Let’s not kid ourselves, the UFC knows exactly what they’re trying to do with the recently announced Mark Coleman-Brock Lesnar bout. They screwed up with Lesnar’s first opponent, and ended up paying the big man a quarter of a million dollars just to see him get submitted in the first round. They aren’t going to make that mistake again. They want to put Lesnar over, and dammit, they’re going to do it even if it means that we all have to keep a straight face when Mark Coleman gets on TV to insist that he’s not retired.
Okay, Mark. Fine. I guess you’re not retired. I guess we just assumed you would be.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Coleman. He deserves his place in the UFC Hall of Fame. He was nothing less than a pioneer in the sport of MMA. You ever hear of ground-and-pound? Yeah, that was him. If they hadn’t outlawed headbutts who knows what Coleman could have accomplished.
But at the same time the game has passed Coleman by. His skill set didn’t evolve the way it needed to — the way Randy Couture’s has — and the UFC knows it. That’s why they’re putting him against Lesnar. They need to put Lesnar over, and as any pro wrestling fan knows, the best and laziest way to do that is to have him beat some older, more established icon. And make no mistake, Lesnar will beat Coleman like a rug. And it’s going to be sad. And we’re all going to watch it anyway and feel bad about ourselves for at least fifteen minutes afterwards.
I’ve seen some people on the MMA blogosphere who seem to think that Coleman stands a good chance of beating Lesnar. This is an absurd suggestion, and here’s why. The wrestler style of ground-and-pound that Coleman helped create is a style that relies more on physical superiority than technique. It’s an alpha-male style of fighting. It only works when everything goes right. If, say, you aren’t able to put your opponent on his back, or if he puts you on yours, it doesn’t work. The methodical nature of it is both its strength and its weakness. You take a man down, you immobilize him, maybe move his head up against the cage, and then you go to work tenderizing his face until he quits or the ref pulls you off, whichever comes first. That’s it. No big secret.
This is not a strategy by which an older, smaller man is going to defeat a younger, bigger, more athletic one. Coleman against Lesnar is like Hillary Clinton against John McCain: the strengths that allowed them to beat other people are suddenly weaknesses against an opponent who does everything they do a little bit better. Coleman’s not going to take Lesnar down any more than Clinton is going to beat McCain on experience or national security. Is this metaphor too much of a stretch? Probably, but you get the point.
Still, it’s the smart move for the UFC. They take two Midwestern wrestlers, one old and one new, and make them fight in the Minnesota. Midwesterners would walk through fire to see this match. The irony is that in order to make it seem credible, Dana White has to ignore the fact that he recently accused Fedor of having not defeated anyone worthwhile in years. One of those not-worthwhile opponents was, of course, Mark Coleman. Twice.
But that’s okay. If there’s one thing White is used to, it’s playing make-believe in front of a microphone. You think you’re going to make him stick by the logical implications of his own statements? You’ve got to be f*cking kidding me.
Brock Lesnar needs Mark Coleman. And Coleman? He probably needs the cash. His best chance in this fight is if Lesnar goes down with some freakish injury, the way “Shogun” Rua did. But that probably won’t happen. What will happen is Lesnar will take Coleman down and pound on him with the trademark angry-four-year-old punching style that nearly did Frank Mir in. Then the UFC hype machine will get behind Lesnar again, the way it got behind Rich Franklin for beating Ken Shamrock.
Is it cheap and more than a little insincere? Yeah. But that’s the fight business. Some things never change.