The early days of UFC were not for the faint hearted.
“My financial guarantee when I walked in was 1,000 dollars” is how UFC Hall of Famer Dan Severn remembers his first deal when speaking to me via telephone. “And for that, I signed a contract that said ‘in the event of your accidental death.’ There were only two rules: no biting and no eye gouging. There’s a lot of ways you can take another person’s life without violating those two rules.”
The Coldwater, Mich., resident has recently released an autobiography, “The Realest Guy in the Room.” It charts his journey from “a childhood like Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn” to the Octagon and beyond. The name derived from co-writer Ian Douglass’ observations of the man dubbed “The Beast.”
“After (Ian) had spoken to me a few times, he said, ‘You are the realest person I have ever met. You are very direct.’ I always say, you may or may not like what comes out of my mouth, but is it honesty? You can take it to the bank. I’m not going to lie to you. I can sleep well at night.”
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One of the things Severn is honest about was his own athletic integrity.
“I’ve spent a lifetime chemical free. I’ve been involved with two of the worst industries for it. MMA is getting worse over time and professional wrestling, oh my God, that’s on a classification all by itself. To put it point blank, I outlived five of my cagefighting opponents and almost 30 of my professional wrestling partners. And none of them were older than me.”
When Severn, now 58, entered UFC 4, it was a blind draw with no weight classes. Yet, he felt his amateur wrestling background prepared him well for what could have been an intimidating situation.
“I was competing in (amateur wrestling) in Michigan, or Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, or go over into Ontario, Canada. They didn’t wrestle that folk style (in Canada); it was more freestyle. I legitimately had over 3,000 amateur matches. It’s an incredible record, but I’ve been wrestling since 1969.
“In amateur wrestling, when you showed up for a tournament, it was a blind draw right then and there. People would weigh in then and there, and you could go against the number one guy in that pool from the very first match. The blind draw did not bother me whatsoever. The size factor, it never intimidated me. As an amateur wrestler, the normal conduct in practice is to work out with people at your weight class, below yours, and one weight class above yours.
“I worked out with the heavyweights. That weight class has a cap on it now. That cap came in in 1986. I was a freshman at Arizona State in 1976, so one of my workout partners, big James Mitchell, weighted 420 pounds. So in the preseason alone, I had to work out with a 420-pound man, seven days a week, three times a day. I was good at my craft, because if I shot in and shot in wrong, he could have sprawled and you wouldn’t have even been able to see me under that massive man, he’d have squashed me like a pancake.
“I competed as a heavyweight and people felt sorry for (my opponents). I was throwing these guys, and they just thought it was impossible. David slaying Goliath out there. But that’s just the bone-headed determination I had.”
His amateur wrestling also took him abroad into hostile territory.
“American is hated by most countries because we are the land of the free, the home of the brave. We are what most counties are trying to be like. So for me to be in a foreign country, and wearing a USA wrestling singlet, I was being booed. Most of the wrestling took place on the old communist bloc. Russia and the United States didn’t get on, cold war era, I was still wrestling. Just to be in the Soviet Union multiple times, to be in East Germany on multiple times, it’s been quite the education.”
I asked Dan if he felt envious of the money and profile bestowed upon the UFC elite of today, and his honest was typically forthright.
“People say you must have made millions. No, unfortunately; I wish I did. I made thousands of dollars. But can I complain? No, because I made the most money at the time. Go back 20 years on any sport, in soccer, (American) football, it has all improved. So I cant begrudge what I made.”
He does, however, feel that UFC could benefit from his involvement today.
“Should I be involved with it now? I should be. That sounds very braggadocious of me, but it’s like my book title, the realest guy in the room. I am the best representative, point blank. I am lifetime chemical free, a married man, a man with an education, I have children, the whole nine yards. I don’t have one tattoo. I have never been in a fight in my life. I have never been in trouble with the law. I work with military personal, law enforcement, and air marshals, and now the worlds largest security company. I am the guy who should be touted.”
Looking forward, Severn is looking at planning a trip to the U.K., to pass on some of his grappling skills in seminars to the bourgeoning MMA scene.
“I’m like a crack addict. I like to teach; I like to share. I have been teaching for over 20 years, but think I have some knowledge, which would probably help people even on a pro level, if they would take on certain tactics, techniques and concepts that I teach that people will never ever think about, but people don’t have the background of international competition. One of the things the U.K. is famous for is its catch wrestling. So there are pockets in the country that have submission or grappling wrestling roots. Basically, I am that throwback from days gone by. I am part catch wrestler, I am part Greco-Roman, and part freestyle wrestler. Because of my experiences, I have put a bit of everything into the pot and made something of it.”
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Whilst Severn was, and occasionally still is, is a ruthless competitor in the MMA world. He is also an incredibly polite and engaging individual. Perhaps that dichotomy is best summed by Severn himself.
“I am not a fighter. I am a competitor. I will shake you hand before, I will shake it after, no hard feelings whatsoever. But between those two shakes…”
(This article courtesy of MMAWeekly.com contributor James Oddy. Follow him on Twitter @oddy1j )
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Source: MMA Weekly