Fighter Dan Severn on Transition to Acting in Faith-Based Film 'Fight Within' (Q&A)

Dan Severn_The Fight Within_Still - H 2016
Courtesy of New Life Cinema Productions

Dan Severn_The Fight Within_Still - H 2016

"Have you ever been in a cage or pummeled anyone?" asks the former WWE and UFC star. "Well, honestly, I am looking to secure victory the nicest way possible in a not-so-nice industry."

After stints in the UFC and WWE — and as an alternate member of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team on three separate occasions — Dan Severn is a fighting legend. Now, the expert in mixed martial arts has made the transition to actor in a faith-based film called The Fight Within, distributed by GVN Releasing and set to open in 100 theaters Friday. The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Severn about the market for a Christian movie about professional fighting. A trailer for The Fight Within is below.

Tell me about your part in this movie.

I’m killed off pretty quickly, but I play the role of the father of the main character.

Are you an actor now?

I wouldn’t say I’m an actor by trade. I’ve been in about eight flicks, but I’ve been a professional wrestler since the 1992 Olympics. So, when you think about a professional wrestler, they’re taking on a role. Whether it be a good guy or a bad guy, you’re putting on a persona — you’re putting on a show for people. So, inadvertently, I’ve been an actor.

Now you’re in a faith-based film. What does faith-based filmmaking have to do with fighting?

Facing the struggles of life. Life is competition. In the world of cage fighting, there are only four people that have over 100 fights. I’m one of the four. There are only three in the world that have over 100 victories, and I’m one of the three. Point is, I know competition because I have been beaten.

And you became a Christian when?

I’ve been for pretty much most of my life. I’m not one of those born-again kind of fanatics. You know, the kind that stands at the front of the church and puts on a pretty good hocus-pocus act. I’m a big believer. Man, I don’t care what comes out of your mouth, because your actions speak louder than words.

How does that jive with fighting people for money?

It doesn’t shake my faith whatsoever. I could be working on an assembly line, thinking every day of what I’m doing there. What does that got to do with my faith? I’ve worked with air marshals, border patrol, military. So I know that I’m saving lives … I’m the guy you want to be friends with. I’m the guy that, if something happens, you hope really has your back.

When you’re fighting in a cage — strictly for money — pummeling somebody, what are you thinking?

What am I thinking of? Have you ever been in a cage or pummeled anyone?

No, that’s why I asked.

OK, well, honestly, I am looking to secure victory the nicest way possible in a not-so-nice industry. I'll give you an example of how it's not nice. I remember a match down in Kentucky back when it was no-holds barred. You had two rules to abide by: don’t bite your opponent and no eye-gouging. And even then, if you violated them it was not grounds for disqualification. No weight class, no timeframe, bare-knuckled action, face-to-face, two-hour pay-per view.

Do you think there’s a market for a faith-based movie about people beating each other up?

Of course there is. The competition aspect of it is probably what invites more people to actually go and watch it.

Are the fights scenes graphic, realistic?

I think they did a pretty good job. They look more realistic than they do in some other films. It’s not about how much blood is spilled — not like watching Bloodsport with Jean-Claude Van Damme, seeing blood spewing on out, people breaking necks or something like that — but we show that it’s a real competition.

Do you fight in the movie?

No. I’m basically just playing this role of an overbearing father that is pushing his son to push back more.

Are you’re pushing him into professional fighting?

No, I think I’m pushing him to excel at whatever he does. There are flashbacks of him barking orders, to look for the opening — things of that nature. The movie shows me coaching him at different segments of his life, and then, obviously, as he is now taken away into the world of mixed martial arts.

And what makes this a Christian movie?

It’s all about his struggles and his faith and the way that he competes.

Is there a part of this movie that makes you proud to have been a part of it?

The fact that your whole family can sit there and watch it. You don’t have to worry about vulgarity or nudity. There are not too many movies that you can actually watch without something like that popping up.

Do you want to do more faith-based films?

I’m not opposed to it. It all depends on how they’ll utilize me.

Tell me about the controversy that caused you to ultimately leave the WWE?

The WWE is multi-billion-dollar industry, and when I first went into it I was known as a baby face, the good guy. I was carried over from what I did in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, so I was a serious athlete. Then, they’re pitching me the idea of turning me into a bad guy. They wanted me to put "666" across my forehead. “Mark of the beast,” because my nickname was “Dan the Beast.” I put my hands up like a “T,” like a timeout, not going to happen. They said, “You know how much money you can make from this?” I said, “I’ve already made money. That’s not why I’m here.” It was probably the beginning of the end, sure.

Would you say this movie is pro-fighting or anti-fighting?

I would say it doesn’t make a judgment. The competition aspect of it is just the metaphor. The young man is actually going through more of a struggle with his own conscience.

Why should someone see this movie?

It’s kind of like a feel-good movie. Did you ever see Rocky?

Of course.

Sylvester Stallone knows he cannot beat the champ. He can’t beat the champ. And all he wants, win or lose, he just wants to know that he can go the distance. Knowing that you did your best — this attitude is what made my life.

Who is the antagonist in this film?

Oh, there’s a bad guy. There’s a lot of good versus evil in this movie, and it actually boils out in physical contact, in which the underdog is not given much of a chance or hope.