SEVERN HOOKS LOU THESZ AWARD

SEVERN HOOKS LOU THESZ AWARD;
TAKES NO-HOLDS BARRED APPROACH TO MMA AND LIFE
By Jeff Sharkey
Photo credit- Jeff Sharkey, Dan Severn

New MMA trading card depicting UFC President Dana White (left) presenting Dan Severn with UFC Hall of Fame Award.

When submitting a nomination for the Cauliflower Alley Club’s Lou Thesz Award, there are two criteria listed on the CAC website.   The first is that the nominee be a person with a legitimate background in either amateur wrestling, collegiate or mixed martial arts.  The second is that the nominee should have held a recognized version of the world title, though this is not a requirement but certainly a preference.   The 2010 recipient of the Lou Thesz Award, Dan Severn, was under the impression that there was also a third measure of a candidate’s mettle.  “I thought there was a requirement that an honoree should be someone who gave back to the sport of wrestling for the next generation,” Severn said.  

With that brief statement, imposing an additional expectation for himself, and yet happily delivering the goods, witness another example of the kind of extra effort Severn has long been known for.

Indeed, the very concept of sharing one’s knowledge and giving back to the sport is a building block of Dan’s nickname, “The Beast”.   Severn acquired this moniker during one of his bouts in the Ultimate Fighting Championships by broadcast commentator Jim Brown, the NFL Hall of Fame running back.  Refusing to accept the classification for only the negative implications that came with his choice of career, Severn turned that negative into a positive, making the phrase “THE BEAST” an acronym that detailed his personal philosophies.

Quoted directly from his website, “THE” stands for Dan Severn… He is a: “T” = Teacher, “H” = Humanitarian, “E” = Educator.   “BEAST” stands for his message: “B” = Believe in yourself, “E” = Educate Yourself, “A” = Adjust your attitude, “S” = Study Hard, “T” = Teach Others. Severn often reminds young people at his motivational speaking engagments, “Train your mind as well as your body.” 

Another nickname bandied about is offered by Severn’s original professional wrestling trainer, Al Snow.  “If there’s one name to describe Dan, it’s ‘The Brick’,” Snow said.  “His sense of humor comes across like a brick… he’s rock solid, both physically and integrity-wise… and as a competitor, it’s like fighting a brick.”

Charlie Thesz, the widow of Lou Thesz, prefers to use a series of adjectives to modify Severn’s when listing his good qualities.  “A wonderful guy; a phenomenal athlete.  A decent man …and easy on the eyes, too!”

Severn admits to being shocked at his selection for the 2010 Thesz Award, yet in the due course of following his path to professional and personal success, he sees that on much of his road, he sees Lou Thesz’ footprints in front of him.  “The more I learned about Lou Thesz, the more I realized he was the utopia of what I wanted to strive for, ” Severn said.  One of the highlights of Severn’s career was when Thesz himself presented the NWA World Heavyweight title belt to him.  “Now in receiving an award named after Lou Thesz, I feel it’s the icing on the cake.” 

An alliance between Thesz and Severn, which began in 1993 when Severn travelled to Japan to begin his professional shoot wrestling tenure with the UWFI group, is one Severn enjoys.  He illustrates it by quoting from the “Book of Wrestling Lists” that note Thesz’ total of 3746 days for all his NWA world championship reigns.  Moving his finger down the page a few lines, Severn finds himself, a two time NWA World Champion, fifth on the list.  “I consider myself in some very good company,” Severn said.

It doesn’t take very long for Severn to make a favorable impression with others, either.  “Dan is a throwback to Lou and Strangler Lewis; even before UFC he’d naturally been a wrestler, but even moreso, Dan developed into a Karl Gotch and those types, an old-style hooker,” Al Snow said.   “A throwback to the carnival days, when wrestling championships were held by the most capable wrestlers who could make the people believe what they were seeing wasn’t a stretch of the imagination.”

The perfectly-executed Severn body slam, as referee Jim Korderos polices the action.

Charlie Thesz agrees, ” I see Dan as much like Lou; a man with a passion for amateur wrestling, and the savvy to understand pro wrestling as a business.  Dan has loved wrestling so much that he found a way to make a living at it.  Those two were cut from the same cloth; Dan takes pride in his craft, just as Lou did.’”

