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Former wrestler, MMA fighter trains Dickinson PD in combat

Press Photo by Bryan Horwath Former MMA fighter and pro wrestler Dan Severn goes through a technique with Brandon Potts of the Devils Lake Police Department during Severn’s ground defenses course for law enforcement Wednesday at Dickinson High School.

Though Hollywood action films and TV dramas often portray law enforcement officers as being in shootouts on a regular basis, the fact is many officers go their entire career without firing their weapon in the line of duty.

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Much more often, officers will become engaged with a perpetrator or suspect in hand-to-hand combat, according to Dickinson Police Department K-9 unit program coordinator Corey Lee, which is why the department called on the services of a man who knows a thing or two about coming out on top in such situations.

Now retired from sports, Dan Severn has had an extensive career in wrestling (both the real and the fake varieties) and was around during the early years of competitive mixed martial arts fighting, a sport that has exploded onto the national scene in recent years.

Wednesday morning, Severn spent some time instructing about 20 law enforcement officers from all over North Dakota on his two-day program, “ground defensives and escapes,” which he teaches at agencies around the country.

“I remember watching Dan when I was in high school, so it’s neat to be able to bring him in to help with some training,” Lee said. “Though I’ve been with officers who have, I’ve never fired my gun in the line of duty, but we’ll go hand-to-hand with people on a regular basis. It’s good to be able to get some additional training in that area and who better to administer it than Dan Severn?”

The former All-American wrestler at Arizona State and winner of more than 100 mixed martial arts fights (he retired in January), according to his bio, Severn said he enjoys traveling the nation and putting on clinics for law enforcement agencies.

“It’s really an honor to be able to come in and help the Dickinson Police Department with its ground defensive tactics program,” Severn said. “I work with law enforcement, corrections, Border Patrol, military and Air Marshals, but I have a teaching degree from Arizona State and I also sign up for substitute teaching every fall. What I’m teaching (Wednesday), I take very seriously because this stuff could save an officer’s life.

“I’ve been teaching this course since 1994 and I’ve received emails that stated that the stuff somebody learned in this class saved their bacon.”

While in town this week, Severn, 55, also met with members of the Dickinson High School and Dickinson State University wrestling programs.

“I love the sport of wrestling — I’ve been involved in the sport since 1969,” Severn. “It was a pleasure to be able to spend some time with those young kids. I’ve spent some time in this area in the past including a couple of MMA shows at the 4 Bears Casino (in New Town) and I think it’s a great area. I look around here at what’s going on now and I just see opportunity.”

Along with the new opportunities for growth and expansion that come with the Bakken oil play, the energy boom also has brought new challenges for law enforcement agencies in western North Dakota, said Lee.

“When I started here eight years ago, you could walk into a diner and recognize just about everyone,” Lee said. “Now, that’s different. There are a lot of new faces around town and, when you’re in law enforcement, that can be a spooky feeling. You don’t really know who’s coming and going in your community. That’s just one aspect that’s really changed these last few years.”

For Severn, the man who has done just about everything there is to do in wrestling — including going head-to-head with such stars as The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) — and MMA, he said he’s honored to be able to work with people he refers to as heroes.

“The public perception of those in law enforcement is always positive,” Severn said. “But these are people who are just doing their job for society and putting themselves in harm’s way. These folks are people, they’re not robots, and they put it on the line for us.”


Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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