Dan Severn stepped into the UFC and completely reinvented the approach to MMA. As a former amateur wrestling star, Severn was the first to bring those tools and skills to the UFC. Severn’s success opened up the doors for future wrestling stars like Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Mark Coleman, and Brock Lesnar. Fifteen years and over 100 matches later, Severn still competes in MMA. It may have been almost 10 years since Severn last competed in the UFC, but the Beast has kept his eyes on the MMA world and has a lot to say about the company that he helped build.
Dan Severn was a pioneer in many ways in the UFC. Critics claim that the Gracies created the UFC simply as a promotional tool for their son Royce. It sure seemed that way early on when Royce rolled through the competition and became a household name. That all changed at UFC 4 when an unknown wrestler named Dan Severn stepped into the octagon. Severn immediately dazzled the crowd with suplexes in his first round match against Anthony Macias. Severn would later come closer than anyone to beating Royce in his prime long before Royce lost to Matt Hughes. This moment changed MMA forever, as it opened up a floodgate of amateur wrestlers who saw flaws in the UFC stars. Severn’s accomplishments did not go unnoticed, as he was inaugurated into the UFC Hall of Fame at UFC 52.
I recently had the chance to catch up with Dan Severn. Dan and I spoke for over an hour about his career and the current state of MMA. What struck me most was how in tune he is with the current state of MMA. Severn may not compete on the big stage, but still competes in MMA at 51 and with a total of 114 MMA fights. The Beast had fascinating insight and answers on a variety of topics and questions. Check out this interview and hear Dan’s thoughts on Fedor Emelianenko, Brock Lesnar’s transition into MMA, his pick on a Fedor vs. Brock match, his memories of the Royce Gracie fight and what went wrong, whether or not he will be in any upcoming MMA video games, the infamous UFC 9 match with Ken Shamrock, coaching the Ultimate Fighter, current MMA rules, his MMA training, fighting Kimbo Slice, and more. There is a great story for pro wrestling fans about his last match in the WWE and what he almost did in the 1999 Royal Rumble.
Here are some excerpts from the interview….
On training for in his first UFC – By the time I got the nod that I was in I had some commitments, I fulfilled my commitments. I only had five days to train. I traveled to Lima, Ohio with Al Snow and a couple other of his professional wrestling protégés, and we used his professional wrestling ring because it was the closest thing that came to a cage. Al had an old beat-up pair of boxing gloves which we exchanged with each other, and the name of the game was to punch or kick Dan. Well Dan doesn’t like to be punched or kicked so we went to throws and takedowns and all I did was simply cinch in an amateur wrestling move, turn it illegal, make them scream and squawk and that was my training camp. It was almost a joke. Five days, an hour and a half a day, and I trained not a single strike nor a single true submission, I just did amateur wrestling moves and just turned them illegal, and I just did fine for myself. I walked into their world and I did just fine. In retrospect, they would not be able to train for five days, an hour and a half a day, and walk into my world.
Memories of his fight with Royce Gracie – I had been an amateur wrestler at that point for 26 years. 26 years of rules and regulations drilled into me and I’m thinking, “I’m going to have to smack him.” I always tell people in retrospect that I was struggling more with my conscious more than I was probably ever struggling with an opponent. A lot of people will never comprehend that whatsoever. I had represented the United States on so many occasions. The medals, the plaques, the trophies, they were all secondary. It was to step up there on that podium and have the flag and your country’s national anthem playing. I had fought far tougher battles in that era than I ever have in all of my cage bouts combined. Getting back to the matchup with Royce, I finally did hit him and I hit him again and again. But, it was only peripheral off to the sides as I strike him I was thinking, “Well I hope that hurts you a little bit.” I couldn’t draw myself to just ball up the fist and do a hammer strike dead center to the face, I couldn’t do that. As I stare down at his eyes, I am piercing his soul and I could read what was going through his mind. He’s looking over to his dad, who’s outside the octagon wall. What was going through Royce’s mind was, “I’m hanging in there dad, but if you were to throw that towel in I wouldn’t hold it against you.” I go from Royce’s eyes and I look over at the old man on the outside the cage wall and the old man’s eyes look right at me and he’s got the towel in his hands. He brings the towel up to his hands, crosses his arms, shakes his head no, and I’m thinking to myself, “You old bastard. You would let me kill your kid out here for Gracie Jui-Jitsu wouldn’t you?” Royce, he was my first loss ever. Sure I tapped that night, but did I tap because someone beat me or did I tap because I was unwilling to do what I had to do to another human being? I know what went down and I would gladly do that match again.
