Dan Severn Talks In-Ring Future, Relationship With Triple H, Negotiating With Vince McMahon, Billy Corgan, WWE HOF, And More! - Exclusive

This Friday night, former NWA World's Heavyweight Champion Dan "The Beast" Severn, at the age of 64, steps back into the ring to take on Aaron Williams for Cincinnati Ohio Wrestling's Holiday Havoc At 20th Century Theater.


Severn is most known to pro wrestling fans for his time in WWE during the height of the Attitude Era, where, alongside Jim Cornette, he proudly wore the NWA title on WWE TV while quickly laying waste to his opponents. Severn's aura of legitimacy in the carnival world of pro wrestling was due to the success he found in the earliest days of the UFC, when the rules were loose, at best. And while Severn's latest opponent, Aaron Williams, may be less known to fans outside the Cincinnati area, he joins a long list of men who have dared to step inside a ring or octagon with "The Beast," including Ken Shamrock, Tank Abbott, Kurt Angle, Jeff Jarrett, Goldberg, and more. 

In this exclusive interview with Wrestling Inc. Senior News Editor Nick Hausman, Severn opens up about his in-ring future, early days in Toughman competitions, working for Vince McMahon, his relationship with Triple H, Billy Corgan's NWA, and more!


Wonderful Willie

Nick Hausman: Hey, first of all, we have a mutual friend in Wonderful Willie, and I have to call that out first because I was at Bill [Apter]'s house, I don't know, four, five years ago, and he pulls out a VHS tape of Championship Office Wrestling.


Dan: The COW Championship belt. The COW belt, yes.

Okay, so before we get to Cincy Championship Wrestling ... can you talk to me a little bit about COW? I don't know how many journalists ask you about the Pro Wrestling Illustrated's old Championship Office Wrestling fed with Apter and others?

No, I don't think anyone ever have talked about that ... Bill Apter's alter ego is Wonderful Willie. He's been involved in professional wrestling, golly, how many decades? ... He loves it for all it is. I don't think he has ever been an actual participant, although I'm sure he's been involved in all kinds of escapades of it. So anyway, I happened to be crossing paths with him. I happened to be either in town, close enough by a door. He's like, "Can we do an interview?" And then he started seeing what a wacky sense of humor I had. He's like, "Would you entertain the idea?" I go, "Let's do this thing."


Training Police In Ground Combat

You're going to be doing this match for Cincy Championship Wrestling. You're going to be taking on Aaron Williams. How do you choose the wrestling events that you participate in these days?

I'll say they sort of choose me, but I do come with prerequisites there to it. I mean, well first off, most promotions will choke on my price because I'm not going to draw just professional wrestling people to that arena. I will bring amateur wrestling people to that arena. I will bring law enforcement to that arena. I'll bring people that will have never been to a professional wrestling match. They will come only because I'm on that card, because I'm that guy that will help draw them in ... Let me ask you just this quick question, Nick, how many professional wrestlers can you just start thinking off the top your head that have had problems with the law?


As somebody who covers the wrestling business day to day, it's more of a "who has not had issues with the law" type situation some days.

Yes. And again, I work with law enforcement. As we're doing this Zoom interview right now, I'm up in Globe, Arizona, and I'm working with correctional officers today from 8:00 to 5:00. And I'll be with them 8:00 to 5:00 tomorrow.

That was what you were telling me when we were trying to set this up. So you are teaching law enforcement officers combat skills like hand to hand combat skills?

Ground combaters. I was approached back in 1994, 1995, right in that timeframe, I was approached by several different law enforcement instructional agencies and they're like, "Hey, Dan Severn, do you think you can help us develop a ground combaters program?" I go, "I don't know, let me see what you guys have." And then when they showed me what they had, I go, "Yeah, I can improve upon that a lot." And literally, now actually, I have a two-day POST certification class. POST just stands for Police Officers Standardized Training, so it meets all the criteria. Now, again, I'm not the guy that set up all this, but it's kind of like going, if you were in that world of law enforcement, you like my stuff so much and like, "Dan, can we do something also and for this area, also in that area?" "Sure. I'll do things there, but you are the one that knows the language. You could speak the language and you can get the paperwork done," to where my programs been POST-certified many times over the decades.


