I recently interviewed former WWE Superstar and UFC Heavyweight Champion Dan Severn, whose new book The Realest Guy in the Room: The Life and Times of Dan Severn is available at Amazon.com. You can check out Severn's official website at DanSevern.com. Below is the full interview, in its entirety:
* * *
I wanted to ask you about having your first fight at UFC 4 and winning the tournament. Were you ever approached to fight at any of the other UFC fights before that from the first three?
"No; no, you have to go back to a time, and just understand, pay per views in general were just not available back then as they are today. Today with all the mobile devices, the laptops, the I-Pads, computers, Smart TV's, smart phones, you can watch a pay per view virtually any day and anywhere. For example, I live in the state of Michigan. You might have three or four major metropolitan areas where they play pay per views. It may be at a Detroit Metropolitan area; it might be around the Lansing Metropolitan area. So, I lived in an outline area. I had no idea that this thing even existed. A buddy of mine watched the first two UFC's, copies them on an old VHS tape, and shows them to us and says, hey you ought to think about doing this. I'm seeing people being soccer kicked in the face, teeth are flying out and I'm looking at him I go, you know, these aren't exactly skills that I possess. He goes, well look at this skinny little guy doing Jiu-Jitsu. Of course, he was referring to Royce Gracie. I really had not been exposed to Jiu-Jitsu before, I thought, well it looks like wrestling with pajamas on to me. All I can do is stay outside of reach of an arm to be struck with, or a leg, and that simple little principle served me very well for basically a twenty-year career; because I have been the least struck fighter, period. Especially when you look at the sheer number of matches that I've had, and when you talk to me or visually see me, I don't look worn and torn like most of my younger mentors that of had a mere fraction of the matches that I've had.
Being at UFC 200 [last month], what are your thoughts on just how much MMA has grown?
"Well, I knew there was something to this. When I was first exposed to it, I thought, wow, you can do this type of competition in the United States? It just blew me away. Even as an experiment, on a couple of occasions, I would have one of my buddies had stopped by my place real quick, who would be stopping by at my place real quick, whether he's picking something off or dropping off. I would basically slap in a VHS tape and they were just supposed to stop by real quick or pick something up, well, an hour and hour and a half later, they were still on the edge of my couch screaming and howling, twisting and contorting their bodies like they were in the fight themselves. I was watching them more than what was on television, and I kept thinking, there is something there, something magical about violence that people like to watch. That was what UFC really was in the beginning, it was controlled violence. Still that is what it is today. Still controlled violence with more rules, that's all."
It was also announced that UFC was sold for 4 billion. Were you at all surprised by that?
"Um, No, I know that the eventuality, the only concept back to Raj is change, whether we like it or not, so does it surprise me that it sold? Well, it may have surprised me that it sold at this point in time, but I think inevitability it would have sold."
You're one of the first athletes to fight at the UFC at the highest level and also do pro wrestling. Of course, there is Brock Lesnar. Have you had any interaction with him?
"No, I saw him speak once at a one of the important events I happen to be at, but in the beginning he went out there to say a few words and I'll just say it was interesting."
It's just very interesting if you look back at footage during your WWF days, you had the mouthpiece, and Jim Cornette, you were the silent killer with all the belts and everything, and it was very similar to what Brock Lesnar is doing now. He's the silent killer, he's the beast, you were the silent killer, you were the beast. He has Paul Heyman, you had Jim Cornette. Do you think WWF missed an opportunity with your character and seeing how well it's worked with Lesnar today?
