LAS VEGAS -- Mark Coleman has studied Fedor Emelianenko’s fighting tendencies many times on videotape, and spent months preparing for a rematch with the feared Russian. But finding the right strategy to beat Emelianenko has proved futile, as evidenced by Coleman’s comments just two days before their scheduled Saturday showdown at Thomas & Mack.
“I don’t see any weaknesses,” Coleman said of the Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight titleholder, who has 20 wins and 0 losses over the past six years. “I got to find one when the fight starts.”
Ideally, Coleman said, he will find a way to hoist Emelianenko high in the air and slam him unconscious. It is in this area – the takedown realm – where the former NCAA wrestling champion enjoys perhaps his one and only advantage over Emelianenko. Problem is, Emelianenko happens to be a former world Sambo champion and it took him all of 2 minutes, 11 seconds to submit Coleman on the ground two years ago. This has Coleman thinking about abandoning the most powerful and trusted weapon in his arsenal.
“Before, I don’t really think he cared if I took him down,” Coleman said. “Maybe I won’t even try to take him down (this time). I’m not sure.”
Coleman, a “ground-and-pound” pioneer and former UFC champion, has been largely self-taught while racking up a respectable pro record of 15 wins versus 7 losses. Critics have long contended that he should study more Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques to both complement his exceptional wrestling skills and make him less vulnerable to submissions. But Coleman said he did not receive any specialized training from outsiders for his upcoming bout.
“I’ve trained myself for this fight,” said Coleman, who has fought just seven times in the past five years, but is coming off a huge upset of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
Coleman, who turns 42 in December, said age has forced him to reduce the length of his workouts. Once upon a time the 245-pound Ohio native was a training fanatic; now his regimen includes significantly less live sparring with partners.
“At 42, I can’t afford to get hurt,” Coleman explained. “I train more against the hill (running), more training against the machine, something that’s not gonna’ hurt you.”
Fedor, as fans call him, looks much less menacing than Coleman and is renowned for his ultra-calm pre-fight demeanor – he shows no emotion whatsoever, looking more like someone who is sitting on the couch on a Sunday evening watching television than someone who is about to try and tear your head off. Hey, he isn’t nicknamed “The Baby-Faced Assassin” for nothing.
Fedor can stand on his feet for an entire fight and trade punches with the best of them, as he did against Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic en route to a win. If he has to fight from his back, as was the case against Coleman, Fedor can manage an armbar or leg lock. And woe to the opponent who finds himself on the bottom of Fedor – nobody in mixed martial arts hits harder or more ferociously from the top position.
Fedor disputed Coleman’s account that he has no weaknesses, but said through a translator, “I don’t know that there are many.”
Fedor said he fights for enjoyment and money. As he warmed up Thursday evening during an outdoor exhibition at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, about 200 or so fans gathered around the ring and showered him in unison with chants of “Fedor! Fedor! Fedor!”
It was a sight to behold, especially in a nation where Americans have lamented the thunderous fall and collapse of the heavyweight boxing division. All three major boxing titles are held by Russians. While boxing critics complain that the quality of heavyweight boxers has dramatically declined – hopelessly longing for the days of Joe Louis, Muhammed Ali, Rocky Marciano, and a 20-year-old Mike Tyson -- many MMA fans regard Fedor as the top heavyweight in the sport's 13-year history.
Many fans seriously question whether Coleman, labeled a 13-to-1 underdog, is deserving of another crack at the Pride heavyweight belt. Coleman said he was chosen because Fedor’s peers were too afraid to step up. Regardless, a Coleman upset would likely send shock waves throughout the MMA world.
But it’s hard to have faith in a good fighter who thinks he might be able to win, over a superb fighting machine who knows he will win.
“Hopefully nobody will be hurt and we’ll go have some vodka together” afterwards, Coleman said.