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11-19-2000, 04:27 AM
Kevin Randleman: No Holds Barred
By Thomas Gerbasi

Kevin Randleman is not shy. He is brash, and highly opinionated. But in a world full of political correctness and towing of the company line, the UFC heavyweight champion is real. And in the world of reality based fighting, Randleman is no holds barred. "I'm a fighter," Kevin told The Bufferzone. "I'm a very passionate person, and everything I do, I put feelings into."

On Friday night, Randleman, 29, defends his UFC crown against Randy Couture at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. But before the fight was made official, behind the scenes infighting left the champion unsure about whether he would defend the title ever again for the UFC. And he's still not happy."After Friday, Randy Couture is their man, period," said Randleman. "So it doesn't matter to me. I'm not here to promote or anything. This fight is for no one but my family, my friends, Hammer House and myself. You're lucky you're getting an interview from me, because if you haven't already noticed, I have not been very vocal. I have a lot of issues, and these issues will come into play Thursday and Friday. I will be very vocal on those two days. You're the only person that got an interview, you're the only person that's gonna get an interview. I don't want to be their champion. Cause the way I've been treated, I don't need a belt to prove I'm the champion. I don't need a belt to prove my worth because every man after Friday night is gonna look at me and say 'there's gonna be a problem in fight land.'"

The champ continues, "After Friday we go back to the negotiating table. I'm not gonna close any door anywhere, but I don't wanna be considered their champ. I haven't been treated as such. It doesn't matter to me, I'm a fighter. I'll fight anyone, anywhere. That's what I do. And that's what I tell everybody. I mean, they've got Pedro Rizzo on the (promotional) poster for Kevin Randleman and Randy Couture fighting? What kind of message is that? I would rather see Randy Couture on that picture because that would be motivation for me. But to put someone on there that I beat, and beat well? I can't stand the people higher up, who thumb their noses. They might have the money but they don't know a **** thing about what the fighters need. They don't really care about the fighters' needs or wishes. When you sit back and you're doing everything that people ask of you, but in return you still get stabbed in the back, eventually I can see where those disgruntled workers come in, getting upset and saying this, that, and the other."

The Rizzo fight (won by Randleman via decision in June) surprised many knowledgeable UFC observers, but to those who knew the credentials of the former Ohio State wrestling champion (he won the Big Ten title three times and the Nationals twice), it was no surprise. And despite his achievements in structured wrestling, his transition to mixed martial arts was made easy not by traditional training but by his formative years. "I grew up in the ghetto and I was fighting everyone," said Randleman "All my life I have fought in the streets, so when I made the transition to this, it was a piece of cake for me. When you're street fighting, you can wrestle and do everything that you can do in the cage, except now you can't head butt, and we have a lot more rules so that you can have your child watch it and know that what's coming is not so quote, unquote, violent as people say. It wasn't a hard transition for me at all because I've been doing it all my life."

But with a myriad of styles to contend with, Randleman has a mentor who is well versed in the ways of the Octagon, former champion Mark Coleman. So what does 'The Hammer' bring to the table? "The mental toughness," said Kevin. "We train together on different techniques, boxing, everything. And we train all these things, every single day. We're not one dimensional fighters, but you can't take a bear out of the woods and expect him not to go for someone's basket in the city. They want food, they're gonna try and get food. We're wrestlers, period. But we're trying to expand on what we know, so that on Friday, you guys are gonna see that Kevin Randleman and Mark Coleman have learned some things."

The recipient (or victim) of this knowledge on Friday will be Couture. "I don't plan on doing no dancing around with Randy Couture," said Randleman. "And I know that Randy Couture is not trying to dance around with Kevin Randleman. I know that Randy knows that I'm dangerous. I know that he knows that I'm tough I'm strong, I'm young, and I'm in shape. We wrestled together in college. That's what people don't understand. I'm gonna watch Randy Couture, but I don't think people's styles change that much, because he pretty much already had the attributes. "

But Randleman's style has evolved from strictly wrestling to a hybrid where his strikes are becoming as feared as his grappling work. "Before I didn't box because I wasn't much of a boxer, and my punches weren't that hard at all," said the Ohio native. "But I hit bags and I hit my opponents, and I literally send people to the hospital. My training partners I would send to the hospital with broken ribs, separated ribs, I'll even knock you out or your nose might get broke. I'm almost meticulous in that I want to be the best one day. But I know it's gonna take years, and I'm very young still."

The fact that Randleman is young, and full of fury and charisma, makes him a natural to become a well-marketed UFC star. Does he see the UFC ever appealing to the average fan? "The UFC appeals to the average fan because everyone that fights is an average man," he said. "But do you think boxing promoters want this sport to be legalized and get back on prime-time cable? Who would you rather watch? Would you rather watch 6 to 10 fights, men who are going out there and trying to perform their best, using different styles of martial arts? You got knees, kicks, all different aspects of a fight. You can get injured, you can get hurt, the gloves are smaller. I think people are going to want to pay money for that. Now I would pay big money to watch the WWF because it's just one of those entertainment things that I love to watch, but when you think about boxing, they don't want that. So then you've got a lot of politicians that say 'let's keep it illegal, because it's too brutal,' and it's not that brutal of a sport. I think that when it was mainstream, we were making a lot of money. That's why it went off pay-per-view, because all the other organizations that were making pay per view dollars had another entity to contend with."

And the champ is just getting started. "I grew up in the ghetto, and that's the bottom line. I don't care about structure. When I was ten years old and a guy was trying to molest me, you or nobody else could help me with structure. I grew up hard, so I don't care whether or not you think that this sport is legit. I don't care if Don King cares. You guys are going to have to at least give us respect because we fight. We are very, very smart fighters. We don't go out there worrying just about somebody punching us in the face, you've got to worry about getting kicked in the knee. You got to worry about getting your toe stomped on. You got to worry about somebody breaking your thumb, breaking your eye. So there a lot of things that you have to think about before you step into that ring. Just like when you're out there in the street. Everyday life is no different from what we do. If you're in there and you slip up once, you're gonna lose. The transition was very easy for me. I wrestled all my life, I'm a wrestler, so for me, making the transition was a piece of cake, because I fought all the time. I was a street fighter. Growing up, in my gangs, everything. I was shot, stabbed, so this means nothing to me. Walking in there facing anybody, I don't care if it was Lennox Lewis in there. I would not want to face Lennox Lewis on his turf, and I guarantee you that none of them fighters want to face me on mine. Cause when you're boxing, baby, you only get a couple of combinations, and if I'm close enough to you, guess where we're going? We're going to my home."