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Former Ohio State wrestler, UFC champion Kevin Randleman dead at 44

One of the greatest wrestlers in Ohio State history is gone before his time.

Wrestling is a sport known more for intense competitors than freak athletes. Kevin Randleman was both. Randleman used his unique blend of speed, explosiveness, and technique to win two NCAA titles at Ohio State and become the UFC Heavyweight champion. According to multiple media reports, Now at just 44 years old, Kevin Randleman has passed away. Mark Hazelwood's story on Randleman's passing can be found at the link below.

Land-Grant Holy Land sends its thoughts and condolences to the family and Friends of Kevin Randleman.

On a personal note, I have written extensively about Kevin in the past, and he is one of my favorite Buckeyes of all-time. Many will write about his MMA career in the next few days, and you should all read about it. You can see some of what I have written about it here. In this post, however, I want to focus on what Randleman accomplished at Ohio State.

Kevin Randleman the Buckeye

It can be argued, and I have argued it at length, that aside from Logan Stieber, Kevin Randleman was the best wrestler to ever put on an Ohio State singlet. Randleman's first season at Ohio State exceeded all expectations. The redshirt freshman was the very definition of a phenom, racking up an impressive string of 42 victories including a 1st place finish in his first Big Ten Tournament. Randleman would go on to put on an impressive display at the NCAA tournament. He racked up victory after victory, earning All American status and a spot in the tournament finals. In the finals he was matched up against Mark Reiland, a Junior from perennial wrestling powerhouse Iowa. The two had wrestled four times during the regular season, splitting the series 2-2. Randleman fell behind Reiland early 6-2. Then, with about 30 seconds left in the second period, disaster struck. Randleman, who was in the bottom position, attempted to reverse his opponent, but ended up getting stuck and put on his back. He was unable to escape and Reiland earned the fall with one second remaining in the second period. The loss gave Randleman a 2ndplace finish in his first NCAA tournament. It was quite the accomplishment for a freshman, but disappointing nonetheless.

It would be the last NCAA tournament match that Randleman would ever lose.

As a redshirt sophomore in 1992, Randleman was virtually unstoppable. He racked up forty two wins to go alongside zero losses and three draws. It is one of only five unbeaten seasons in Ohio State history. Randleman would win his second Big 10 title in a classic match featuring a blow-up between Iowa Coach Dan Gable and the Buckeye's Russ Hellickson (which was the result of Iowa fans throwing debris on the mat after a controversial call). After the Big 10 tournament came the NCAA's and a chance at redemption. Randleman opened the tournament with a flurry pinning Clemson's Keith Turner and Oklahoma State's Travis Gittins in 60 and 42 seconds respectively. Next up for Randleman was a Big 10 Championship rematch against Chelesvig. Randleman won another razor-thin decision, this time by a 3-2 margin. After the victory over Chelesvig, Randleman was left with only Steve Williams of NC State (the tourney's #10 seed) standing between him and the finals. It was another tough match, but Randleman would pull out a 4-2 decision, earning his second consecutive NCAA finals appearance. To earn his first national championship, Randleman would have to go through #5-seed Corey Olson of Nebraska who was fresh off of a semifinal victory over #1-seed Rich Powers. One year after being pinned in his NCAA title match, Randleman flipped the script and won the NCAA Tournament by fall at 3:39 of the first frame. More than a decade of hard work and sacrifice had paid off. Kevin Randleman was a national champion.

After winning a national championship as a sophomore, Randleman entered the 1993 season with a chance to solidify himself as one of the greatest wrestlers in Ohio State history. He was nicked up throughout the season, suffering injuries ranging from a broken jaw to a torn ligament in his knee (which wasn't fixed until after the season) but finished with an impressive 27-1 record and a third consecutive Big 10 championship. Next up was the NCAA tournament where Randleman would put on one of the most courageous performances in the history of the sport.

