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A grateful Mark Coleman on his recent troubles: 'I gotta fight through this'

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Esther Lin

Mark Coleman has been scrapping his entire life.

So the first UFC heavyweight champion's mental approach to his recent setbacks should surprise no one who has followed his career.

"I'm just taking this like a fight," Coleman said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I gotta fight through this."

It's a battle he's waging with a little help from his friends. The 50-year-old Coleman, considered the man who pioneered ground-and-pound during the sport's early days, is locked in a battle with an infection, which set in after hip replacement surgery. And while this saga isn't finished, the generosity of fans and friends who have helped raise money to defray his medical costs through a GoFundMe page have given him the strength to move forward.

"It's definitely boosted my spirits," Coleman said. "Maybe at one point I felt sorry for myself for a few days when this happened, but no, there's people with a lot worse problems than I have right now."

The 50-year old Coleman was involved in contact sports dating back to his amateur wrestling days, a distinguished career in which he competed in the 1992 Olympics and won an NCAA title at Ohio State. The decades of physical punishment from both wrestling and MMA eventually necessitated a hip replacement.

"I got a hip replacement surgery two years ago, it felt great, but some things went wrong down the line, it popped out 5-6 times after I did The Ultimate Fighter show," Coleman said." it was fine there and that was a great experience, but when I got back home, basically it was just popping out once a freaking week. ... I'm basically walking around scared to bend over, scared to do anything because of this thing. I finally get into the surgeon, and he decided he was going to not replace the whole hip that he did two years ago, he's going to replace the socket, bigger ball and socket."

Instead, when the doctor cut Coleman open, an infection was found.

"When he cut me open, basically he saw a big old mess of some sort of staph infection or whatever and it was everywhere," he said.

At the moment, Coleman is bedridden at home, while he waits for the infection to clear up so that he can get his new hip replacement.

"I need to get rid of infection so I can go back in there and put in a new hip that I can rehab, rebuild, and hopefully just get back to relatively normal life," Coleman said. "Because there are a lot of people with hip replacements who did it right, who are doing great. I had some complications, I don't blame nobody, but no one knows how long infection was in there."

In the meantime, the man called "The Hammer" has been heartened by the reaction his situation has gotten in the MMA community. Wes Sims, a former UFC fighter and longtime friend of column, set up a GoFunMe page to help defray Coleman's medical bills. As of this writing, more than $45,000 has been raised, nearly half the $100,000 goal.

"I didn't know what Wes was doing," Coleman said. "I didn't know what he did, it took off so fast, it was so humbling. I don't know how else to describe it, I was just so overwhelmed."

Coleman was amazed by one high-profile giver, his fellow UFC and PRIDE comrade Mark Hunt, who gave $5,000.

"Mark Hunt, man, I love the guy," he said. "I met him probably 4-5 times in Japan, just always happy, smiley, back then he had a nice big belly, that's why he was happy and smiley. He'd still knock you out."

But he was equal appreciative of those who made small donations.

"I don't know what minimum was, some people put $3 in there or maybe $5, maybe some $8 ones," Coleman said. "You just gotta think, ‘geez, you know that guy might have needed that more than I do.' For some reason, hopefully it's because I've been good to the fans, I like to call them friends because I'm a fan as well, when I meet somebody I try to treat them good and that's maybe why I did get that response."

The former champ still watches the fights, and isn't afraid to admit what so many retired fighters don't vocalize.

"I love watching UFC, but I won't deny that sometimes it eats at your heart," Coleman said. "You're always going to miss it. I do. I think 95 percent of us wish we were 10 years younger and could be doing it again, but yes, I watch it and these guys are amazing."

Though he's done in the ring, Coleman will continue to fight his personal battle. He doesn't want pity, accepts responsibility for his own mistakes, and is grateful for the help he's received.

"I don't like to be in this position," he said. "But I put myself in this position and that's a fact. I made some good money, but made some mistakes and put myself in this position. I didn't know it was going to be set up, but at that point, I'm in no position to say I don't want it. Proud man? I don't care. I'm grateful, thank you, maybe somehow I can return the favor to all these people, every one of them."