"Oh, without a doubt. You know, I can't go back in time, they can't go back in time, but without a doubt they missed out on an opportunity with me. You tell people that I was ahead of my time and a lot of different aspects, but you also have to realize Raj, when did I actually start competing in the cage, at what age? I defied age barriers, on my way up. I basically on my way up in the amateur sport. In 1976 at 17 years of age, I'm going for my first Olympic berth, so, I was always defying my age since a young barrier, now, that was 76', 86', 96' jump into two decades and then jumping into the cage for the first time, in a short order I am one of the number one cage fighters in the world so I was WWF's oldest rookie ever at 48 years of age, and then I just came back out of retirement for a bout that was supposed to take place on March 20th of this year against Ken Shamrock; of course he bows out nine days before. He was trying to be sought out, and they located Tank Abbott, he doesn't pass the medical basically three days before the event and basically I'm out. I'm still hoping for two more matches and then I will call it quits."
Now, is Shamrock, given everything that has happened, with that fight falling through this year because of the failed drug test, is that a fight you would still want?
"I would still do it, but I don't know what a company can do to make certain that match, that he shows up, that he doesn't scapegoat out of it once again. I wasted five months of my life preparing for him."
Did they compensate you in any way?
"Well, let's just say that is kind of an on-going issue right now that. I am speaking to the CEO, we will find out if his word is truly honorable."
Kind of back to when you worked with WWF/WWE, was it WWF, because at that time in a pretty nasty war with WCW, was WCW trying to sign you at the same time?
"They were actually the first person to contact me."
What made you choose WWF over WCW?
"I think WWF contacted me first, and WCW contacted me. I went to both visitations, but WWF agreed to my terms. That's what it boiled it down to. The biggest aspect I'd say that came out of it all was the sheer fact that I still believe I am the only non-exclusive wrestler ever. Everyone else was Undertaker, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, all these guys were basically bought and paid for by Vince McMahon. Whereas, at the time, I was working for the NWA company, I was working for over thirty-five promoters, and that organization wanted me to be exclusive to them. I said, well, are you going to pay me to sit home? They said, what do you mean? I go, well, I have another company that wants me, are you going to pay me to stay home. They said, of course not. I go, well, I guess my answer to you is I won't be exclusive to you then.
"It goes on back to your original question, did the WWF miss an opportunity? Huge, because Vince McMahon or the other couple Presidents for the NWA I had to work for, didn't know the type of person that I am, they failed to explore that. I am an old-school guy. I was doing professional wrestling from 92' on, which was when I became a professional wrestler. As a new rule came down for me, the United States Olympic Committee, that was the only time I turned pro. I was coached by professional wrestlers in the mid-80's. I hadn't turned pro then, if I turned pro then I would have lost my amateur wrestling status and amateur pro meant more to me than anything else I was doing so, I jumped into professional wrestling and a little time after, I rose up quickly to do what I was doing. NWA and WWF both lost out because I'm the type of person, my word means more than a contract. My handshake means more than a contract. I have lost out on thousands of dollars. Other companies tried to coach me after I have already given you my word Raj that I would be here and I'm doing this booking for a lot less money and I go, just know that is what is wrong with this industry.
"That is what is wrong with people in general. There is no accountability. But that is a whole different issue with accountability with education and politics in general. But, I just tell people that I come from a different type of cost. If you ask me, or anyone that knows me, if I give you my word, you can take it to the bank. It's gold. That is why the title came out, The Realest Guy in the Room. I have been writing a book for close to twenty years. But not as much as I was just describing stories and memoirs to Ian Douglass (Author) of various trips I have been on, or with encounters and on trips, Ian basically helped me with chronologically pacing, but then when he found out about the pace he conducted interviews as he found out you only get one chance to leave a first impression. The problem is I have too many content, thousands of pages in a binder, but on one piece there might be a dozen paragraphs. To give you an example, it might say something like, East Germany, Russian negotiations, lots of Vodka. Trust me, it's a great story too. Those four,five lines represent about 15-20 page stories. There is no longer an East Germany first off. I was wrestling during the Cold War era. I have a German media group contact me about that on six, seven months back. They were talking to me and it was a male and female. They said, sounds like you have been travelling quite a bit, have you ever been to Germany? I said, well, I've been to East Germany and West Germany, but I have never to just Germany. She said, what? First off, she's a lot younger. I have been competing longer than she's been alive. I said, I was part of the U.S Wrestling team. We flew into West Germany, we travelled by bus, to the Iron Curtain, we had to show all of our passport papers, travel papers, get back on the bus, deal with the Iron Curtain, fly back to Eastern Germany. I have seen the Iron Curtain. I have seen the Berlin Wall. It was keeping people in, not keeping people out. It was a whole different set of mentality. It wasn't just once, it was three different times that I had seen it, so I always tell people, I have seen things most people will have to read about; most people don't read, they would listen to their headsets or audiotapes or something like that.