The Evolution Of The UFC

You were with the early days of UFC ... Do you like where that UFC is headed under Dana White? Do you like the current UFC, or what do you think of the way that UFC is presented?

On a good note, I mean, there were a lot of hurdles that the UFC had to undergo, especially in the beginning, because there was a lot of political backlash. So the "no holds barred" era that I started with, there was basically only two rules: no bitting, no eye-gouging. That's the only two rules that they had. And even then, those were not grounds for disqualification because there actually was — I witnessed the match where one gentleman eye-gouged the other gentleman ... to where eventually he did lose eyesight in the eye and was wearing a patch.


So do you think it's better now with more restrictions in the way it's presented? Or do you wish there was a little bit more of the kind of looseness, I guess?

Well I look at there, I know that the people, they love the aspect of a tournament because how many — first off, how many men or women, because you got women that are now competing, how many men or women can survive three matches in a night?

They don't do that anymore.

Yeah, you might win a match, but you might have broke your hand. You might have took too many cuts, broke your nose, a few of the things where you're not capable of going out. And that was a couple of things that started happening early on that there weren't substitutes to put in. And even then, it's not fair if you've been sitting on the sideline, and these other guys went through two matches and now you come in fresh for the last final match. How is that a fair match? It's not a fair match because you've already survived. You did two matches previously and now you got a newbie coming in into the finals ...


So do you like that? Do you like it better when it was just crazy like that?


Because now it's all very structured. It's a sport now.

I like, again, if you simply just watch the viewers, when the viewers watch that tournament format, you could be a nobody in the beginning, but three matches later you're a somebody, because you're a war dog.

Ken Shamrock, you and Shamrock are both guys that kind of obviously benefited —

Lot of times people will bring up a Ken Shamrock name, stuff like that. And again, it's not that I'm trying to be mean to Ken. There's a big difference between a Ken Shamrock and a Dan Severn.


I'm lifetime, chemical free.

Stepping Into Vince McMahon's World

How was it stepping into Vince McMahon's world?

Well, at the very beginning, once I was signed on board, even at the time when, I don't even think the ink was dried on the contract. I first had, I think it was WWF, okay, at the time reached out to me, WWF. Then I think WCW caught wind of this. Then Eric Bischoff calls me up, brings me on in. And again, I'm not telling either group how old I am.


Fair enough. 

'Cause again, I had already heard that Vince wanted — if he's going to invest [that] type of money into somebody, he wants to know they're going to be around for a while. Well, again, I'm not that cat, 'cause I think I was either, I think 48 when I came on board. And then Vince wants someone in their early-to-mid 30s, maybe at the latest, knowing that they got a decade or more that they're going to be working with them ... We're in the office. The ink is still probably drying on the paper. We got Jim Ross that's in there, him and a couple others. And some more questions are being asked and a couple other dates come out of it, too, and it's like, all of sudden Vince like going, "Well, exactly how old are you?" And I said, "Well, 48." He looks right over to Jim Ross, he goes, "Well, how old is our oldest rookie ever?" And Jim just simply points over to me. He goes, "Dan." But again, I didn't look my age nor did I act my age ... I had a very unique contract in the fact that they agreed to my terms.



My terms was, I did not want to be a full-time wrestler. I didn't want to work 187 dates. I think that was the average contract at that time was working 187 dates.

Do you think it was a respect thing that Vince had for you? Because he's notoriously kind of a tough guy like that.

