“Who’s pounding on my f-cking door?”
The former UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman, 38, is sitting on a Crowne Plaza hotel bed in St. Louis, Missouri, 72 hours away from trying to untangle the knot of jiu-jitsu specialist Roger Gracie. He’s talking to a reporter on the telephone, but when the conversation is interrupted by a knock on his door, his voice grows distant and agitated. It’s just room service, and Randleman softens when he realizes it. But his first response is enough to curl your toes.
It’s not so much the tone as the body it’s being broadcast from. Randleman is a brick wall with arms and legs. He was a standout wrestler at Ohio State University: much of his early fighting career consisted of long stretches on top of bodies powerless to stop his takedowns. Before Georges St. Pierre and the others came along, he represented the idea of MMA as an athletic endeavor.
But he was stubborn -- stubborn in training, stubborn in not moving beyond wrestling even after the sport had, stubborn in fighting even when his body was begging him not to. He figures he’s had surgeries on every limb, collapsed lungs, bad shoulders, a broken neck, and the horror of waking up in his car with the engine on his lap. He’s been cut so often he volunteers the name of a “great surgeon” in Nevada, as though people go around in steady need of one. There’s no retreat in Randleman, but there hasn’t been much advancement, either. Get into a conversation about him -- or with him -- and it’ll eventually arrive on the idea of an amazing athlete who never quite lived up to his potential.
“I didn’t respect my body,” he said. “I didn’t respect the game. I didn’t respect the fame. I partied my ass off. I’d go to a club, pull out any two girls, and go home and bang them. Or if my boy would call me and say, ‘Yo, I just got jumped by three dudes,’ I’d be like, ‘Where they at? They’re still at the club?’ I’d get in my car, drive up there, and get hit in the face with bats.”
If the in-ring Randleman had retained the volatility he marketed on the streets, he would probably be a Gatorade pitchman today. Instead, his fans were often disappointed at an inability to pull the trigger. Before fights, he would crouch down like a sprinter, jump into the lights, or begin screaming at no one. When the fight started, he would freeze. Randleman calls it “leaving the guns in the holster” and chalks it up to a single dimension of training.
He left Columbus, Ohio, where he had spent most of his athletic life, and fled for the fledging fight culture of Las Vegas. “You fight how you train. I’m training with guys who are doing what I should’ve been doing a long time ago. I kick, I do Muay Thai. Before, guys would tell me, ‘Don’t do that. It’ll put you in a bad position.’ Now I’m working with Robert Drysdale, with Forrest Griffin.”
And Hammer House, his old shingle with Mark Coleman? “The people I trained with then never f---king trained. We were just party animals. We did crazy stuff. We’d be out drinking three nights before a fight. We’d be on a plane going over to Japan, I had a fight Sunday, we’d be in Roppongi kicking it Wednesday and Thursday. How can you train when you’re on a bender?”
The benders and late nights are all over, he said, erased by being older, wiser and married. When he saw Paul Daley swing at Josh Koscheck after the bell last weekend, he shook his head. “I knew they were going to make an example of him. Right now, at the point in my life I’m at, I can teach younger guys coming up how stupid things can get. Before, there was nobody in my life willing to tell me. They were willing to take the ride and be stupid with me.”
Now? His nickname, “Monster,” is something he’s grown to resent. “If I could take the name ‘Monster’ and get rid of it, I would. But it’s there. It’s me. The man is the monster. The monster is the man. There’s a time and a place for the monster to show his face. Yeah, I’m still a volatile man. Don’t ever think that I’m not. If a man ever touches my wife…”
Randleman doesn’t finish the sentence. Maybe he’s learned to save it for the ring and for the rewards it can still provide.
“I’m a millionaire,” he said. “I just haven’t been paid yet.”