On whether he has been approached over the last few years for any big fights – No. I’ll be as blunt as possible, uh no. Now I was actually at Kimbo Slice’s first MMA match ever at Atlantic City, NJ. He ended up going against former heavyweight boxing champion Ray Mercer. I was there and I think if Ray had been able to keep the match on their feet and get a little bit of space, I think that Ray would have been able to beat Kimbo in the standup battle, okay that’s just looking at the standup battle. Kimbo did a good job of closing that distance, jabbing him, getting Ray taken down to where now he’s out of his element. At the same token, I was basically there just being one of the play-by-play commentators of the match. The promoter came up to me afterwards and asked me what I thought of the match. I simply said, “Would it be too much for me to ask what you wound up paying these guys?” Then when I found out what he paid I said, “Tell you what. I would give you a 2-for-1 special. I would have fought them both in the same night for one price that you paid one of them.”
On his UFC 9 fight with Ken Shamrock – I would not want to be struck. I’ve had a career and a lot of luck of not being struck. I’m almost flabbergasted when I hear my own young guys say, “Dan, you know I like to go in there and trade (strikes).” I say, “Well that’s good for you.” I’m not going to stand in there and trade, nor will I ever allow the crowd to dictate policy to me. There are times when I would deliberately slow a match down, knowing what’s going to happen is that the crowd is going to get anxious and they’re going to start to boo. To me, I think to myself “Piss on you folks. Do you think I’m going to change my game plan just because I’m not making you happy?” I knew exactly what I was doing. Most young fighters, they’ll pick up the tempo and start to bring it to you, and all I think to myself is, “Come a little bit closer. Just come a little bit closer said the spider to the fly.” In that match I deliberately did what I did to slow down and Shamrock, he’s talking, “C’mon.” I’m thinking, “Dude, I can bring it to you and you can bring it to me. I’ve got nothing but time to kill.” That was the first time they put time limits on the matches and I’ll tell you, I do believe on that time element alone if they were to change that one element of time, you would see different winners of matches. Athletes are smart enough to know how to play a five-minute round. If I’m in trouble, you take me down and you have something on me Eric, the crowd goes nuts, we have 0:30 seconds, come hook or crook I am going to find someway to hang in there and finish that 0:30 seconds out. The round ends, we stand back up, we’ve got the one minute off, somehow I’ll find my way back to my corner, my corner men will towel me and water me down, give me some coaching, and we’re going to start right back on our feet. Whereas if all you had was time to kill, you would have killed my competitive spirit, and you would have beat me mentally and physically, and that’s just that one element of time.
On Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brock Lesnar – Interesting. It would be close, but I would probably still give it to Fedor. It’s close but at the same token, I don’t think that Brock should have ever even lost his first match. I’m not even talking about the accidental clubbing. Whoever was the guy that came up with Brock’s game plan, it was a horrible game plan. And again, maybe there was a proper game plan in place and Brock just overplayed it. Brock comes from a legitimate amateur wrestling background and Mir’s true strength is in his ground submission. Now obviously, Frank was going to have to come to Brock. To me, my own game plan for Brock would have been to keep striking Frank whenever he got close and know that in the final 0:30 seconds of the round, see here is where time comes into play. I’m going to use that time element here right now. I would use that first four, four and a half of that first round to blungin Frank. Don’t go to the ground, just keep blungining. Then, in the final 0:30 seconds take him down and go for ground and pound thinking that you shouldn’t get caught, besides when you get to that point you don’t know how good Frank’s eye sight is going to be, the whole nine yards or what damage has been done. Round two, go with the same game plan again. Eventually you’ll win because Brock is a physical specimen in terms of just sheer power. He knows enough about wrestling where he can maintain and control, as I watched the second match with Frank, he maintained good positioning, and just basically worked the ground and pound game. He just kept striking and striking, that’s all he really had to have done. As for Fedor, he has a whole different mentality and I don’t think a lot of Americans will understand that mentality. You don’t see a whole lot of emotion on his face and stuff like that, that’s something I have seen time and time again with Fedor.
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