees it, he owes Randy (The Natural) Couture a head butt.

The two fighters will compete for the first time under MMA rules in the headlining bout of UFC 109 Feb. 6 in Las Vegas, which also features a co-main event between Nate (The Great) Marquardt and Chael Sonnen.

But Coleman and Couture originally met in a freestyle wrestling match during the 1989 U.S. Olympic Festival at Oklahoma State. Both were top-flight amateur wrestlers in college at the time.

Coleman (16-9) won the contest, although Couture (17-10) left his mark on the first-ever UFC heavyweight champion.

“He gave me an accidental head butt during the match and I ended up having to get two stitches underneath my chin,” Coleman said on the UFC 109 conference call, before joking, “so maybe I owe him a little head butt during this one here.”

The remark got a laugh out of Couture, who admitted Coleman was the better man the last time they met.

“Mark was firing on all cylinders in his wrestling career at that time and he beat me,” Couture said. “He was hard-headed, came out and got in my face. It was a great match.”

It doesn’t take a mathematician to point out that their first encounter happened more than 20 years ago. With numerous titles under their respective belts since then, the two meet again in the twilights of their fighting careers.

Coleman said it’s an honour to face Couture, a UFC Hall of Famer and one of MMA’s brightest stars.

“When I received the text message from the UFC that said it was going to be Randy Couture, I must admit I was in shock a little bit,” Coleman said. “I was dealing with my daughters and had to take a second to regroup because I was just really happy and surprised.

“I do feel lucky getting to face Randy Couture because in my opinion he’s one of greatest of all time in this sport. You can’t top this; it’s about as big as it gets for me.”

Though Coleman got the better of Couture two decades ago, he has struggled in his MMA career since winning the 2000 PRIDE grand prix, going 5-5. During that time, Couture cemented his legacy with UFC heavyweight and light-heavyweight title reigns.

According to Coleman, his poor performances were due to his duties as a father, which made it impossible for him to train properly. However, now that his two daughters have grown up, he can focus on fighting again.

“When they were younger, I really couldn’t stand leaving Columbus, Ohio and I couldn’t stand leaving my kids because I was worried about who would be taking care of them,” Coleman said. “So I didn’t do it. In hindsight, I probably should have. I’ll never regret getting to see them grow up and compete in gymnastics, softball and basketball. That’s been the highlight of my life.

“Now that they’ve grown up, they’ve told me, ‘Go ahead, daddy. Get out of town and do whatever it takes to win this fight.’ That really meant the world to me.”

This new focus on training showed in Coleman’s last bout at UFC 100, where he overpowered Stephan (The American Psycho) Bonnar en route to a unanimous decision victory. Though he’s frequently criticized for gassing early, Coleman displayed some much-improved conditioning.

Meanwhile, Couture struggled in his most recent fight, at UFC 105 in November, against Brandon (The Truth) Vera.

Unable to take Vera to the ground, Couture earned a controversial decision by pressing his opponent on the fence and employing dirty boxing. Harsher critics have since dubbed this strategy ‘wall n’ stall’ – a standup version of ‘lay n’ pray.’

“I think I did a good job against Vera,” Couture said. “I think I got a little tunnel vision early and expected to be able to take him down. Maybe I underestimated his wrestling. I should have had better, top-notch wrestlers in camp and worked out how to take them down, then that would have translated into taking Brandon down.”

Recognizing that Coleman is known for his takedowns and ground-and-pound, Couture has focused heavily on tightening his wrestling skills during training camp.

“If you put your wrestling to the side against a guy like Mark Coleman, you’ve made a mistake,” Couture said. “There’s no doubt that Mark’s used his wrestling very diligently in a lot of his fights and won a lot of his fights with that.

“The (training) process started in dealing with Brandon Vera because Brandon has a lot of underrated wrestling skills, and it’s sort of perpetuated itself into the Coleman camp and getting ready for Mark. I’ll be ready to deal with Mark’s wrestling.”

UFC 109 CARD

- Randy Couture (17-10) vs. Mark Coleman (16-9)

- Nate Marquardt (29-8-2) vs. Chael Sonnen (23-10-1)

- Mike Swick (14-3) vs. Paulo Thiago (12-1)

- Demian Maia (11-1) vs. Dan Miller (11-2)

- Matt Serra (9-6) vs. Frank Trigg (19-7)

- Mac Danzig (18-7-1) vs. Justin Buchholz (8-4)

- Melvin Guillard (22-8-2) vs. Ronys Torres (14-1)

- Phillipe Nover (5-2-1) vs. Rob Emerson (8-8)

- Brian Stann (8-2) vs. Phil Davis (4-0)

- Tim Hague (12-2) vs. Chris Tuchscherer (17-2)

- Joey Beltran (10-3) vs. Rolles Gracie (3-0)


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