Charlie’s just getting started with her praise, though. “Lou was very impressed with Dan; and for him to know Dan is getting the award named after him, Lou couldn’t have been more pleased, and I am thrilled to hear of the announcement.  Dan is the perfect recipient.  He was as close to Lou as anyone I met in wrestling world, and very loyal to his friends; he is one of those guys who makes wrestling better for having been involved with it.”

So for all the accolades and accomplishments that Severn has garnered, where did his passion for wrestling begin?   “Sunday afternoons at 1pm; we all gathered around to watch Big Time Wrestling, with stars like Bobo Brazil, The Sheik and Flying Fred Curry,” Severn recalls.  Raised on a farm along with seven other brothers and sisters, Dan was the second-oldest child.  The action of the squared circle spilled right out of the Severn family television and into the living room.  “We were always trying to imitate their techniques, and of course, we felt that the living room couch was an appropriate place to bodyslam each other!   Our parents replaced a few pieces of furniture over the years…we ruined a few springs,” Severn laughs.

Dan Severn vs Nobuhiko Takada, in Japan.

From the Michigan farmland, Dan ventured to warmer environs for his collegiate experience, settling in for what became a ten year arc in the state of Arizona.  The first five years, Dan was a student athlete at Arizona State University, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology in 1981.  The final five years in Arizona were as a coach for Arizona State, where Severn continued his quest to be the best amateur wrestler in the world.  There he earned multiple national and world championships, a total of 13 National AAU  titles in Japan, Hungary, Cuba, France and Turkey.  Upon return to his home state, Severn’s coaching career continued at Michigan State.  Still, the competitive fires would not be quenched; Severn had designs on making the U.S. Olympic team.  Dedication and maintaining a high level of training meant committing to a hectic schedule, traveling 82 miles to work one way, fitting in a rigorous workout over lunch at a local college, and making a second stop at another facility for training as Severn made the trek back home. 

The rules regarding eligibility for athletes changed en route to the 1992 Olympics; those with professsional classification were now allowed to maintain an amateur status.  At this point, Severn made up his mind.  “I wanted to turn pro at this time, because I knew I needed to make something happen.  In the book I have coming out, I have a chapter titled NEWFOUND SKILLS,” Severn says, “It’s why I say necessity is the FATHER on invention!”

Necessity came in the form of being out of a job shortly after accepting it due to economic conditions.  “I had just relocated to Coldwater, having bought and sold homes in the span of two weeks.  Suddenly I found myself in a bad place.  I needed to make some money,” Severn said.

In Kalamazoo, Severn entered a proverbial open-invitational style Tough Man contest.  “All I had in my mind was that the top prize was one thousand dollars, and I needed it,” Severn remembers. “It took me two days and fighting five different opponents, but I drove away with the thousand in my pocket.”

Al Snow (left) with stellar trainee Severn; one of "Al's Kids"

Determined to take his skills as far as he could, Severn began to make the four-hour journey to Lima, Ohio and Al Snow’s tutelage for the pro wrestling ranks.  “It was time to reinvent myself, ” Severn said.  “We’d work out for three hours each day, followed by the drive back home.”  Snow recalls a fierce countenance staring at him from across the ring.  “There was never any concern about Dan dropping out of camp,” Snow said.  “The man is rawbone strong.  When I wrestled him, there were times I was just hoping to make it out alive!   Dan does not realize just how strong he is.”

Encouraged by fellow wrestlers Tom Burton and Candi Divine, Severn remembers contacting the UWFI for his initial foray into Japan. “In three days they got back to me, and a month later I was training in Tokyo,” said Severn.   “A lady named Phyllis Lee was instrumental in helping get Dan established over there,” Snow said, “It opened up a number of opportunities for him.  Dan was tailor-made for this kind of thing, and it was here he started to make his name.

Shortly thereafter, the Ultimate Fighting Championship opportunities came knocking.  Back in 1994, it was the Wild West of combat.  “In the No-Holds-Barred era of UFC you had essentially two rules: no eye-gouging and no biting.  You didn’t have time limits, weight classes or a requirement to wear gloves,” Severn mentioned.  “Now there are 37 rules for Ultimate Fighting!  Way before Brock…  way before Couture… there was Severn.” 
 
