Three weeks after his death, those who knew him best recall the special things that made ‘The Monster’.
Just days after attending the Eighth Fighters Only World MMA Awards in his adopted home town of Las Vegas, ‘The Monster’ was taken to hospital in San Diego whilst on a business trip. He never made it home.
A couple of weeks removed from his tragic passing, Fighters Only spoke to members of the MMA community who were closest to the MMA and college wrestling icon in order to share their lasting memories of one of the most popular figures the sport has known.
“Every time we went out somewhere and he walked in a room everyone wanted to be around him,” says UFC Hall of Famer and long-time friend Mark Coleman. “You knew he was a special man. He had that charisma like nobody else. He had that switch that could turn him into The Monster, but for the most part he switched it back and touched everybody’s heart.”
Shortly after Randleman’s passing, Coleman attended UFC Fight Night 83 and was touched by the outpouring of support from the MMA fans he met there.
“The UFC gave me some nice seats at the Pittsburgh show,” he recalls. “It was nice to be there to take a little bit off me. I haven’t been to a show in a long time. The fans there were so amazingly nice to me. 95% of them brought up Kevin and gave me their condolences. It was a great weekend to take the edge off a bit. I had to come back and face the reality that he’s not here anymore. We have to figure out a way to move on.”
As well as being well-respected and liked by everybody in the industry, Randleman was also an inspiration to younger, up-and-fighters. It was Coleman who introduced Wes Sims, who featured on TUF 10, to Randleman at the famed Hammer House gym, and the meeting left a lasting impression on the young heavyweight.
“Mark brought me in, because he was training to fight Ricardo Moraes in Pride, because of my height,” Sims recalls. “That’s what got me in. It’s so funny because the very first time I met Kevin it was almost like, the look I got from him, was a look like he was going to try to put me out. I had maybe one or two practices and I was going to be done with. I tell you, to earn his respect, it meant so much.”
Sims adds: “He would walk into a room and there was an aura around him. It was like a Michael Jordan kind of aura. His laugh, his personality, there are so many things that go through my mind when I stop and think about him.”
Unsurprisingly, news of Randleman’s death came as a shock to Sims and hit him hard – much as it did the rest of the MMA community. “It came to me as a text from a reporter who heard the rumor and was looking for confirmation,” he tells FO.
“The thing is, I heard that before so I just thought that Kevin was getting ready to pull some publicity stunt. I almost laughed. I couldn’t wait to see what he was up to. I tried to call around and I couldn’t get hold of anybody. I called Mark and spoke to his girlfriend because he wasn’t picking up. She told me. I almost puked. It was surreal. As much as that man has been through, the wars, the staph infection, oh my Lord. And for pneumonia to get him. It’s hard to believe.”
Another former Hammer House regular, Branden Lee Hinkle, added: “He was my boy and I loved him like a brother. He will be missed.”
Such was the appeal of The Monster that he has left a lasting impression on fighters, both old-school and modern alike. “Everything about Kevin was straight up. He was an open, straight-forward man,” says former Strikeforce champ Muhammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal. “He was very transparent and real. Real as f**k… Full of energy and wisdom. He was 2000% authentic… Him and Mark Coleman kept s**t real.”
Randleman was an accomplished amateur wrestler at the Ohio State University. During his redshirt freshman year he collected more than 40 victories and became a Big Ten Tournament champion. In his three active seasons he won two NCAA national titles and was an NCAA runner-up.
Mike DiSabato, a former teammates of Randleman at OSU and later co-owner of the fight bradn CageFighter, finished: “He is probably the greatest athlete I have ever seen. Pound for pound this guy could do things I have never seen anyone do on a wrestling mat or in a cage for that matter.
“Kevin fought at a weight class that wasn’t his weight class. He wasn’t a 240lb monster. He was a big dude, but he wrestled at 177lb in college. He was like Vitor Belfort in that sense. He could fight at heavyweight or light heavyweight but his ideal weight class, if he was in the modern day of MMA, was probably middleweight. At the end of the day this guy was special in and out of the cage.”
Randleman became UFC heavyweight champion in November 1999, at UFC 23 in Japan, after defeating Pete Williams and avenging friend and mentor Coleman, who had lost the belt to Williams at UFC 17.
During his career, Randleman held notable wins over Maurice Smith, Pedro Rizzo and Mirko ‘Cro Cop’, whilst he also shared a ring or cage with most of the greats: Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Fedor Emelianenko, Bas Rutten, ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Kazushi Sakuraba and ‘Shogun’ Rua. He retired in 2011 with a record of 17-16.
Randleman is survived by his wife Elizabeth and four children. You can make donations to The Kevin Randleman Memorial Fund at gofundme.com/KevinRandleman.