Well, I don't know. I did not know Vince that well at that point. I mean, again, very little. I mean I was dealing with, I think, Jim Ross and I think Jim Ross, he enjoyed my blunt candor. I mean because [the] professional wrestling world, again, the term is called a work. The industry's a work, but you'd be surprised, there's a lot of workers that are trying to work other workers, and they're trying to work other people. And it's like going, "No, I'm a straight shooter. You may or may not like me but even my enemies respect whatever comes out of my mouth." They go, "Oh s***, I don't like that old son of a b***h. But take his word for it because it's the truth."

I always tell people, "If I have to tell one lie, then I got to tell another half a dozen lies to cover up the first one." I got too much going on. I'm not that sharp. I'm either going to hurt your feelings or we either move ahead, or sayonara. 'Cause realistically, do I need you in my life? No. Dan Severn has so many good things going on for him right now. I always tell people, "My goal right now is to live to be 125. I will probably start slowing down in my latter 90s. But again, just starting to slow down. 'Cause even again, as I said, I've relinquished myself that I am no longer a cage fighter.


Potentially Wrestling At 90

So do you want to have your last pro wrestling match in your 90s? Is that what you're hoping?

Well, no ... I don't do a whole lot of professional wrestling matches right now not because I don't want to ... It's an orchestrated, physical, theatrical contest. Again, I always tell people, don't say the word fake, because professional wrestling, to pick somebody up and to body slam them. Most professionals wrestlers, they refer to, "Oh, I'm taking bumps." Most professional wrestlers, they don't understand, they are doing the most basic fundamentals of martial arts break falling.


As you're being picked up and being thrown over, you better land on as much body mass as possible to dissipate the impact. And I've been hurt far worse in my professional wrestling industry. I've been a cage fighter, I've been an amateur wrestler, I've been a professional wrestler. I've been hurt far worse in professional wrestling. Number two is amateur wrestling. The safest thing I've done is cage fight. Now think about that one. Talk about something that doesn't gel. It doesn't gel but I go, "But look at it." I mean, again, what are the breaking points about just being a cage fighter? There's only four men in the world that have over 100 cage fights. I'm one of the four. There's only three men in the world that have over 100 victories. I'm one of the three. Now the ironic part is, I faced the other three, I defeated the other three, and the closest one to my age is 12 years my junior.


Now knowing that, I'm lifetime chemical free. Now here's the one that's going to blow your mind there, Nick. I have done two training camps in a 20 year cage-fighting career. Two. These guys are going to UFC now, they're going into a training camp for six to eight months before they do one match.

A Possible Return To His NWA Roots

I think that one of the most memorable title runs you had in wrestling obviously was the NWA title run. I think a lot of pro wrestling [fans] identify you with the NWA.

Nick, I have never physically lost the NWA title. I was stripped of the title, because at the time, I think it was ... Jeff Jarrett. yeah. His daddy was basically running ... their promotion. They decided to start this promotion and they were doing Wednesday night pay-per-views.


Yeah, it was TNA.

They were just starting. They weren't even talking to me really at that point in time ... They had the rights to use the NWA. But again, I'm the title holder. Their pay-per-view numbers coming up for the very first pay-per-view — bad numbers, real bad numbers. Now they're like going, "Let's do a NWA title defense right out of the blocks." At that time I used to keep my schedule right up on my website ... They're like, "We need you here on such a date." "I'm sorry, I can't make it. I'm already booked on this Wednesday. I will be at so-and-so place and I will be doing, working with law enforcement, I'm already booked for that date ... Can't do that." "We need you there, otherwise we're going to strip you of the title."


Now, if I could have gone back in time to relive that moment one more time ... I basically just said, "You guys don't want me. Well f*** you. I don't want you ... I don't want to be associated with a company like that." And I gave it back. In retrospect, I would've simply said, "That's fine. You send your best man to come take that belt from me." You think someone's going to take that belt from me? I don't think so." ... Did I ever lose NWA title? No. So rightfully, I am still the champion.

