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Ohio State wrestlers remember Randleman

Former Ohio State wrestlers -- along with head wrestling coach Tom Ryan -- offered their remembrances of fellow all-time Buckeye mat great and mixed martial arts champ Kevin Randleman who died Thursday at age 44.

Kevin Randleman
The official Kevin Randleman website reported, "While traveling on business, Kevin became ill & unexpectedly passed due to complications from pneumonia.

"Kevin leaves behind a wife and four extraordinary children to share his legacy with the world who mourns his passing."

Funeral arrangements have not yet been made public. However, a GoFundMe page has been set up by a long-time friend to help provide for Randleman's family.

Born in August 1971 in Sandusky, Ohio on Lake Erie between Cleveland and Toledo, Kevin Christopher Randleman was a two-sport athlete at Sandusky High School. The 1989 Sandusky graduate started all four years on the Blue Streak football team, and went 122-11 as a wrestler for Sandusky, culminating in a Division I state championship in 1989, according to the Sandusky Register .

Randleman then headed south to Ohio State, where he was a three-time Big Ten champ at 177 pounds and a three-time NCAA finalist, winning back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993, becoming the first two-time national wrestling champ in the long history of Buckeye wrestling. Randleman was welcomed into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004.

In a 2015 interview with the Sandusky Register, Randleman described how he ended up at Ohio State. "(Buckeye head wrestling coach) Russ Hellickson came to recruit me and said he wanted to build a championship team around me," Randleman said. "We didn't become one, but we were very close. Iowa at that time in particular was just so strong … it was just an honor. A black kid from Sandusky, Ohio, you just don't think you will get the opportunity to represent the school that in Ohio, is the only thing that walks."

Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan knew Randleman as a Buckeye wrestler … because Ryan wrestled for Big Ten rival Iowa Hawkeyes in the same era.

"I had a tremendous respect for him as a competitor," Ryan told the Sandusky Register. "Kevin was beating my teammates when I was at Iowa, and I was always very thankful that he wasn't in my weight and he was in theirs. He was a gentle soul and a tireless competitor."

Later, Ryan got to know Randleman as a coach by speaking at camps put on for the non-profit Monster Wrestling Academy that Randleman was co-founder of in Las Vegas.

"We were watching his old matches today, and so often after he would slam somebody, run them through the mat and pin them," Ryan said of Randleman. "But he always extended his hand and pulled the guy up. It was just the way he did things. He had a tremendous respect for the sport and the way he competed will always be revered. I got to see him every summer out in Vegas ... this is a very, very sad day."

Others with connections to Ohio State wrestling shared their memories of Kevin Randleman on social media.

Rex Holman, 1993 NCAA champ at 190 pounds, was Randleman's teammate while at Ohio State. "He was the perfect workout partner, perfect drill partner, perfect teammate to me," Holman wrote on Facebook. "I got two years with him. I am so thankful that he was there when I was disillusioned and disenchanted with college wrestling. Without him, I would not have won an NCAA title. For that I am forever thankful.

"He was a leader. Charismatic. Electric. A great guy. His spirit was a cohesive blend of effort and purpose that was simply motivating to be around."

J.D. Bergman, NCAA heavyweight finalist for Ohio State in 2011 and a native of Oak Harbor, Ohio not far from Randleman's hometown, posted this message on Facebook: "So sad to hear about the passing of Kevin Randleman yesterday!! He was an amazing person. One of the best athletes to ever wrestle. Hall of fame ‪#‎Buckeye‬‬ and ‪#‎UFC‬‬ fighter. Awesome with kids and a family man. He loved encouraging people and putting smiles on kids' faces. I've known him since I was in high school -- he was from Sandusky, OH. He will be missed for sure. Praying for his many friends and family."

Tommy Rowlands, two-time NCAA heavyweight champ for the Buckeyes a decade ago, wrote, "Still can't believe Randleman is gone. I was a 10 year old central Ohio wrestler when he was the MAN. Put his jaw back in place himself!" -- referring to the time at the 1993 NCAAs when Randleman suffered a dislocated jaw that was not caused by a foul. Rather than forfeit and lose the opportunity to defend his title, Randleman put his jaw back in place, won the match and, eventually, his second national title.

J Jaggers, like Randleman a two-time NCAA champ for Ohio State who is now an assistant coach at his college alma mater, shared this simple message on Twitter: "RIP Kevin Randleman....Buckeye legend and friend."

Ohio State's Mike Pucillo, 184-pound champ at the 2008 NCAAs, shared this inspirational quote from the 1993 movie The Sandlot on Facebook: "'Remember kid, there's heroes, and there's legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die, follow your heart kid, and you'll never go wrong.' Kevin Randleman may be gone, but legends never die! Rest easy. ‪#‎UFCHallofFame‬‬"

After leaving Ohio State his senior year for academic issues, Randleman embarked on the next chapter of his athletic career -- in MMA. He had his introduction to pro MMA at Universal Vale Tudo 4 in November 1996; in less than three years, Randleman was competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC 19, March 1999). Later that year, he won the vacant UFC heavyweight title at UFC 23 in November 1999. Randleman lost that title one year later to Randy Couture -- a former Oklahoma State wrestler -- at UFC 28. He retired from MMA in 2011 with an overall record of 17-16.

For many college wrestling fans, Kevin Randleman will always be thought of as a physical specimen who was incredibly strong -- and fast -- who would have to rank as one of the all-time great wrestlers in the nearly 100-year history of Ohio State wrestling. The Buckeye Hall of Fame wrestler whose banner hangs from the rafters at St. John Arena -- and his trophies and photos adorn the 60-year-old arena's concourses -- where he was honored with a video tribute Friday night before the Ohio State-Wisconsin dual meet.

Randleman had strong feelings for his college alma mater, as evidenced in his 2015 interview with the Sandusky Register.

"When I think of Ohio State, I think of the greatest university in the world," Randleman told his hometown newspaper last year. "I met and am friends with some of the greatest people I've ever known while I was there. A black kid from Sandusky, Ohio, you just don't think you will get the opportunity to represent the school that in Ohio, is the only thing that walks."

Want to know more about Kevin Randleman's incredible Ohio State mat career? Check out Dan Vest's detailed tribute to Randleman's time as a Buckeye wrestler at LandGrantHolyLand.com.

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