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Exclusive Interview With Dan "The Beast" Severn!
They used to grab our attention, neck crank it and pummel it unmercifully when the landscape of mixed martial arts was primordial and new. They were the lumbering giants, fantastic titans and ancient gods that did battle in the “before times”. Their names were spoken with wide eyes and much gesticulation by those whose parents let them rent UFC videos.
Can you name one man in mixed martial arts today who would be willing to sign on to fight Paul Varelans, Tank Abbott and Oleg Taktarov (all in their prime) in one night? What if the fights are scheduled to last fifteen minutes, eighteen minutes and thirty minutes each with no breaks for rounds? What if there are no weight limits? Relax all the modern rules about knees and elbows and what’s left is a gauntlet no man in his right mind would sign up for.
Almost fifteen years has passed since then. The sport has evolved at breakneck speed into something worlds away from the prehistoric spectacle of Ultimate Ultimate 1995. The fighters, too, are a different breed of athlete. Gone are the days when a combatant had no idea what to prepare for stylistically. The styles themselves have begun to blend into a great amalgamation of the most effective methods to win as permitted under the modern set of rules. Today’s fighter trains wrestling, ju jitsu, boxing and muy thai with equal dedication. The modern mixed martial artist is part athlete, part strategist, and part scientist.
If you’ve lost touch with the originals, I’m here to help. In this series we’ll catch up with some of the legends of MMA, starting with the winner of Ultimate Ultimate 1995, Dan “The Beast” Severn.
Severn burst onto the MMA scene at UFC 4. He was a four-time freestyle wrestling All-American at Arizona State and his entry into the octagon marked the first time such a decorated wrestler would try his hand at the fledgling sport. Though he didn’t win the event (he lost in the finals to Royce Gracie), he would return at UFC 5 and completely dominate, winning three matches in just eight minutes of total fight time.
UFC 6 would see him lose to Ken Shamrock in the events Superfight, just prior to his tournament victory at Ultimate Ultimate 95. He would later avenge the loss to Shamrock at UFC 9, leaving a potential rubber match that hasn’t materialized… yet.
Severn’s legacy to MMA is wrestling. The first time "The Beast" suplexed Anthony Macias, the writing was on the wall. Wrestlers were here to stay.
In his wake, fighters like his protégé Don Frye, Mark Coleman and Randy Couture would continue to dominate by using their wrestling ability to man-handle their opponents, control them and pound them out.
So, what is Dan “the Beast” Severn doing now? With a current record of 86 wins, 16 losses and 7 ties, he’s still battling it out, winning nine of his last eleven fights.
Yesterday, I had to opportunity to catch up with Dan and he had this to say:
BRAD: First of all, I’m a big fan and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today. Anybody who has seen your website lately (http://www.the-beast.com/) knows you are a busy guy.
SEVERN: I appreciate that. Maybe I’ve got ADD or something, but I just like doing a lot of different things. People need a reason to get their butts out of bed and do something.
BRAD: While we’re on that subject, are there any ongoing projects you’d like to fill us in on?
SEVERN: I sign up for substitute teaching every fall and I do a number of days (editor’s note: Dan has a minor in education) as my schedule permits. Mondays and Wednesdays are pretty crazy for me here (Dan’s training facility – Michigan Sports Camps) so I try to do it when I can if I’m in town. Maybe at some point later in life I’ll be at a high school or college teaching or maybe coaching wrestling. I really enjoy what I do. My CPA and my attorney tell me they’ve never met anyone quite like me. I took all my hobbies and turned them into businesses, so I put in a lot of hours, but I like what I do.
BRAD: Speaking of turning your hobbies into businesses, the Danger Zone (Dan’s MMA promotion) just held it’s 40th event and I see there are three more scheduled.
SEVERN: Yeah, what we’re trying to do is get a little bit more expansion. Right now it’s just amateur level, but possibly as early as June we may start allowing pro-level events to take place.
BRAD: That’s awesome. Well, coming from a fighter who has been in this sport as long as you have, you know, fifteen years, what are the things that stand out to you as the biggest changes and what effect do these changes have on a fighter’s strategy?
SEVERN: Well, I mean, there had to be changes. Changes had to be made in order for the sport to have survived. To go from “no holds barred” to “mixed martial arts” is a whole different game. It had to make changes, concessions, in order for it to survive in the first place.
I think the one element of time changes the entire training aspect for a lot of these fighters. Because there are rounds and, ok, say, if you were to take someone down, right? And there are thirty seconds or less left and your corner and crew yell out to you, “Only thirty seconds!” then through hook or crook you are going to get in there and buy that time. You can pull your opponent tight and not allow them the space to strike and now that the round ends, now you get the opportunity to get back up off the ground, go to you corner, get watered down, toweled down and you have someone there to give you instruction. Then the match starts again on the feet.
Now, I’m a big believer in the “non-activity clause”, but I think it should be ran with unlimited time and only stand them when there is a true stalemate or non-activity type of thing.