So have you talked to Billy Corgan?

No, I wouldn't know the man if he walked up to me.

He's never talked to you?


The man owns the NWA. You are one of the greatest NWA champions ever.

Okay. What kind of a man is he, Nick? Is he an honorable man? There's not very many men or women in the professional wrestling world that I would call honorable at all ... I have no idea what kind of person, I wouldn't even know him if he walked up to me right now because I've heard the name, yes. But what does that mean to me? Nothing.

Triple H Takes The WWE Reigns

What's your relationship like with Triple H? You know, he's running the show at WWE right now. What was it like working with him?

Well again, I never really interacted with him. I mean literally he was all part of that group right there with the...


The Kliq with Shawn Michaels?

Yes. The Kliq with Shawn Michaels and Triple H. And they were just all the "too sweet" and all this ... they had a lot of fun. And then I thought they pulled off some pretty good skits when they were doing mockeries of different types of groups and stuff like that. There was the Nation of Domination and then they did, they all come out dressed up in these different costumes, kind of mocking the Nation of Domination. I thought during that timeframe, I think it was one of the best times to be involved that, because WCW was beating WWF in the ratings. And so WWF had to put forth effort.

Again, they had this creative team ... Jim Cornette came [in] one day as I'm sitting there and in the cafeteria, I'm doing my thing, and he comes out, me grabbed my shoulder, he goes, "What you doing there, Dan?" I go, "Jim, I'm doing what I normally always do. I'm conducting business, using my time wisely." He goes, "I'm not sure what it is that you're doing there, Dan." He goes, "A lot of the boys are nervous around you." I go, "Because I'm not joining into their drugs, I'm not joining into their drinking. 'Cause I don't do that. That's not my cup of tea. I don't need to do that. I don't need to be part of their network. I'll work with them." I go, "Jim, I'm an ass kicker, not an ass-kisser."


And I kept like that. 

Brawl For All

There came point in time when they came up with the idea of the Brawl For All ... They're like, "All the talents [are] going to be involved into it except for two guys, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn. They're not going to be allowed into it." And then as I got one of the road agents, I go, "Well now I know I'm not into it. Do I have to stand in there and listen to this anymore? Or can I go off and do my own thing?" "Please go ahead and go." So the Brawl For All goes on for a couple week,s and then again, I get to the arena there again to find out, will I even wrestle tonight? Because again, they got the weekly matches for the monthly pay-per-views. And if somebody's promo goes a little bit too long, a match might go too long, they simply pull out a eraser and just boom, this match has got to go bye-bye. Again, I'm only working for them part-time. I'm only doing 60 matches a year. So again, they don't really have me built into any big storylines. They actually used me pretty strong in the beginning because I was almost like a Bill Goldberg.


Yeah, you were.

That's what I came in there. I'm not talking, I got Jim Cornette to do my talking for me. I can't hold a candlestick to his talking. "Jim, you talk, you show the belts. I'm just going to dismantle people with this thing called wrestling. I'm not going to sit there and cut promos. I'm not going to go flex, flex, flex, because that's not me. I'm not going to flex. I'm not going to cut promos. I'm actually going to take you apart with this thing called wrestling. Now the marquee says professional wrestling, I'm going to give you wrestling." The hardest part was, most wrestlers don't know how to wrestle. They can do the magical whip you at the ropes, whip you at the turnbuckles, clothesline here ... I'm like, "I'm going to do a go-behind, pick you up, slap you on down the mat, and then literally let's do a little ground wrestling." They didn't know what to do. It was sad with what I had to work with.


The WWE Hall Of Fame

So does the WWE Hall of Fame mean anything to you? Would you like to be in the WWE Hall of Fame? Would you accept an induction?

I'll answer that two ways. First off, based on some of the people that are in there, should I be in there? Oh hell yes.



