The Beast Within

UFC Hall of Famer Dan “The Beast” Severn shares with readers the trials and tribulations of fighting inside and outside of the cage.

For my entire career, I have usually managed to keep my personal life and my fighting separate. Like a lot of top fighters, I like to keep that side private, which means that most people don’t understand the external factors that can affect a fighter’s career. I recently suffered back-to-back loses, one by TKO and one by KO. That has never happened before in my career, so to have it happen back-to-back was very difficult. Many people seemed quick to write me off, but there’s more to the story.

A little more than a year ago, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimerism— an Alzheimer’s-type dementia. In just more than one year, my father went from being a relatively healthy man who stood 6’3”, 260 lbs. to a man who weighed only 150 lbs. His frame was essentially skin on his bones, because he had no appetite. There were a lot of emotional conversations that precluded my family’s decision to prolong my father’s life. We had to consider whether we were prolonging the suffering while denying him any sort of quality of life.

In the final three to four months of my father’s life, I became the primary caregiver out of seven other brothers and sisters. All of my other siblings have “normal” jobs that involve working during the day. Since I have a more flexible schedule, it was my responsibility to step up. There were about six days that I thought the morphine shot I was administering to my father might be the one to put him under. I thought I was witnessing him die right in front of me.

During this time, I was unable to train for my fights. I was trying to fit every priority into my agenda. That only left the opportunity to engage in a few token exercises each week. My business obligations at Michigan Sports Camp—135 miles away from my parents’ house— meant that I had no fight training other than the MMA classes that I run on Tuesdays and Thursday nights. As soon as my responsibilities were done, I would answer emails with my business partner Mark Pennington before rushing back home to look after my father. It was difficult because I was always thinking about him.

There were always nurses and doctors that would attend to my father, but he was in a frightened and confused state. He really needed familiar surroundings at every moment. Even on the days of my last two fights, I was constantly making phone calls to make sure my father was looked after. The last thing I needed to be thinking about was trying to engage in a fight. My second-to-last fight is almost a complete blur. I know that I was winning the match until the final minute when my opponent broke loose. I was told by the promoter and my corner men that I received several blows to the back of the head. I don’t remember much after that.

As for my last fight, I should have just opted out. However, King of the Cage Canada promoted the match so I had to fight. They actually changed the opponent at the last minute when my original opponent incurred an injury. Since I do my homework, I knew his replacement was a stud. As a fellow promoter, I knew that it was not a good match, but at the same time, I understand what it’s like to have your back against the wall. Many guys who sign a contract promising that they will be there, never show up. I’ve got one of the best reputations in terms of my word and my handshake. I still went out and fought.

Now, keep in mind that there’s always going to be personal problems or injuries, but I’ve never had something affect me so emotionally. Whenever I would see my parents’ number come up on my cell phone, I feared it was the call telling me that my father passed.

Most people know that I’ve been a competitor my entire life. Since I gave the promoter my word, I was going to fight, despite the troubles. I train young fighters and promote amateur events. Sometimes I don’t know whether I’m running a training facility, an MMA company, or a young man’s grooming school. I try every day to make sure that these men understand that they have responsibilities in life. Your actions can have both positive and negative consequences. I’m hoping that if I can rub their noses into reality a little bit, hopefully they will become a more productive individual later on in life.

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