I didn't want to ask you, with your amateur career, UFC, Pro Wrestling, how hard was it to decide what goes into the book and what doesn't?
"Well, trust me, there's just, again, strategically, will people be interested in cage fighting/mixed martial arts. I will say, a lot of materials on mixed martial arts. Lots of people like professional wrestling. There is a lot of material on professional wrestling. There is a little splatter on amateur wrestling. It delves into my home life and what is next for The Beast as he is in those twilight years or whatever. I probably have two more books that will come out, I think this book is about 300 pages, give or take. I have not seen the actual physical book itself. I haven't gone on to see the E-Book. I just know that the E-Book is doing real well. It was launched July 4th, and in no time at all, it was Amazon.com's number one best seller. So, there must be something in there that people had bonded with. The media type of things started within the last seven days. Next I will be going on book signing, but was told that the actual physical book won't be in my hand towards the end of this month."
Also with the book, Jim Cornette wrote the forward with the book and I know you write about in the book, you talk about your time in the WWF. Cornette has mentioned some of the wacky creative ideas you were presented. What ultimately caused you to want to leave the company?
"Well, I'll just say that the psyche of a professional wrestler, is that if you are a good guy (baby face), then you have the ability to turn you into a bad guy (heel) then vice versa. It is a full cycle. You even saw Hulk Hogan join the nWo. You see him go from the red and yellow to the black and white, and some kind of black looking smear on beard, and you see these types of psyche's. I was seen as a good guy, a babyface, a no-nonsense face, who wore the same outfit as I did in the cage. The shoes, the trunks, the whole nine yards. They wanted to keep me as that quiet, and go out there. Cornette was so frustrated with the creative team and when I was at one of the brawls, I was in the cafeteria killing some time and working on one of my projects I'm working on. Cornette comes in there who is frustrated, he said, those damn creative guys. They have no clue what to do with you. You are the greatest thing that has ever came into wrestler. You are a wrestler who can wrestle. You aren't just going out there and pose and cut promos, you can actually dismantle people, that is what you should be doing. That was before the WCW's character Bill Goldberg; as a matter of fact, it was several years later, I was in Los Angeles with a group of men who were having a business lunch, there was probably a half dozen of us, Bill Goldberg was there. We were sitting and B.S'ing with each other. He reaches over and nudges me in the shoulder; he said, thanks. I said, for what? He goes, I was you, I watched what you did in the cages, when I raised my hands up and had that crazy face, that was you. I laugh, I said, you did me better than I did myself. I thought, what a great compliment!"
At one point they wanted to get you a 6-6-6 tattooed on your head. Was that going to be a real tattoo?
"No, it was something that was going to smeared off during the night. I go, hey guys, not going to happen. I was in a small town USA. I am not going to suffer the repercussions towards my family, my businesses, or against me. You would be surprised at how many people actually take stock into a storyline and how it can be held against you. If I was like one of these other guys who really have nothing better going for them, I might be interested, but I was somebody before I came into the organization, and if I would have done this, and all of a sudden they drop me altogether, that would be the last thing people ever remember of me. I feel too strong of a legacy to let that be my end of it, no way."
How would you describe your interactions with Vince McMahon?