Now, did they use me correctly? No. In the beginning they did. But I think they realized, "We have no control mechanisms over this guy. If we put a strap on him, who's to say he's [not] going to go over to the NWA and lose the strap there?" ... Because again, I'm not working exclusively for the NWA, I'm working for someone else. But at the same token, did they ever converse with me? No. 'Cause as I stated with you before, I still work matches now.

You're wrestling this Friday night.

Yeah, but I have prerequisites. I am not, and I repeat this: I am not going to do the job for Doink the Clown.

Well I don't think that Matt Borne's working right now.

I use it as kind of like a metaphor ... If Vince McMahon wanted to have Doink the Clown with a little peacock's feather run out there and tickle The Giant, and he starts laughing and giggling to the point he falls on his back, and somehow Doink the Clown pins him? Sure, that would work. But not for Dan Severn. No. I won't do that ... I learned the history behind the NWA belt. The NWA belt meant something to me. Because I met some of the men. To wrestle with Dory Funk, and to meet Bruno Sammartino...


Oh sure.

I mean, out of the blue, Bruno Sammartino calls me up by my cell phone. Cell phones weren't all that popular at the time, I don't know how he even got my number, but he called me out of the blue. And he's like, "Young man, I hear all the good things that you're doing with the NWA title. Keep up the good work," and stuff like this ... I happened to go to an autograph signing, and I heard that he was going to be there. I went on my way to go over there to see him, meet him and shake his hand, and thank him for the kind compliments, because again, Bruno Sammartino was like the people's champion. He was selling Madison Square Garden and each time he was there, he was the man.


But these are some — Dan Severn story time, I go into all kinds of different types of stories of wonderful people I've met along the way. And again, having Al Snow at my very first UFC as my corner coach.

A Rematch Is On The Horizon

Al Snow was your corner coach at your first UFC?

Yeah. It was comical ... My five-day training camp was down in Lime, Ohio, to where I'm in the ring with Al Snow and two other professional wrestling wannabes. They got one old pair of boxing gloves, they're trying to punch, kick Dan. I don't like to be punched or kicked. So literally I would arrange, I close the distance, clutch them, use amateur wrestling techniques, throw them down, take them down, and then once I had them down, I would put on amateur wrestling moves. Chicken wings, cross faces, arm bars, things of that nature. These are legal techniques in the sport of wrestling, knowing that you're imposing your will upon another individual. Imposing will means I'm inflicting legalized pain. But now I'm going to this thing also known as "no holds barred?" So it doesn't even have to be a legal move here now. I can literally just go in and just grab you and just rag doll you now.


I want to thank you for the time. It's a pleasure, I mean, again, as a friend-slash-enemy of "Wonderful Willie" Bill Apter, it means the world. And now that we've spoken for a good hour, Dan, I, 100% vividly in my mind see you and Bill Apter out at a karaoke bar together, singing songs.

But also knowing that there will be another clash somewhere down the road ... I had that cardboard COW belt for a number of years that he never saw. I won it from him, and he didn't see it for, gosh, I think maybe close to a decade. And then I was being inducted into some Hall of Fame somewhere, and he happened to be out in the crowd. And as I'm up there giving my acceptance speech, I went off about the quick tangent. I go, "Well folks, there is a fraud amongst you. There's a person that has been portraying himself as someone else. Wonderful Willie is out in the audience right here ... and I've got something to expose him for what he is." ... And then I reached out and I pull [the COW belt] on out, I go, "This is the Championship Office Wrestling belt here now that I beat Wonderful Willie for way back when. And I need to return it to its rightful owner. Bill Apter, please come up here and take this back." So literally he was shocked that I kept it for all those years.



It was a really touching moment. But then I go, "The feud's not over. I might be giving you belt back right now just to make you feel a little bit better for right now. But I'm looking to take it back again and maybe I'll give it back to you in another 10 years. 'Cause again, Dan Severn plans on being around until about 125, so I got time! Got time to spare."