As we edged toward the end of 1997, the UFC Heavyweight champion was kickboxer Maurice Smith, after he KO’d the until then seemingly unstoppable force called Mark Coleman. His next challenge however, would be a step into the modern era of MMA, as he would face UFC tournament champion Randy Couture in December of 1997, at the UFC Japan event. Couture would capture the title from Smith by decision, but he would be stripped of the title a month later due to a contract dispute. For the first and not the last time in the history of the UFC, the title would be stripped from the champion without an actual fight taking place.
The title would go on a sort of sabbatical, as it would not be until May of 1999 that we would see a match between import Bas Rutten and Kevin Randleman for the vacant title.
I had the good fortune of attending the match between Randleman and Rutten, and sitting octagon side for it. It was another historic fight, with then UFC matchmaker Jon Perreti bringing Rutten in from Japan’s Pancrase organization and hailing him as the new breed of Mixed Martial Artist. Randleman opened with a rush, but Rutten won the war after a fifteen minute round and 6 extra minutes. In my opinion Rutten won the match, as Randleman was slowed in the early going by a massive kick (Randleman fought thru it, Brock didn’t). Rutten was hurt in the early going, but used a myriad of never before seen moves like knees to the face from the guard, that definitely tilted the match in his favor.
I will never forget what happened after the fight, when the cameras were off. The UFC was still small then, and President Bob Meyrowitz stood in the cage with new champion Bas Rutten chatting. The crew was starting on tearing the cage down, the crowd had all headed for home when an irate Randleman stormed back out to the cage screaming “Where is the fucking jew” in reference to Meyrowitz.
You see, Randleman thought he had won the fight. He threw chairs, and he circled the octagon in a menacing fashion, all the while screaming racial slurs at a petrified Meyrowitz.
The match against the massive Randleman, and the approach of father time made this the last time we would see Rutten with the title. He would give it up, and who would Meyrowitz turn to in order to to fill one of the spots for the vacant title? Yes it would be Kevin Randleman!
To Be Continued…
Read Part 1 of this series here: