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EXCLUSIVE: Icon Dan Severn, the man behind The Beast, talks about upbringing and career

“I was farm fed and I had farm-boy strength. I was boneheaded and would see things through, come hell or high water,” says Dan Severn.

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Retired amateur and professional wrestler Dan Severn lived his dream in sports entertainment and now shares his experience and techniques with others.
Photo / courtesy Dan Severn
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DICKINSON — Dan “The Beast” Severn was like an caged wild animal released in any ring, octagon or wrestling mat he competed on. Known for his transition from easy going Midwesterner to crazed eyed competitor, he showcased that the grappling arts were a valid self-defense platform by quickly and easily taking down even the strongest opponents with ease.

Severn fought to dominate and to destroy, and only when his arm was raised at the end of each match did the Beast return to the gentle giant. Visiting Dickinson, North Dakota this month to train law enforcement officers, Severn sat for an exclusive interview with The Dickinson Press.

Sixty-four-year-old retired professional wrestler Severn has accomplished an astounding amount of athletic achievements during his professional and amateur wrestling, MMA and professional wrestling career. Even as a child, he said he possessed a seemingly inhuman-like mental fortitude and athletic ability and was already wrestling aggressively by seventh grade.

Severn’s parents introduced him to structure, routine and responsibility almost immediately in life, which helped mold him into a strong and consistent athlete. Growing up on a 120-acre farm where he helped care for the livestock morning and night, Severn says his family instilled work ethics early. Raising everything from chickens and pigs to rabbits, lambs, ducks, geese and cattle, Severn would wake up before sunrise to care for every animal before he’d take care of himself. With a pail in hand, he’d milk “Peggy the Milk Cow” before hiking half a mile to catch the school bus, no matter the temperature — which in Coldwater, Michigan can often be in the extremes.

“There is something about drinking wholesome milk and eating free-range chickens that grew up on our farm,” Severn said. “I was farm fed and I had farm-boy strength. I was boneheaded and would see things through, come hell or high water.”

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As a three-sport athlete in High School, Severn spent much of his time after school at track meets, football games or wrestling tournaments and sometimes wouldn’t make it home until midnight only to wake up early to tend to animals.

He attended Montrose Hill-McCloy High School, a small class C athletics school with no more than 100 students in his graduating class. The same structure and respect that Severn learned at home would be reinforced in him at school.

“There was corporal punishment,” Severn said. “If you got out of line, you were brought to the front of the classroom and the teacher would administer a swat.”

In addition to performing as a five-star athlete, Severn maintained a 3.4 GPA throughout his schooling — something he takes great pride in, noting that mental strength is just as important as physical acumen.

In 1971, Severn began teaching and coaching wrestling and would go on to win his first national championship in 1972. By 1976, he had became the no. 1 amateur wrestler in the country in his weight class earning him a shot at collegiate wrestling at Arizona State University, where in his freshman year of college he would achieve a 34-0 wrestling record on his way to becoming a 2X All-American at ASU.

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Structure, discipline and respect shaped Severn into a dangerously fearless athlete and intimidating in-ring competitor.
Photo / courtesy of Dan Severn

Frank Kush, the head football coach at ASU would come to various home wrestling matches to watch Severn. After matches Kush would corner Severn for a quick word.

“He’d say, ‘Severn, you’re an animal. I see linebacker written all over you,’” Severn said. “I told him coach, you’ve got me tagged correctly. I would rip out my heart and I would give it to you. But do you have 10 other players who would do the exact same thing?”

Severn says he actually loved football more than he loved wrestling, but he chose wrestling because it gave him the opportunity to win on his own accord without the need for teammates who may or may not be as dedicated to the cause as him.

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“In football, you can do your job but if someone misses a tackle or a block, your team loses. The definition of wrestling is that it’s a team sport based on individual performances. The team can lose, but I can continue on.”

In 1984, Severn's wrestling pedigree would see him presented with an opportunity to serve as the Olympic Alternate for the United States Wrestling Team.

“Had everything gone good for me, I would have retired in 1984 with an Olympic gold medal, but some political things took place and I basically got screwed over,” Severn said.

Fueled by the rage and agony of being so close to the ultimate goal, Severn continued to pursue wrestling after his Olympic dreams were squelched.

“From 1984 to 1986 I had a bad attitude,” Severn said. “I pushed the envelope so much further and wouldn’t let anyone screw me over. When I pinned people, I destroyed people. I was powered by hate. In that two-year time span I don’t think I lost a single match. I knew just how far a shoulder joint would go before it goes pop.”

