Junior year, 1993. There is no stopping this ghost in the red and white singlet. The shredded ligament in his knee is nothing more than a distraction, a discomfort, because this is winning time and motherfuckers like him feast on greatness. But then, a pop – his jaw is broken. He can barely clench his teeth. He calls time and thumps the side of his head. Once. He is a madman. Twice. He is a surgeon. The bones in his skull snap back in place, and with a jaw wired shut, he thrashes the next four men he faces. Back-to-back NCAA champion. Immortal before he leaves the mat.
That was always my favorite Kevin Randleman story. It’s a creation myth of the highest order – this lunatic casually stepping back from an NCAA tourney match, asking his bewildered coach to “snap his face back into place,” then just fixing the problem himself and winning it all. How terrifying is that? The supermen of that first era all lived their lives through tall tales, but Kevin Randleman was one of the few who truly felt capable of anything at his peak.
Mark Coleman was Kevin’s coach at Ohio State University and he has a lifetime of stories about The Monster. One of his favorites was from the summer of ‘97 – the night Kevin fought off three Brazilian giants for 54 minutes just to see if he could. The ring was a stranger back then, but he was a sight, this lion with the bleach-blonde hair throwing grown heavies through the canvas. Life was simpler with bare knuckles. Endless rounds, no weight classes, no enswells. Just a suffocating heat and another hungry goliath waiting in the finals. They called it Vale Tudo, and there was no money in it. No guarantee of safety. Only a few fleeting minutes to feel alive. But Kevin was obsessed, and so he became a legend.