There's a lot of talk about toughness in sports. In fact, some time there is so much talk that it ends up getting tuned out. Well, I assure you that when I tell you that Kevin Randleman's 1993 was one of the most impressive displays of toughness that I have ever seen in any sport, I'm not being hyperbolic.  Randleman entered the tournament as the #1 overall seed and he backed it up scoring an impressive first-round victory over Clarion's Dan Payne. In the second round, however, things took an ugly turn. During his match against Central Connecticut's Mark Frushone, Randleman suffered a dislocated jaw. The injury wasn't caused by an illegal move, so if Randleman couldn't get back on the mat within the allotted "injury time" he would forfeit the match and be eliminated from the tournament. However, instead of taking the easy and understandable way out, Randleman popped his jaw back into place and kept wrestling. The end result was a 10-5 victory and a spot in the national quarterfinals. Randleman was three matches away from the national championship and he would have to navigate the rest of the tournament with a severely damaged jaw. Every crossface, front headlock, and inadvertent blow to the face would no doubt cause excruciating pain. Randleman endured though, beating Kyle Rackley 4-3 in the quarterfinals and #4-seed Ray Brinzer of Iowa 9-6 in the semis. A finalist for the third straight year, only a rematch of the 1992 championship match against Nebraska's Corey Olson stood behind Randleman and his second straight NCAA tournament crown. The match was much closer than their first encounter, but Randleman was able to pull off the 5-2 win and become the first 2-time national champion in the history of Ohio State wrestling.

The major source of frustration for those who have followed Randleman's career is that despite how much he accomplished, and he accomplished more than almost anyone in the history of the program, he could have accomplished more. Randleman's senior season was the first example of this phenomenon rearing its head. A two-time national champion going into his final season, Randleman had a chance to join an elite group of three-time champions . However, Randleman's swan song as an Ohio State athlete ended before it had the chance to begin. Academic issues led to Randleman being deemed ineligible for the 1994 season, effectively ending his college wrestling career. In a quote from Bruce Hooley's "Unforgettable Buckeyes" Randleman tried to explain

"I had a kid when I was young and there was a lot of sickness in my family with my mom and my dad. My family and friends always counted on me for strength. When you give so much of yourself like that, you sometimes spread yourself too thin. That's what happened to me. I didn't leave anything for myself and eventually I got to where I just couldn't deal with that pressure any more. I had to walk away from wrestling... Eventually, I just stopped going to class and that's how I wound up ineligible for my senior year."

Not finishing his career is something that Randleman said he always regretted, but despite missing his senior year, Randleman remains one of the most accomplished grapplers in Buckeye history. Randleman owns two of the winningest seasons in Buckeye wrestling history (42 in both 1991 and 1992), the eigth most pins (13 in 1992), and the 17th most wins (108) without having wrestled his senior season (his final ranking would likely be fourth if he completed all 4 years). Randleman's .928 winning percentage ranks 4th in Buckeye history and his 382 career team points is good enough for 7th. Perhaps my favorite Randleman stat is that of the 10 quickest pins in Ohio State history, Randleman owns four including the all-time fastest pin; a mere eight seconds. Randleman was inducted into the Ohio State hall of fame in 2004 and his three-year stint in Columbus remains one of the most successful runs by any athlete in any sport.

Simply put, Kevin Randleman is one of the greatest athletes and probably the best wrestler to ever step foot on an OSU mat. There were situations that kept him from realizing his full potential: the lost senior season, the staph infection he suffered during his MMA career, what he has accomplished is astounding. He is a three-time NCAA finalist and a two-time champion. He is a UFC champion and he's beaten up some of the toughest guys in the world. He has gone toe-to-to with guys like Cro Cop, Chuck Liddell, Maurice Smith, Pedro Rizzo, and Randy Couture, and more often than not, he came out victorious. I had the opportunity to meet Randleman several times (mostly at high school wrestling camps). He always had the time to talk to us 14-year-old aspiring tough guys and his message was always positive. Kevin Randleman is a world class athlete, a decent human being, and most important, a true Buckeye.