Mark Coleman on Dana White, fighter pay and celebrity boxing
The UFC Hall of Famer sat down with the Betway Insider to discuss the changing landscape of combat sports.
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Mixed martial arts is always evolving.
A sport that incorporates techniques from so many different disciplines and so many different countries never stands still.
Few know that better than UFC Hall of Famer, Mark Coleman, whose career started before the unified rules of MMA were introduced in 2000.
Known as the ‘Godfather of Ground-and-Pound’, Coleman helped popularise the use of wrestling in MMA, and there is one big change he has noticed since his heyday.
“Everybody has realised the importance of knowing how to wrestle,” he says.
“I know a lot of people got sick of seeing so much wrestling, but back then I said just give it some time, because as soon as everybody realises they have to learn how to wrestle, the score will change.
“And it really has, because everybody can stop a takedown now.”
Coleman is one of the biggest proponents of wrestling, having forged a successful career in the sport before joining the UFC, winning an NCAA championship, a World Championship silver medal and qualifying for the 1992 Olympics.
But even he recognises the negative connotations that surround the discipline within mixed martial arts.
“Ground-and-pound is not loved by the fans, I understand that,” he admits. “But the only way to stop it happening is if you know how to stop the takedown, and that's what everybody's learned how to do.
“All aspects of the game are very, very important, but if you can't wrestle, the fight is going to be on the ground.”
The consequence of the growth of wrestling is, well, less wrestling.
Takedowns and grappling are still an essential aspect of the sport, and fighters who specialise on the ground still find success, but the majority of fights now take place on the feet.
“The stand-up is really what’s coming on. The stand-up has come so far and is really taking over, and it’s very exciting,” says Coleman.
“It is incredible to see how advanced the stand-up game is now. These guys are really, really amazing on their feet.”
Aside from the changes that have taken place inside the cage in recent years, the exponential growth of MMA has led to changes behind the scenes, too.
“It’s full-time now,” explains Coleman. “They get paid enough money that all they have to do is train, and they’ve got three or four coaches.
“I really didn't have any coaches. I was my own coach, pretty much. I had my teammates at the Hammer House. We were badasses and we trained ourselves.
“It would have been it'd be nice to do it over and have a jiu-jitsu coach, a boxing coach, a conditioning coach. It'd be pretty nice.”
The increased professionalism of MMA fighters, particularly within organisations such as the UFC, has led to long-running discussions on fighter pay.
With the UFC continually expanding, and its current valuation standing at around $7bn, many believe fighters are not being paid enough, and much of the criticism has been aimed at president Dana White.
Coleman doesn’t quite agree.
“I respect Dana a lot,” he says. “He’s called me as dumbass plenty of times, but who hasn’t he called a dumbass? So, I don't take it too personally. I think he's done one hell of a job, and we’ve got to give him a lot of credit for where the sport is at today.
“Of course, everybody wants to be paid more. I think they're probably going to have to pay more eventually, but right now everybody's getting paid pretty damn good, I tell you that.
“Compared to what we got back when I was fighting. They're getting paid pretty good.”
The ongoing pay dispute within the UFC is also playing out in another way, with fighters looking elsewhere for money.
In recent years, several UFC fighters have crossed over to boxing, including bare-knuckle, or left for other MMA promotions such as Bellator, PFL and ONE Championship.
“I love the opportunities fighters are getting,” says Coleman. “I am a big fan of bare-knuckle boxing. I love it and I think it will continue to climb.”
The big story in combat sports at the moment, though, is celebrity boxing.
YouTuber Logan Paul’s fight against Floyd Mayweather drew around 1m PPV buys, while Jake Paul’s fight against former UFC fighter Ben Askren did similar numbers.
Many in the MMA and boxing communities have been scathing about these crossover celebrity events, but Coleman sees it differently.
“The big thing now is obviously celebrity boxing, and I think it's great. It's great for boxing. it's great for the MMA fighters.
“Anybody doesn't see it that way, well, that's their choice, but I think the more opportunities the better.
“I'm a curious person. We're all curious people. Jake and Logan Paul, they actually come from Ohio, my home state. They both wrestled and wrestlers stick together for life.
“They worked hard to get to where they're at with all the followers. And that's where we're at nowadays, it's all about how many followers you got. That's how you judge what a guy's worth, and I think they're worth every penny of it because people are tuning in. Even if they want to see them get their heads knocked off, well, they're still tuning in to see that.
“I respect the fact that they're trying to be the best boxers they can be, and I wouldn't be too surprised if we see both those guys switching into MMA because I know they both have a wrestling background.”
Despite retiring 11 years ago, Coleman’s enduring love for MMA is clear to see, and his knowledge of the changing landscape of combat sports is impressive.
Don’t be surprised then, if we see Logan or Jake Paul lacing up some 4oz gloves and walking out to the Octagon in the near future.