MMA History X: The Reign of the Wrestlers

I've been procrastinating about continuing this series, but when I saw the rumors that Mark Coleman is going to be inducted to the UFC…

By: Nate Wilcox | 16 years ago
MMA History X: The Reign of the Wrestlers
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

I’ve been procrastinating about continuing this series, but when I saw the rumors that Mark Coleman is going to be inducted to the UFC Hall of Fame, I figured it was time to get off my ass.

The last time I did one of these little history lessons, I talked about the emergence of some of the first strikers to really make their mark in MMA — Don Frye, Jose “Pele” Landi-Jons, and Igor Vovchanchin. In the first part of 1996 those fighters used their advantage in striking to knock off powerful brawlers and skilled grapplers, and established that striking had a place in MMA.

But starting with the 2nd half of 1996 a new breed of athelete roared into MMA — gigantic, Olympic-caliber wrestlers named Mark: Mark Coleman and Mark Kerr. Unlike Dan Severn, these guys didn’t LayNPray for decisions. Instead, these giant beasts invented a little something called GroundNPound. And we’re talking about rules that allowed headbutts.

Coleman, who took 7th place in the 1992 Olympics, debued at UFC X where he demolished Gary Goodridge and Don Frye in back to back fights. As Matt McEwen wrote in his review of UFC X for 411 Mania:

Historically, you get to witness the birth of the “Ground and Pound” style. Coleman was like a bull in a china shop as he took down whoever was in front of him and proceeded to pound them into submission. His is the most impressive debut in the UFC up to this point, including Don Frye’s at UFC VIII. The wrestlers had been on the verge of dominance for several events, but Coleman showed what a truly aggressive wrestler could do.

Mark Coleman Highlights:

A few months later, another big, elite wrestler named Mark made his debut in Brazil where he earned the nickname, “The Smashing Machine.” MMA World, meet Mark Kerr:

Kerr’s first professional MMA fight was at the World Vale Tudo Championship III, where he won three fights, one by TKO by strikes (in which he broke his hand but continued to fight), another opponent literally crawled out of the ring to avoid Kerr’s brutal ground-and-pound, and the final match was a savage half hour brawl (with his broken hand) in which he punched, kneed, head-butted and elbowed his way to victory.

Mark Kerr Highlights:

Coleman’s reign of invincibility came to a sudden end against Maurice Smith in 1997 but he came back big in PRIDE a few years later. Kerr rolled through every opponent put in front of him until the end of the century when his reign at the top was ended by drug addiction as chronicled in the classic HBO documentary “The Smashing Machine.” While neither fighter proved invincible in the end, they firmly established Freestyle Wrestling (we’ll talk about Greco-Roman later) as an excellent base from which to build an MMA career. In the extended entry I’ve got video of Mark Kerr’s classic match against BJJ blackbelt Fabio Gurgel. It really captures the brutality of the old school Vale Tudo matches. Kerr’s wrestling and raw power eventually overwhelm the smaller Brazilian, but Gurgel’s bravery is as awe-inspiring as the power of the Smashing Machine.

Mark Kerr vs Fabio Gurgel Part 1

Mark Kerr vs Fabio Gurgel Part 2

Previous installments of MMA History:

XXII: Catch Wrestling and Kazushi Sakuraba’s Early PRIDE Run
XXI: The Amazing UFC Championship Run of Frank Shamrock

XX: Kazushi Sakuraba and Frank Shamrock Emerge at Ultimate Japan
XIX: The Humbled PRIDE of Nobuhiko Takada
XVIII: The Losses of Luta Livre
XVII: The Lion’s Den Roars
XVI: Rico Chiapparelli and the RAW Team
XV: Pancrase, RINGS, and Shooto 1996
XIV: Boom and Bust in Brazil
XIII: Coleman Gets His Kicks
XII: End of the UFC Glory Days
XI: Carlson Gracie’s Mighty Camp
X: The Reign of the Wrestlers
IX: Strikers Attack
VIII: From Russia With Leglocks
VII: A New Phase in the UFC
VI: A Dutch Detour
V: The Reign of Royce
IV: Rickson Brings Jiu Jitsu Back to Japan
III: Proto MMA Evolves Out of Worked Pro Wrestling in Japan
II: The Ur-Brazilian MMA Feud: BJJ vs Luta Livre and the Style They Never Saw Coming
I: UFC 1 Pancrase meets BJJ

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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