When I found out Kevin had died I was in shock. That man was loved by so many people. He was so special to me. I am overwhelmed by the people that have consoled me. I knew he was loved, but man, he touched the hearts of so many people over the years. I just miss him. It’s too early.
Every time he walked in a room everyone wanted to be around him. You knew he was a special man. He had 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. The UFC gave me some nice seats at the Pittsburgh show and 95% of the fans brought up Kevin and gave me their condolences.
When I met him for the first time I’d just graduated from Ohio State University and they hired me as an assistant coach. He was a freshman coming in as a pretty big recruit. I like to play games. I walked into the room with my leather coat on and sunglasses, all in good fun, just observing the new recruits. He took it seriously. He wasn’t sure if I liked him or not. I was training for the Olympics and coaching the upper weight classes. He was about 160lb so I didn’t spend much time with him. He took it as I didn’t like him.
We came back from Christmas break and we were at the first workout in the weight room. I was lifting and he walked by. I told him I didn’t have anybody to work out with and asked if he wanted to work out with me. He was in shock. Next thing you know we went through an old-school, Hammer House, put-as-much-weight-on-as-you-can- on-the-rack. We lifted hard.
Back then he was going home on the weekends. He wasn’t digging Ohio State. After that workout I told him we could train every day if he wanted to. He went and called his mom and told her: “Mark Coleman likes me!” That’s about all it took. We didn’t miss a weight training session after that.
Everybody was kicking his butt in his freshman year. After he started lifting weights, he went home and I told him he better not dare miss a workout over the summer. I told him when I saw him in three months I’d better see a big old monster. Sure enough he came back and he was a monster. Everybody that got a piece of him when he was a green freshman had payback coming.
When MMA started we went our separate ways. He went back to Sandusky and I started fighting. After I won UFC 10 the UFC wanted me to do an appearance in Brazil and asked if I had any fighters. I took Kevin down to Brazil and they fell in love with him. He was an immediate star. When he was on he could have beaten anybody.
He was there to fight. He was a great fighter. He wasn’t afraid to fight anybody. We were naive. We didn’t think it was possible for us to get beat. We really thought we were the best two fighters in the world. We never turned down a fight. The guys he fought early on: it was one of the toughest schedules you could ever fight. He prevailed and he was a champion.
Over in Japan (for Pride) they had three people specifically watching him to make sure he didn’t go anywhere he shouldn’t have. He scared everybody. But after the fight was over he went up and made sure he gave his opponents big hugs. He would apologize for anything he said or did leading up to the fight. They loved him.
They love him in Brazil. They love him in Japan. They love him in America. They love him all around the world. I’m lucky to have been a part of it.
This column was first published in the May edition of Fighters Only.