Today Severn has taken his place in the Octagon of Honor, being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2005.  Snow, who accompanied Severn to cageside in those early UFC appearances, casts a glance back with the proper historical perspective.  “Dan was the first wrestler that found a lot of success in UFC.  As I started watching, you could see the need to have a good ground game was vital.  That whole premise of catch wrestling and hooking a hold, working for a pin or submission… it’s what pro wrestling has gotten away from today, the importance of the win or the loss.”

In the clutches of The Beast

Severn’s longetivity in professional wrestling and mixed martial arts cannot be understated; he proudly proclaims he is one of only four fighters with one hundred plus MMA fights to his name.  Of those, Severn has defeated the other three, and two of those men were in the 30s when he faced them.  By comparison, Severn’s foray
into this realm began in his late 30s… “and I can proudly say I’ve done it all 100% chemical-free,” Severn said. 

Now in his early fifties, Severn’s days as an active combatant are in the process of winding down; he will have farewell tours over the next few years to close individual chapters in the MMA and pro wrestling worlds.  In the meantime, his “spare” moments offer more opportunities to give back to his community.  His Michigan Sports Camps are held right on his home property, and he currently trains his son and fellow high school athletes on the mats, capitalizing on a chance to share quality time with family and help other aspiring young talents simultaneously.  In addition, Severn makes the rounds on the motivational speaking circuit, and uses his UFC Triple Crown of championship belts, as well as the NWA World Heavyweight title belt, to illustrate that the spoils of the crown came through diligence and a healthy balance of training both the mind and body. “I like the platform I’ve been given; I can use the ugly side of MMA to get people’s attention, and then get my message across,” Severn said.   “I can pass on my pearls of wisdom to the next generation.”

One of Severn’s upcoming seminars will be geared for law enforcement in Prescott, Arizona.  It will cover techniques that officers can use to regain control of a suspect who may have taken them to the ground.  “Another project I have is a training wrestling manual and videotape series,” Severn relates.  “I saw how disorganized pro wrestling was, and there was a need for something like this.” Severn culled advice and techniques from the real world expertise of the established pros.  “Every one has a gift. Mine is mechanical movement; how to use your body well.”

Staying active, staying focused on achievement; Severn’s determination to put his talent to the task at hand is reminiscent of a never-take-no-for-an-answer film character, based on the true life story of a young man trying to make the Notre Dame football team.  The motion picture was RUDY, and perhaps Severn did not need to look far to see a parallel: both Severn, Al Snow and numerous other professional wrestlers served as extras in the form of Rudy’s teammates for the film.  “The movie guys loved the wrestlers, because we had the ability to go flying through the air, hurling ourselves at each other.  Some of it was overexaggerated, but it looked great on film.”  Ultimately, Rudy’s triumphs mirror Severn’s own.  “A young man with a will to succeed, faced up against the obstacles, he prevailed,”  Severn said, allowing the interviewer to discern whose story best fits the description.

Dan Severn, champion extraordinaire. The NWA Wrld Heavyweight Championship belt is on his right shoulder, the UFC World Championship around his waist, and the.UFC 5 Tournament title belt on his left shoulder.

This coming April,  Severn’s receipt of the 2010 Lou Thesz Award by the Cauliflower Alley Club comes to fruition. Many well-wishers will be able to experience Severn the champion and the man, as others quoted here have discovered already.  See firsthand his zeal for wrestling and drive toward personal excellence.  “One of my favorite phrases, or ‘Severnisms’ is that there are 2 types of people; those who watch life pass by, and those who engage it,” said Severn.

Al Snow takes a great deal of pride in how Dan’s career has skyrocketed since their inital training sessions in the early 1990s.  Even though Severn is a few years older than Snow, “Dan still is considered one of ‘My Kids’ as I am a reflection on them and all of they do, good or bad… I always consider them my responsibility.  I couldn’t be prouder of what Dan has accomplished.”

Charlie Thesz’ list of superlatives continue right up till the phone call concludes, hammering home her point about Dan’s positive qualities in the manner of an MMA artist’s determined ground-and-pound tactics.  “An incredible human being… a devoted family man… a wrestler who cares about the other boys.  I am so delighted that Dan is getting the honors he deserves,” Charlie said.    Changing negatives into positives; even if Dan Severn was not a champion of world-renown, he would be recognized as someone doing what they loved on a daily basis.

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