"If I was called into the office, he would take a call from me because he knows I am that no bulls--t type of guy. I am not going to try and work him to get a cheesy, whatever type of aspect out of him. I am not going to waste his time like that. To give you an example, professionalism is one of the things we teach here at our facility. WWE is coming to Detroit on a coming Saturday, one of my trainees says, you think you can get me a couple of backstage passes, I go, well, I could, I said but you think I'm going to call and ask a favor like that? I go, let me clue you in, I will call to ask a favor if I have an athlete that is rising up, who has a great deal of potential, and I may want him looked at. That is the kind of favor that I will call in, to have someone run around and take selfies backstage with their cell phones, no way! You would be surprised. I will say this, to me, it's like, they are asking because they are asking as a fan's perspective, and I know but I do not, when they go back there, they become a representation of me, and I'm not going to have someone back there to screw up something like that, so I have a kind of rapport, Vince McMahon would take a phone call from me because he knows I'm not going to call him for tickets, I would be calling because I have an athlete that can do something and would like to see him in a dark match, something that is nearby. That would be the call. If in UFC, if I think I have an athlete, I know that Dana White would take a call from me, so why wouldn't they take calls from me in the future. They know, even if they have been around me a few times. They would say, Dan, out of all the pioneer type guys, you're the only one who really has their s--t together. I go, well, I've been trying to not get hit in the head a few times because our brains are not meant to be flashing around like that."
Do you still follow WWE?
"I watch very little television, Raj. To me, I live a very privileged life because, in reality, I'm still doing the same things I was doing since Junior High. All I did was just wrestle and do things. I wrestled for my college, it gave me my education, my degrees, it provided me with everything I have had with my livelihood, and still continues to pay dividends for me. I have been living, been working for myself since 1992 and I wouldn't have it any other way. I always tell people, I am the President and Janitor all at once. I can tell myself what to do; I can hire myself and fire myself, and then re-hire myself because no one would want to work for this tyrant. I have high expectations for myself. Those who come into my classes, they see that. When my MMA guys come in, most of the time they're trying to see if they can hang with me for practice. You might hang in there for one, but what about the other half-dozen I might be doing that week?"
You're obviously still so very busy, you just wrote this book. What are some of the other projects you're working on?
"Wow, Raj, I have been. Ok, the Amateur teaching, I continue doing summer camps, and of winter camps teaching folks how to wrestle. I teach freestyle Greco-Roman. I have been working with Law Enforcement since 1994, corrections since 1995, Border Patrol, Military and within the last three years, the largest security company in the world so I stay busy. On top of that, I am still taking professional wrestling booking, I plan on doing that simply under two years. My goal is to stay viable in the industry for two more years until I hit 60. It is kind of hard at 60, it's hard to even say the word SIXTY. But, as I said before, you will never find another 58 year old man like me again, and I am proud to say that I am a lifetime chemical-free athlete. I have already outlived, I think, five or six cage fighting opponents, and probably close to thirty of my professional wrestling partners and none of them were older than me; it's called, lifestyle-choices, so I always tell my buddies who say that I cannot fight forever, well now that it has been twenty years later, to them they didn't mean it as a challenge, but the fact that I continue to go. There's a sea of us who are out on the game of life alive. How much fun did you see the game and how much fun did you have along the way? I have lived life longer than most of people. I tell people, I am not done... to be continued."
Do you have anything else that you would like to mention to our readers?
"If you want to know more about the book and Dan Severn, simply go to the website, DanSevern.com. That is probably where most of social media None of those social media would have existed. Even a cell phone. A cell phone didn't exist until I was in college, I was working on my Masters at Arizona State, and when I left there to take a job at Michigan State, I was unable to complete my studies, where nowadays, two years later, now the online programs are kicking in. Let me back up; the cell phone existed at the size of a walkie-talkie. Not very cool to walk around with a walkie-talkie, and when you actually had a cell phone in your car, a car phone, it was mounted to the car, not like you can carry it around in your pockets. So, again, other little tidbits of days gone by."