An invasion is often thought of in terms of armies or gangs. Rarely is an invasion thought of as a single man. The year 1998 saw the WWE invaded by one of the greatest Ultimate Fighting Championship combatants of all time, “The Beast” Dan Severn.
When Severn entered the rings of the WWE he did it without the pomp and circumstances of his peers. All he needed was a healthy sweat, a grey t-shirt, mouth guard, intensity, and incredible focus. Where did this quiet confidence come from? Perhaps it was from his record or as Severn would say that he is a proven commodity.
“There are only four people on the planet who have over 100 MMA matches and I am one of the four,” said Severn in an interview at a recent Crossfire Wrestling show. “There are only four to have over 100 victories I am one of the three. I have faced the other three; defeated the other three. The closest one to my age is 15 years my junior. I started in 1994 just before turning 37 years of age. Everyone would have retired at that age, but that is when opportunity presented itself. I retired, my final year was January 2012; giving up three decades of age to younger opponents, so I am in a category all by myself.”
Severn’s accomplishments truly speak for themselves, but there is more. “There is not another person who has walked this planet or who currently walks this planet other than me who can make all those claims,” said Severn. “Pugilism belts, the world record was 13, the new record is now 21, still me. I retired from that industry because I am getting a little too old now.”
In 1998, Severn entered the WWE as the reigning NWA World Heavyweight Champion. Almost immediately Severn began feuding with his old UFC rival Ken Shamrock. From there Severn participated in the ill-conceived WWE shoot fight called Brawl for All. He defeated his first round opponent and was inexplicably pulled from the tournament. He also made it to the semi-finals of the King of the Ring tournament with a loss to The Rock and participated in the Royal Rumble.
Severn spoke with mixed emotions about his time in the WWE.
“Well, in a couple of different ways it was beneficial (being in the WWE),” said Severn. “I got to meet some good people, some — not all were my cup of tea, that is the mixture. Phenomenal business. I learned a lot from there.”
When he looked closely at the WWE, he was surprised to recognize some of the traits evident in the UFC of today. “Even if you look at the world of cage fighting, the number one company is the Ultimate Fighting Championship and literally in a lot of ways they are using the WWE’s business model and using it as their own in oh so many ways,” said Severn. “I learned a lot of things on a personal level, business level, so I will say that it was a good learning experience.”
Some observers of the sport were surprised by Severn’s lack of a build in the storyline while working for the WWE. “I was known as a good guy, the babyface, just a no-nonsense, just stoic, going out there just dismantling people,” recalled Severn for SLAM! Wrestling. “Even Jim Cornette said, ‘I can’t believe the creative team doesn’t know what to do with you. You are just a dismantling machine. I just want to go down there with a wheelbarrow full of belts and dump them there and watch you dismantle people.'”
One opponent he did enjoy his time with was Owen Hart. The two of them participated in a Dungeon Match that took place in the basement — or dungeon — of the famous Hart House in Calgary, Alberta. “I mean going into that, in the first place I already knew a lot about the Hart legacy and that and I knew about dad, Stu Hart,” said Severn. “For about three hours while the sound crew, camera crew got all of their cameras and technology and stuff like that down there I set up in the living room listening to Stu tell story after story and just sit there being respectful and watching him. He asked me a couple of questions at times. ‘I hear you got a shooter background.’ And I go, ‘Yes sir,’ being very polite and stuff like this. All I know is a day or two later Owen was on one of the shows with me and he brought me one of Stu’s t-shirts signed and said, ‘My dad really liked talking with you. You reminded him of old-school guys that weren’t just talkin boastfully about themselves.'”
Getting a compliment from Stu Hart certainly raised Severn’s spirits, but a meal he had with Goldberg many years latter truly honoured him. “I had dinner with Bill Goldberg a number of years back,” said Severn. “One of the first times I ever met him. As I was having dinner with him, he reaches across the table and taps me on the arm and goes, ‘Thanks.’ I go, ‘For what?’ He goes, ‘Dude, I was you. I used all of your antics. I made a lot of money being you.’ I thought that was so cool that he complemented me like that. Imitation is a way of honouring people.”
The end to Severn’s run came when he disagreed about the direction of his character. “I could have still been with WWF if money had been my master,” said Severn. “They approached me about putting 666 across my forehead, the mark of the beast. They wanted me to become an Undertaker disciple and I said, ‘Time out, not going to happen. I live in small town USA. I don’t want any repercussions to my family, to my businesses, nor me because there are a lot of people who live in that world where they just don’t know what is real and what is not real and I don’t want any repercussions.’ Vince even said, ‘Dan, do you know how much money you can make doing this?’ I said, ‘Vince I’ve already made money. That’s not why I am here.'”
Dan Severn’s time in the WWE may have been short, but was eventful. Perhaps the two groups to benefit the most from his WWE tenure were the NWA and UFC. “The UFC (at that time) does not have that much visibility,” said Severn. “Just being on this roster (WWE) the UFC doesn’t realize how much I gave them in terms of media by going out there and they can play off of this cage fighting champion.”
“The Beast” was a unique throw back of a character in the WWE during a time when the product was becoming edgier. Severn didn’t change he just continued to be a human dismantling machine.