Yesterday, our own Dana Becker reported the sad news: former UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman has passed away at the age of 44, due to heart failure following a bout of pneumonia.
It’s a loss that is difficult to quantify. It is, strangely, difficult to put into words.
Dana did a nice job of profiling the man they called “The Monster” — his stellar NCAA wrestling career, his title reign with the UFC, and his time with PRIDE FC during the heyday of the Japanese MMA scene.
But I wonder if today’s MMA fans, who are accustomed to today’s climate which relies on rankings and records in a way we never imagined in those wild early days, really understand the impact Randleman had on our sport.
Kevin Randleman came bursting on the MMA scene in the late 1990’s as the new breed of dominant American wrestler. His earliest bouts include three Brazilian vale tudo tournaments, and a victory over former UFC champion Maurice Smith in his Octagon debut.
A controversial loss to Bas Rutten followed. (There wasn’t so much of an internet to “break” in 1999, but it sure caused a fuss at a few newsgroups and message boards.)
Randleman struck UFC gold a few months later in a bout for the vacant heavyweight title against Pete Williams. “The Monster” later made his way to Japan, where he scored two of his career’s most impressive wins: against Murilo “Ninja” Rua and Mirko CroCop.
We’ll remember these moments. We’ll remember wins and losses: a UFC championship reign, the first two-time national champion at Ohio State, etc.
But there’s a lot more.
We’ll remember the Kevin Randleman who spoke openly of being sexually abused as a young man — captured in the DVD extras of Bobby Razak’s “Rites of Passage” documentary.
We’ll remember the Kevin Randleman who encouraged and gave advice to amateur fighters, after their bouts in Las Vegas.
We’ll remember his congratulating Quinton “Rampage” Jackson after the two fought in PRIDE, with Jackson coming out on top: “No one can beat you but you.”
Rutten himself offered a tribute to his old rival, who became a good friend:
We had seen each other over the years but our friendship really started growing when he came to PrideFC… We had such great times over there in Japan, crazy stories, funny stories, and that sticks out, FUNNY stories, it was always uplifting!
That’s who Kevin was, great friend to his friends, great husband and great father to his family.
Kevin Randleman was a lot of things to a lot of people. He was certainly much more than an MMA record. And, he will be missed.