In 1974 David Thompson was walking on air. The high flying North Carolina State star soared like no one had before. Not the "Hawk" Connie Hawkins or the great Elgin Baylor; it wasn't until Michael Jordan emerged on the scene nearly a decade later that anyone could claim to be Thompson's equal. In the Final Four that year against UCLA, the 6-4 Thompson leaped into the air to challenge Bill Walton's shot. Walton, nearly a foot taller, stood no chance. The ball went sailing.
Thompson was a one of a kind athlete. In 1974. By 1992 he was a relic. When Thompson tried to dunk that year in an NBA old timer's game, he blew out his knee, rupturing his left patella. He ended his night writhing in pain - and left the arena in a stretcher. For the NBA, it was the last straw. The old timer's game was replaced with a Rookie/Sophomore Game. No one wanted to see the ancients looking to relive history one final time. Basketball is a young man's sport. Cage fighting even more so.
That's what makes watching 52 year old Dan Severn compete in MMA so disconcerting. Severn, on a quixotic quest to win 100 MMA fights, keeps plugging away - even though his fighting days, by all rights, should have ended long ago. Even during his absolute prime as a fighter, UFC officials described Severn as a Clydesdale. He wasn't pretty and he'd never win any races - but the old horse could get the job done. This past weekend, Severn didn't even look like a serviceable plow horse.
On Friday night he met prospect Lee Beane in Worchester, Massachusetts. Melanin and muscle tone weren't the only things missing in the cage that night. A woefully out of place referee took a painfully long time to stop the fight when Severn was knocked cold in the first round. Beane finally had to regulate himself, throwing his hands in the air like "enough is enough." The bout was called and Severn eventually regained enough composure to thank a small crowd for their support.
For Severn, the glory days are now a distant memory. The former UFC Superfight champion looked so awful in a UFC 27 main event against Pedro Rizzo that then UFC matchmaker John Peretti wanted to make it perfectly clear, on live television no less, that he hadn't been responsible for putting the overmatched Severn on the show. That was dozens of fights and a decade ago.
Enough. We need look no further than Severn's contemporary Gary Goodridge for all the reasons "the Beast" shouldn't be fighting. Goodridge has seen his speech, coordination, and memory decline dramatically in recent years. While Severn has been lucky enough to avoid being on the wrong end of many career shortening knockouts, he has lost his last two fights looking up at the ceiling.
The crowd means well by coming out and cheering on heroes from yesteryear. But it's support that is misplaced, no matter how well intentioned. Cheering Severn and other veterans well past their prime like Jens Pulver and Ken Shamrock only encourages them to continue fighting. And fighting is a horrible idea for anyone. It's rough on the body and the mind when you do it right - and that's when you're in the prime of your life. Fighting past 50 is playing with fire. And if Severn doesn't know better, it's time for the athletic commissions to step in and do the right thing. It's time for Dan Severn to walk away - while he still can.