In the early 1990's, Dan Severn had not even heard of the UFC. In fact, it's believed his hometown of Coldwater, Michigan didn't offer pay-per-view (PPV) at the time. It wasn't until a friend, who had recorded a few of the early tournaments on VHS, suggested Dan should compete.
Dan Severn had been a two-time All-American at Arizona State in wrestling and is the original Sunkist kid of the Sunkist kids, a dominant wrestling club that's believed to have produced more Olympians than any other wrestling club.
Although he had not yet competed in UFC, Severn was confident his wrestling skills would serve him well and perhaps allow him to dominate the tournament's competitors.
And his theory proved to be fact.
Dan Severn gains the dominant position over Ruben Villarreal in 2004
Courtesy Jeff Sherwood, Sherdog
Severn Enters UFC
Severn entered UFC 4 in December 1994 and immediately made his presence felt, orchestrating a series of suplexes against Anthony Macias before submitting him via rear naked choke. The wrestling phenom then went on to defeat Marcus Bossett to reach the finals to face Jiu Jitsu expert and future MMA legend Royce Gracie.
Against Gracie, Severn quickly was able to execute a takedown. However, Royce was not like the other fighters. The Brazilian was far more skilled than most in the competition and his guard position was a hell of a lot trickier. Still, Severn was able to hold top position for nearly 15 minutes until Royce finally pulled off a triangle choke that forced Severn to tap.
The fact Gracie could not avoid being taken down by a top wrestler showed that wrestling deserved respect as a true martial art.
And the loss to Gracie wasn't the end for Severn. He went on to compete at UFC 5 in April 1995 where he once again dominated. But this time, he won the tournament following his win over Dave Beneteau.
Although Severn suffered a setback defeat against Ken Shamrock several months later at UFC 6, he returned to the tournament format winning Ultimate Ultimate 1995 in December.
And at UFC 9 in May 1996, Severn would avenge his loss to Ken Shamrock by defeating the self-proclaimed 'Baddest Man on the Planet' and winning the tournament.
Severn would fight only twice more in UFC after winning the UFC Superfight championship, suffering back-to-back defeats. Nevertheless, he can be credited to bringing wrestling to UFC (and mixed martial arts) and is undoubtedly one of the most important contributors in the promotion and sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
Mark Weber had the priviledge to conduct an exclusive interview the MMA legend who shared his insight and observations on the sport he helped legitimize and make great.
Weber: What do you think of today's mixed martial artists?
Severn: Well, I think they are a lot better than no holds-barred fighters (of the past) because they are more well rounded now.
Most people only know "mixed martial arts." That term really didn't get coined till January 2005 when the most popular company in mixed martial arts, the UFC, hosted an event on SPIKE TV (for) the first ever Ultimate Fighter show. You had Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar in a three round slug-fest/slobber-knocker and people were hooked.
[But] December 1993 is when it started. So when you look at that many years later, you know the UFC is now Jon Bones and George St Pierre and these kind of people that are out there. They are so much more well-rounded. But you have to realize in the inauguration of of no holds barred to now... What is it, 18 years, 19?
Weber: It's on 19 years now.
Dan Severn vs Carl Worsham
Courtesy, Jeff Sherwood, Sherdog
Severn: Okay, now I don't know who the youngest MMA competitor on a pro circuit is, but I do believe - like when it comes to the UFC - it is 21,22, 23.
Starting in 2014, the sport has been around long enough where people were born to the point where they could of started training at a very young age all the way up until now to where the next year or two.
You should start seeing the new era of mixed martial arts.
Weber: What do you mean by the new era?
You will see guys that make George St Pierre and Jon Bones look like they are antiques because of the elevated skill levels coming into it.
When it first began it was called "no holds-barred" and most of the athletes were one dimensional and I put myself in that same category. You were either just boxers, just kickboxers, just jiu jitsu, just judo, just wrestlers. They were one-dimensional.
We have yet to have that guy come in. In the next few years you will have that guy from the evolution, that hybrid... And people will say 'OH MY GOD.' It's all because he's been doing it longer and worked on it more years.
Weber: Do you have any favorite fighters you watch today?
Severn: I like George St Pierre. I like the way he represents himself and how he speaks in interviews. I'm entertained by Jon Jones. I like to watch Cain Velasquez - he's from Arizona State and that's my alma mater as well.