You wouldn’t see the long, drawn-out matches anymore. Back in the “no holds barred” era, the average match was two minutes, twenty two seconds. Now, three five minute rounds is pretty standard.
I just think if you have a person down, you will break them mentally a whole lot quicker if there is the element of unlimited time. Guys would have to train better cardio, I think, if the match had the capability to go indefinitely.
BRAD: A lot of people miss those good old days of the early UFC and PRIDE and think that there is something missing now. It’s obviously more mainstream and more of a sport.
SEVERN: Well, it might have become extinct if it was not sanctioned. You had Senator John McCain and a number of other politicians and legislators and athletic commissioners that were going after it pretty adamantly and it would never have survived, so, it had to make its concessions and, I mean, it’s still a very exciting sport.
The athletes have to be very diversified in their capabilities, but there are certain things that if you change, it would change the complexity of the match itself, it would change how athletes should be training and their preparation for the match.
BRAD: With these changes, is there any fighter that you look at and you say, “This guy has the style of the future” or “this is the future of MMA”?
SEVERN: I mean, from the public’s perspective, they like to see guys that go out there and stand. Now, if you happen to be one of those two athletes that are standing out there and trading with each other, afterwards you would disagree with those people. The spectators are not on the receiving end of all those strikes.
I have young guys who say, “I like to stand and trade.” I say, “Really? Then you are not a very intelligent fighter.”
SEVERN: The object of the game is not to get hit. One day, you’ll be an old man and who knows how many mental faculties you’ll have left because you like to stand there and trade.
BRAD: You must be pretty good at avoiding damage. You’ve had over a hundred fights, seen pretty much everything and there haven’t been a whole lot of holes in your MMA schedule over the years. Would you attribute that to good conditioning?
SEVERN: Well, that and I’m a big believer in the theory of ‘duck’. I’m going to stay out of harms way. I’m not going to stand there and trade with anybody. Granted, the biggest weakness in my armor or the weakest link in my chain is my stand up, but it’s the thing I probably train more than anything else, so my stand up has improved immensely.
I think I’ve got some of the most devastating knees in the business. I’m good about getting clinches, getting them jammed up against the cage and working my magic with close quarter strikes. I don’t think anyone does better ground and pound than what I continue to do.
I had a group of young men in here earlier and they were surprised how quickly and how many times I could hit a person in that clinch position.
You know, sometimes I like to watch the Ultimate Fighter. Not for the matches as much as watching what they are doing training-wise. Some of the stuff is right on the money and some of it misses the mark altogether. I’ve even sent in a few emails and left a few phone calls to let them know I’d like to be involved as coach. They’ve had a lot of interesting characters in the past, but have they ever had anyone who had real coaching experience? (Dan has coached wrestling at two division one universities – both programs did well under his tutelage)
BRAD: Speaking of your coaching and the Ultimate Fighter, it’s kind of known that Rashad Evans got his start with you.
SEVERN: Rashad started here in Coldwater. His first match was with the Danger Zone fight company and his first pro matches were with us. I took him out to either King of the Cage or Gladiator Challenge for an eight man tournament. He ended up winning the tournament and the next step was we got his footage together for the Ultimate Fighter show. Even though he went in as a heavyweight, he was not a heavyweight.
BRAD: What are your thoughts on his upcoming match with Machida? Will he have to make any changes stylistically to combat Machida’s weird karate style?
SEVERN: Rashad is an intelligent fighter. He has added so much more to his repertoire from when he was first started with me and he’ll do the smart thing of studying and seeing where his strengths are and where his opponent’s strengths are. He’ll see how they match up with each other and he’ll avoid the strengths and attack the weaknesses.
BRAD: Anything else you’d like to say to the readers and fans?
SEVERN: Well, a lot of people know me from what I’ve done in MMA or pro wrestling or before that in amateur wrestling. Well, three kinds of amateur wrestling, folk, freestyle and Greco-Roman. I tried to transfer some of those things over into mixed martial arts and I continue to do those things as well. I picked up another world title two years ago in amateur wrestling. And, I think, if there was one other element I’d like to change, I believe there is a need for a “Masters” category in MMA.
I think there’s enough fighters for it. To see a forty-something year against another forty-something year old, that’s a competitive match. Forty-something year old against twenty-something, and now you’re getting into different worlds. It’s not as competitive. I’ve given a lot of thought to starting it even here in my own company, Danger Zone.
BRAD: I think it could work. Yourself and some of the other big names, the guys who were there from the beginning, it could be a big draw.
SEVERN: I would love to do another fight with Ken Shamrock. He’s won one, I’ve won one, there’s a need for a rubber match. I’d love to do another match with Mark Coleman or another match with Royce Gracie. I don’t think there have ever been any Hall of Famer matches (Note: Gracie, Shamrock, Severn, Couture and Coleman are UFC Hall of Fame members) that I’m aware of, so there’s the opportunity to do that type of thing.
BRAD: That would great. I hope that does happen. Mr. Severn, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I know you’re busy, so I’ll let you get back to it.
SEVERN: Ok, take care.
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