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Report: Kevin Randleman, former UFC champion and MMA pioneer, dead at 44

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Update: The family of Kevin Randleman has confirmed his tragic passing. Read their full statement here.

Photo by Esther Lin for Strikeforce

In Oct. 1996, a 24-year old former Ohio State University (OSU) standout wrestler, Kevin Randleman, entered a one-night tournament in Brazil.

Randleman defeated Luiz Macial, Geza Kalman and future Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Pride FC competitor, Dan Bobish, to win the tournament. Eight months later, "The Monster" would make his UFC debut, picking up a big win over former champion, Maurice Smith, to avenge his training partner and mentor, Mark Coleman. Randleman would lose in the finals of that tournament two months later to Bas Ruten in one of the more controversial decisions of the early mixed martial arts (MMA) era, but avenge Coleman once again by defeating Pete Williams to win UFC's Heavyweight Championship.

That was the crowning achievement of Randleman's career, but he would not be without other highlights. His most notable one was an astonishing knockout of kickboxer-turned-MMA practitioner Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic with one of the biggest left hooks you'll ever see. He nearly defeated Fedor Emelianenko in his very next fight, but "Last Emperor" was unbreakable back then, and Randleman's astonishing highlight-reel suplex of the great Russian, which normally would send wheelchair salesmen into heart palpitations, was merely shrugged off and turned into a kimura one minute later.

It remains a defining moment for both men:

Sadly, word from nearly all segments of the Internet, specifically Sherdog.com, are that Randleman has passed away at age 44, leaving behind his wife and four children.

Bleacher Report's Jeremy Botter is reporting that Randleman went to a local hospital with pneumonia and suffered from heart failure while undergoing treatment. A relative of his also made numerous Facebook posts in apparent outside confirmation.

RIP, champ.