Dan Severn didn't know what to make of the Ultimate Fighting Championships at first. A friend brought him VHS tapes of the first two UFC cards in 1992.
"I was seeing people get soccer-kicked in the face," said Severn, who was an accomplished amateur wrestler and had made a name for himself in the world of pro wrestling. "I was thinking that these weren't necessarily skills that I possess. But then my buddy said, ‘Just look at this skinny little guy who was doing jiu-jitsu.' Of course, he was referring to Royce Gracie."
After watching Gracie work, Severn thought the UFC might be for him, and the Michigan native was right. He became one of the early stars of UFC, the only triple crown winner in UFC history, having won two eight-man UFC tournaments as well as the Ultimate Ultimate in 1996.
"I engaged something at a very late juncture in life," Severn, 54, said. "I did very well with it, and it has opened up a lot of other doors for me."
One of those doors was to speaking engagements. Severn has spent the last three days in the Quincy-Hannibal area. On Wednesday night, Severn spoke at Oakwood Elementary School in Hannibal, where a group has formed as part of the nationwide "Watch D.O.G.S. Program." The program encourages men to get involved in their childrens' lives at school and at home
Thursday and Friday were spent showing young people his craft. On Thursday night, Severn was back in Hannibal to lecture and teach students with the Gracie Barra Martial Arts School. On Friday, Severn spoke with students from Legacy Martial Arts in Quincy. Those children were able to learn from a UFC Hall of Fame member who went on to become a WWE Superstar.
Severn, whose nickname is "The Beast," entered what was then known as the WWF in 1998. He was matched in a program with former MMA rival Ken Shamrock.
"Mixed martial arts doesn't hold a candlestick to the wacky world of professional rasslin'," Severn said. "I say it like that. It's not wrestling. It's rasslin' where men in tights settle their differences in the squared circle."
Severn was in WWF for two years, feuding with the likes of the late Owen Hart and appearing in the Brawl For All tournament, King of the Ring tournament and the Royal Rumble before he left the company. These days, Severn doesn't watch too much professional wrestling.
Up until last year, Severn was still active in the MMA octagon. He had his last official match in April 2012, winning a decision during an event in Davenport, Iowa. It was the 127th MMA match of his career. Severn amassed a record of 101-19-7 before officially retiring Jan. 1.
The trophy room at his Coldwater, Mich., home has to be huge. He won 13 National AAU wrestling championships during his amateur wrestling career. He was the first fighter to be awarded a UFC championship belt and was a two-time NWA world champion in the professional wrestling ranks.
As one of the pioneers of the UFC, Severn is happy to see the sport enter the mainstream with its monthly pay-per-view events, cable TV shows and occasional cards that are carried on the Fox network.
"I knew it had that draw and appeal," Severn said.
The UFC may have never reached the heights that it has without guys like Severn leading the way in the early days.