Severn's reputation and performances on the mat prompted an approach by several small independent companies seeking him to turn pro. He would decline to retain his amateur wrestling status as his eyes were set on the 1992 Olympics. When a new rule was enacted that allowed wrestlers to be amateur and professional simultaneously, Severn pursued the available opportunities presented by the UFC and WWF.

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Severn set eight national records in high school and held the national record for victories by pin from 1976 to 1992.
Photo / courtesy of Dan Severn

Severn would earn the moniker “The Beast” from the legendary football player and Hall of Fame Browns running back Jim Brown. He would use his real name and persona when he transitioned into professional wrestling with the WWF. At every match, he’d wear a sweaty grey t-shirt to give the appearance that he had been backstage working out.

“Most professional wrestlers just go out there and cut promos,” Severn said. “They will flex, flex, flex, and say look at me, look at this. I didn’t want to say nothin’. I wanted to go out there and dismantle my opponents with actual technique.”

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Prior to every fight, Severn performed a routine stretching regimen for 20 minutes. Then, he’d begin practicing mock strikes and kicks. Fans would arrive to the arena early just to watch him warm up. More than anything, Severn enjoyed out wrestling his opponents before snapping on his finnishing move of a "Dragon-sleeper" or German Suplex. In WWF alone, he wrestled legendary grapplers such as The Undertaker, Doink the Clown, Owen Hart, King Kong Bundy and hundreds of others in a legendary career spanning years.

“I knew how to tell a story with facial expressions, body language and what came out of my mouth,” Severn said. "It’s about the way you carry yourself toward that cage or ring. I didn’t want any nonsense. I wasn’t gonna be wearing any pink polka-dotted trunks going out there or skipping to the ring.”

Throughout his professional wrestling career, Severn continued wrestling in the U.S. and abroad in amateur styles of Greco-Roman and Freestyle which he admits could be often much more physically brutal abroad.

“Any country that ever had a wrestling program, I have been to,” Severn said. “Amateur wrestling in the U.S. is very civilized. In a high school or college match here, if I should lift you up, I must return you to the mat safely. In freestyle Greco, if I lift you up, I can bury you 6 feet under.”

Severn competed for over 30 professional wrestling organizations and 12 professional mixed martial arts fight promotions.

An NWA Hall of Famer, 2X NWA Heavy Weight Champion and UFC Hall of Famer, Severn's list of athletic accomplishments goes on. This August, The International Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame will honor Severn with the 2022 Trailblazer Award.

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Even at age 64, Severn can still perform a wide variety of wrestling maneuvers and stretches.
Photo by Amber I. Neate

Severn has spent so much of his life wrestling in the ring and octagon that he says he even does it in his sleep.

“I’ve had a lot of gladiator dreams where I’ve been in all kinds of battles,” Severn said. “My mattress will be half off the bed because I’m actually fighting in my dreams. My wife will hear my erratic breathing and tossing, and she will wake me up and say, ‘you’re fighting again.’”

Today, Severn enjoys traveling across the U.S. to host various events including self-defense training courses, wrestling coaching camps and more. He is even a motivational speaker.

Despite his age and ruthless physical career, he isn’t slowing down any. Headstands, back bridges, forward rolls, backward rolls and cartwheels are just a few weapons in his wrestling arsenal that the mid-60s year-old still performs.

“I’m like a trained gorilla because I never stop,” Severn said. “The sport of wrestling teaches your true character traits. You will see yourself for what you are. It teaches you that you get out of life what you put into it. Are you going to be just a bench warmer on the seats or are you going to be engaging in the game?”

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In his free time, Severn enjoys instructing ground defense tactics programs, wrestling training and motivational speaking.
Photo by Amber I. Neate

Related Topics: DICKINSONWRESTLING
Amber Neate grew up in rural Skull Valley, Arizona. Her passion of covering sports of all types, including personal favorites wrestling, hockey, rodeo and football, began at an early age.

She obtained her Associate of Arts Degree from Yavapai Community College before attending Northern Arizona University for a three-year journalism program. While at NAU, Neate worked as an Assistant Sports Editor for the Lumberjack Newspaper as well as a hockey commentator for KJACK Radio.

Gaining her experience working for a small community paper, The Wickenburg Sun, as a general news and features reporter, her love for sports and a small-town community brings her to Dickinson to cover southwest North Dakota sports.

LANGUAGES: English
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