Staredown: Dan Severn, left, and Dan Legeno
Courtesy Jim Page, Sherdog
Severn on how many fights he has actually been in, why he has been able to sustain such a long career, and health scares in MMA.
Weber: How many fights have you actually been in? Sherdog has you listed at 127.
Severn: Well that's what the Internet says. There's probably another 20. One day when I don't have anything better to do, and hopefully that's when I'm 90-99, I will pull out my daily planner and tell you how many matches I have been in.
Weber: So with all those fights, how is it possible you have only been knocked out three times? A guy like Wanderlei Silva has been knocked out 4 times in his last 10 fights yet you have only been knocked out three times in 127 or more fights? How is this possible?
Severn: Well first of all I don't like getting hit.
I have only actually been knocked out once. There are two instances in which I have been "technically" knocked out.
Chuck Liddell, at one time, was close to holding two records simultaneously. Those records were 'knocking out the most people' and 'being knocked out the most.' That is not a good record to have (the latter.) Your body is only capable of taking so much punishment, Each time these guys are struck, they suffer a certain degree of damage. When that damage surfaces is only a matter of time....
I already know of a few athletes who are much younger than myself who are incapable of finishing a sentence that's fully audible. And that is kind of sad.
Weber: Gary Goodridge, a former UFC fighter, was recently diagnosed with a form of dementia. Do you worry about your fellow peers from the old UFC days?
Dan Severn, right, engages with Jerry Vrbanovic
Courtesy Jeff Sherwood, Sherdog
Severn: It has nothing to do with the early days. I think you will see the early day fighters fairing out better then the current club.
Weber: Really? Why do you say this?
Severn: For one reason. How often do you see a tapout (from strikes) in today's MMA?
Weber: Rarely ever
For some reason today's athletes think it's more honorable to not tapout and make the referee stop the match. I ask myself 'are you not intelligent enough to realize you are caught and maybe you should tap to save your own hide?' I have tapped out, but I guarantee you as many matches as I have had, I've weathered the storm well.
Severn on his toughest opponents, bad blood, a young Forrest Griffin, and why he is in a league of his own.
Weber: Which one of your opponents in MMA stood out the most?
Severn: It might be hard to believe but I have fought people in my amateur wrestling career tougher then I have ever fought in MMA. In the cage I've had my bell rung by a few fighters, but I think I have suffered more damage in amateur wrestling then I have as a cage fighter.
Weber: Have you ever fought with bad blood towards an opponent?
Severn: I have only gone into a match with a different attitude on one occasion and that was when I went up against Tank Abbott because he was an evil character.
I saw what he did to a 400 pound sumo wrestler (John Matua) in one of his first matches. He knocks him out with one punch and (Abbott's opponent) body started going into convulsions (while) Tank Abbott mocked him while he laid there helpless and defenseless. To me, it was no class whatsoever.
(Video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wa-HvJwtbaM)
So when I went into that fight (against Abbott)...I hit that man so many times. At the time, it was recorded as one of the most brutal fights the UFC.
When the match was done, it was the first time we had judges, and Tank tried to leave even before the judges even rendered their decisions. [But] they wouldn't let him out so he climbed over the cage walls and left!
Weber: You actually fought Forrest Griffin in his first pro-fight. What was that like? Did you think you were fighting a future champion at the time?
Severn: I don't remember.
Weber: You don't remember?
Severn: There's actually only four fighters in mixed martial arts history that have over 100 pro fights and or cage matches and I'm one of those characters. The ironic part is I have faced the other three (Travis Fulton, Jeremy Horn and Shannon Ritch).
A familiar scene after a Dan Severn bout
Courtesy Jim Page,Sherdog
Basically, I am in a category all by myself to start my career just before turning 37.
Just look through the history books. Did anybody else start that late in the ballgame in that company? Nope. Did anybody come close to even being in the same credentials? Nope. Only four people in the world [and] I'm one of them.
The world record for title belts for pugilistic arts was 7 - [But] I have 20 or 21 now. I didn't just beat the record, I destroyed it. And as a matter of fact, if I'd done a little bit more training, cause you know... In all the years in this sport I've only had two training camps. One for 32 days [and] one for 35 days, and that's it.
People tend to over-promise and under-deliver but I always under-promise and over-deliver.
Honestly, my career speaks for itself.