Sadly, the former UFC Heavyweight champion, Kevin Randleman passed away after pneumonia led to cardiac arrest in a San Diego hospital. At 44, Randleman is regarded by many as a pioneer in the sport, but the continuous theme throughout his career is, “what could’ve been?”
Randleman grew up in poverty in a rough neighborhood around Sandusky, Ohio, but found solace through athletics and excelled at multiple sports during his youth. He began his collegiate amateur wrestling career at Ohio State and racked up dozens of wins to enter the NCAA tournament his freshman year. Randleman made it to the tournament finals, but was defeated in 1992. However, the following two years, he won the NCAA tournament, putting him as one of the competitors with the highest winning percentage in Buckeyes wrestling history. Entering his senior year in 1995, many anticipated Randleman would have another banner season on the mat and potentially move toward the Olympics in 1996, but he was disqualified from competition when he didn’t meet academic standards after he left his grades slip. If Randleman would have been prepared to compete for his final season, would the Olympics have been his path?
What could’ve been?
Still, an outstanding amateur career opened the door to combat sports for Randleman, as one of his previous coaches, Mark Coleman introduced him to mixed martial arts in 1996. For his debut in the sport, Randleman entered and won Brazil’s Vale Tudo 4. Randleman continued to brawl in Brazil until he had the opportunity to compete for the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1999, winning a unanimous decision against Maurice Smith. Just two months later, he lost a close split decision to the legendary Bas Rutten in a heavyweight title tournament final. The belt wouldn’t elude Randleman for long though, as he defeated Pete Williams (after Rutten vacated the title to fight at middle weight) to win it in November of 1999. Despite being the champion, Randleman was relatively new to the sport and defeated Pedro Rizzo before losing bouts to Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell. He finished his UFC run with a unanimous decision win in a bout with Renato Sobral, bring his UFC record to 4-3 and improving his overall record to 10-5 before he began fighting elsewhere.
Eventually, Kevin Randleman began fighting in Pride, where he built the foundation of much of his legacy, as his vicious slams and ground strikes earned him the moniker “The Monster” in Japan. After his Pride debut in 2002, Randleman fought top competition in the Japanese league and won most of the bouts over the next two years. In perhaps the pinnacle of his career, Randleman knocked out the legendary Mirko Cro Cop in the first round at Total Elimination 2004, despite being consider a major underdog prior to the bout. The KO of Cro Cop is still a highlight reel moment in MMA history and Randleman would provide another in his next fight against Fedor Emelianenko when he slammed the legendary Russian fighter on his head in a moment that is still talked about today. Somehow, Fedor endured being dropped on his head and submitted Randleman, but “The Monster” had solidified his place in MMA history.
As mentioned, the Cro Cop KO was probably the peak of Randleman’s career and he sustained several injuries over the next few years, including a serious staph infection that required surgery in 2006. When he finally returned to the ring for Pride’s first American show later that year, Shogun Rua submitted him in the first round of the contest and following the fight, Kevin Randleman was suspended for a year by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for submitting a fake urine sample in the post-fight test. The next year didn’t improve things for “The Monster” either when he was hospitalized with serious kidney damage and then several months later, he was arrested for DUI in Las Vegas. In 2008, Randleman won a fight on a smaller card in Japan before he went on a four fight losing streak and decided to retire in 2011. It seems as though the accumulating injuries and health problems had a major effect on the path of Randleman’s career so it’s interesting to consider the possibilities if he was healthy.
Most don’t know that Kevin Randleman actually had a somewhat notable pro wrestling career in Japan between his fights in Pride. The charismatic grappler made appearances in All Japan, Zero-1 and the now defunct Hustle promotion. While all of this took place before the WWE performance center existed, Randleman certainly seems like the type of athlete the WWE would recruit if the program was in place during his prime.
What could’ve been?
Ultimately, it’s a sad conclusion to a legendary career and an MMA pioneer that passed away far too earlier. Injuries and health problems seems to continuously derail “The Monster” when he was gaining momentum in the sport, but as mentioned, the highlight reel moments solidified his status in the sport.
Sincere condolences to Kevin Randleman’s friends and family at this difficult time.
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