by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
The Past Meets The Future: By Damon Martin, MMAWeekly

Every professional sport seems to have their moment where the grizzled veteran takes one last shot at greatness before handing the torch to an up and coming star. Mark “The Hammer” Coleman, former UFC heavyweight champion and the first ever Pride Grand Prix champion, will hope that he can get one more shot at greatness when he takes on current middleweight Grand Prix champion, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at Pride: 31.

Since his win over Igor Vovchanchyn in the finals of the first Pride Grand Prix, Mark Coleman has had a very tumultuous tenure trying to stay in the top of the ranks of the heavyweight division. In his first fight after winning the tournament, Coleman ran into Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira, who defeated the former Ohio State wrestling champion by armbar in the first round of their match-up.

A serious neck injury followed by surgery kept Coleman out of action for almost two years and when he returned, he did defeat another former UFC champion in Don “The Predator” Frye when they met in 2003. Another sporadic run of fights followed, as Coleman didn’t return to action again for almost another year when he took on Fedor Emelianenko in the first round of the Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix in 2004.

While Coleman did look very impressive with his takedowns on a fighter that could easily be considered the best we may ever see in mixed martial arts, Fedor eventually worked his game and secured an armbar from the bottom forcing Coleman to tap out and go back to the drawing board one more time.

A fight with Mirko CroCop followed and while Coleman attempted takedown after takedown, he could never put his opponent down and eventually the former K-1 fighter ended Coleman’s night with a knockout, something the veteran hadn’t felt since his loss to Pete Williams in the UFC some 7 years earlier.

While not many fighters would complain about losses to two of the best fighters in the world like Fedor and CroCop, Coleman knows that at 40 plus years of age, his time is starting to wind down and a win over a fighter the caliber of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua could bolster his ranking instantly.

Very few fighters could ever claim to have the kind of year that Mauricio “Shogun” Rua did in 2005. Coming from the famed Chute Boxe academy, most people were focused on his teammate, Wanderlei Silva when the middleweight Grand Prix began but by the end all eyes were on the 24 year old phenom.

With wins over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona, “Shogun” won the tournament and solidified himself as one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world. But while his teammate, Wanderlei Silva remains as the middleweight champion, “Shogun” has now been placed in a fight where he will be giving up considerable size and strength.

Pride recently announced that their would be an open weight Grand Prix in 2006 and many of the match-ups on this card are seeming pre-cursors to that event, with “Shogun” vs. Coleman as the headlining fight. But in a recent interview, “Shogun” stated that he would not be in the open weight tournament and this is just a fight to see where he is at as a fighter, but only time will tell if fans may see him take a shot at yet another tournament title.

Coming into this fight, “Shogun” is a heavy favorite in many people’s minds if for no other reason than how dominating he has looked in the last year. His striking is world class, and his ground game has to be viewed as nothing less than phenomenal when you see his performances with Nogueira and Arona, who are two of the best grapplers in the entire world.

Coleman’s biggest problem coming into this fight is that his conditioning has come back to haunt him on more than one occasion and “Shogun” seems like a machine whenever he fights, prompting many to ask, can Coleman go the distance? In all likelihood the answer is no but with his superior takedowns and devastating power, Coleman may not let this fight get out of the first round.

While “Shogun” is definitely the better striker in this fight, he will be giving up a height and weight advantage and he has never had to fight a wrestler with the takedown skills of a Mark Coleman. But if this fight stays standing for very long at all, Coleman could be in trouble in a hurry.

It may not be considered much of a surprise if “Shogun” wins this fight and Coleman has to know that he is the heavy underdog, but this may be a better fight than many are giving it credit for. Coleman is a very strong heavyweight and if fans remember how he manhandled Allen Goes during their fight, ending his night with some punishing knee strikes on the ground, the Ohio State alum could have a similar fight with “Shogun.”

Coleman’s ground and pound is legendary because he basically invented the entire concept but his submission defense is extremely suspect and even if he gets “Shogun” to the ground the question is can he hold him there and also avoid his submission skills from his guard?

The opening minutes should tell the tale simply based on whether Coleman can get the takedown and look quick and strong doing so or whether “Shogun” is able to defend and unleash a barrage of strikes on his opponent. And if the fight does go out of the first round, can Coleman sustain a full fight and not run out of gas?

Mark “The Hammer” Coleman will get his chance to prove that he still belongs among the elite in MMA when he takes on Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at Pride 31 this weekend.