Dan Severn had an amazing career as an amateur wrestler, a pro wrestler and an MMA fighter. He was the first and only Triple Crown UFC champion and a two-time NWA World champion. This Saturday, the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa, will recognize the tremendous career of a true wrestler under all its shape and forms with the George Tragos award.
Dan “The Beast” Severn could have been one of the great shooters in pro wrestling history if he was born 20 or 30 years before he actually was, in 1958.At the same time, being born 20 or 30 years later would have allowed the UFC Hall of Famer to become one of the best attractions in MMA when the sport became mainstream.
Simply put, he was born at the wrong time, just in the middle of two eras that would’ve been a better fit for him.
“You’re actually right. The guys used to tease me saying I was born at the wrong time because of my mustache and the way I conduct myself. They thought I was a throwback from days gone by,” Severn told SLAM! Wrestling.
Following a very good amateur wrestling career, in which he was a two-time All-American for Arizona State University and a five-time U.S. Olympic team trial qualifier, Severn turned pro in 1992, at the age of 34.
“I was always intrigued watching pro wrestling. When I was coaching in Michigan, the person in charge of pro wrestling brought me to Ohio and there, I met with Al Snow who trained me in the beginning,” said Severn, now 54. A few years later, Snow would be his corner man when he debuted with the UFC.
But like many who have gone down a similar path, his move wasn’t well received by the amateur wrestling community.
“I had problems with other amateur wrestlers, as they looked down at me and said I was falling out to the almighty dollar. But there’s a world of difference between amateur wrestling and pro ‘rasslin’, if you know what I mean,” explained Severn.
His pro wrestling career pretty much started in Japan, for UWFI, a pro wrestling company that were trying to make people believe it was actual real fights.
“UWFI gave me a great experience and helped me made the transition to my ‘no holds barred’ career,” explained Severn, referring to the time where there was no class weight and only two rules in the UFC.
Then it was only natural for him to become an MMA fighter, even if he was 36 when he got his start.
“I like to say I was almost turning 37…” he added.
After only a few weeks of training, he started his MMA career a few months after he watched his first MMA show ever, UFC 3. On December 16, 1994, he was making his debut, opening the eyes of many as he made the final of then-tournament format UFC had, against none other than Royce Gracie. Even thought he was on the losing end of it, he left a good impression on everyone and not only in the MMA circles.
“Five days before UFC 4, I knew I was going to be the next NWA World champion,” revealed Severn. “So I showed what I was able too, unleashing the world of amateur wrestling to MMA.”
On February 24, 1995, Severn won the NWA World title from the hands of Chris Candido and for the next four years, he held on to that belt, having one of the longest reigns in NWA history.
But Severn also gave credibility to a title that needed it so bad at the time, as the NWA title was not as strong as it once was with the WWF and WCW titles being the major two in North America in 1995.
Back as a shoot fighter, Severn won his first tournament at UFC 5 two months later.
“Winning the tournament at UFC 5 gave great exposure to the NWA belt. Some older wrestlers actually thanked me for the prestige I was bringing back to the NWA title,” recalled the man who suddenly became a hot commodity in both pro wrestling and shoot fighting and even more in Japan where the two “sports” were as popular as could be.
After he won a fight against arch-nemesis Ken Shamrock at UFC 9 to win the Superfight championship, he became the only fighter in history to hold a major pro wrestling title and a major MMA title at the same time, something that will most probably be never seen again. Even someone like Brock Lesnar will never be able to pull that one out.
He would only fight on two other UFC cards, but his legacy was already established.
Being the first double-champion wasn’t the only first Severn would have in that regard.
“I was the first wrestler to have a non-exclusive contract with the WWF, as mine stipulated I could still do MMA at the same time,” said Severn, talking about that brief run he had with the World Wrestling Federation as part of an NWA invasion angle.
Still today, Severn enters the cage and wrestles as well. He also promotes MMA and pro wrestling shows.
For all these accomplishments, the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Hall of Fame will present Severn with the George Tragos Award. This award recognizes an amateur wrestler turned MMA fighter who had a good career in both fields.
The award was given for the first time last year to Pat Miletich. But according to Severn, he could have been the first winner.
“They wanted me to be the first one, but I had a commitment on that date, so I couldn’t be there,” explained the MMA legend. “I’m really looking forward to it because it’s always nice to be recognized by your peers. I am very honoured.”
This will not be the first time Severn is given an award at the Tragos/Thesz HOF week-end. In 2002, he won the Frank Gotch award as someone for bringing recognition to pro wrestling through work outside the ring.
With two awards under his belt, is he going for a third one? Maybe the Jim Melby awards for journalism?
“I don’t see myself doing that,” laughed Severn, “but one of my projects is to write a book about my career in amateur wrestling, pro wrestling and MMA. My final year will be 2012 and I want to start working on it right after.”
Dan “The Beast” Severn will be joined by an elite group on July 14th in Waterloo, Iowa. Kurt Angle, John Bradshaw Layfield (JBL), Joe Laurinaitis (Road Warrior Animal), Don Curtis and Bill Apter will all be honoured as well. They will be joining a group of great amateur and pro wrestlers such as William Muldoon, Farmer Burns, Frank Gotch, Strangler Lewis, Danny Hodge, Lou Thesz, Dick Hutton, Mad Dog Vachon, Billy Robinson, Antonio Inoki, Jack Brisco and so many others.
The Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame really links the evolution of wrestling through all its shapes and forms, from the Catch-as-Catch can, the Greco-Roman style and the freestyle to professional wrestling as we know it, from the shooters era to what is considered today as the pro wrestling of the new millennium — mixed martial arts.
If he could have only been either one of the two, which one Dan Severn would have chosen between being a successful professional wrestler and a well-known MMA fighter?
“An MMA fighter,” he answered without hesitation. “It’s 100% legit and I always preferred to be a legitimate competitor. To be a pro wrestler is like being all dressed up on Halloween Day and beat someone up that night.”
TRAGOS/THESZ CLASS OF 2012 STORIES
- July 16, 2012: Angle’s absence talk of Tragos/Thesz HOF induction
- July 11, 2012: Award honours Dan Severn’s MMA successes
- Nov. 30, 2011: JBL talks Lou Thesz Award, future in WWE … and rugby!