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Training Ground - Ultimate University for wrestlers

Wrestling DigestFeb, 2001   by Brad Perkins

The Ultimate University is a proving ground for future WWF stars such as the Prototype

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO become a professional wrestler? Hard work, dedication, and a little luck.

And knowing Rick Bassman doesn't hurt, either.

Bassman runs the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Ultimate University. He has been around wrestling for 15 years and knows what it takes to become a star.

"If you're born into it, you have a leg up," Bassman says. "But whether someone comes in with `it' or not, they have to have the right attitude, know it's hard to make it, and be supportive of people."

Since its inception in 1998, Ultimate University has sent 13 wrestlers to the WWF and it looks to send more in 2001. Ultimate University is one of four feeder schools to the WWF but it also sends students to other federations.

"We're officially the WWF's West Coast representative," Bassman says, "so our focus is developing people for the WWF. WCW is familiar with Our relationship and said, `We know guys will come through who look good, but the WWF won't want them, so send them to us.'"

Through Ultimate Management Group--another arm of Ultimate Industries, the all-encompassing title of the company that includes the university, its federation Ultimate Professional Wrestling, UMG and Ultimate Entertainment--Bassman and partner Roger LeBlanc manage wrestlers such as Rey Mysterio Jr., Christopher Daniels, and Ultimate's own students. UMG manages wrestlers in every aspect of their careers and books nearly half of all parts wrestlers perform in movies and television. Ultimate students have appeared in "G vs. E," "ER," "The Drew Carey Show," and "Mad About You," to name a few.

"We're managers who work with the talent in every single aspect of their careers," Bassman says. "We're creating opportunities for them and capitalizing on those opportunities."

Ultimate Entertainment is the arm that capitalizes on these opportunities.

"We do everything entertainment-related as it pertains to wrestling," LeBlanc says. "It's the all-encompassing part of UPW, and predominantly all of UE's entertainment ventures will be with UPW."

Bassman has been in the managing business for much longer than the two years of Ultimate. In fact, it was through WCW performer Sting that Bassman got his start.

Bassman says he came up with the concept of the "real" American heroes and booked four wrestlers to play the parts during wrestling's boom in the mid-1980s. He booked them in independent shows and got them training. Two of the wrestlers didn't succeed, but the other two were Steve "Sting" Borden and "Ultimate Warrior" Jim Hellwig, both of whom went on to successful careers in professional wrestling.

Bassman went on to book shows for California Championship Wrestling until he went to Disney as an executive in 1990. He started Extreme University in 1997 with Tom Howard as his first instructor.

"There were days when five students was a busy day," Bassman says. "We developed Extreme University to be a multifaceted fighting and wrestling center. Soon, we started focusing on wrestling, which has been the main focus."

Bassman sold Extreme University in 1998 and then opened Ultimate University after the WWF's Gerald Brisco and Bruce Prichard asked Bassman to put together a cast for an all-women wrestling show that never saw the light of day. "They were impressed with the way we put things together," Bassman says.

From there, a partnership to develop WWF talent formed between the No. 1 wrestling federation and possibly the No. 1 school.

"No one offers what we do," says head instructor Brett "Big Schwag" Wagner. "We really nurture the wrestler. We don't just train them, give them a piece of paper and say `good luck.' It's a family atmosphere."

With that family nurturing in mind, Bassman started UPW to give his students a chance to perform at actual shows and not just in the training gym. UPW runs an average of 10 shows per month, with WWF agents like Prichard coming down once a month. Every student performer gets a written review from the WWF, Wagner says.

DEVELOPING TALENT

One of these shows was featured on the Discovery Channel's "Inside Pro Wrestling School." The look at Ultimate University and its students, including the Prototype, Loony Lane, and Sadyst, followed the up-and-comers in both their personal lives and wrestling guises.

"[Prototype] may become a big star, it's possible," Bassman says. "He's the kind of guy, you look at him and you say, `Wow, look at that guy.' He'll get as good as his body lets him."

The Prototype, whose real name is John Cena, was one of the new students featured in the Discovery Channel special. The blond former body builder has been offered a WWF contract.

"I think when he does get on TV, he'll be explosive from day one," Bassman says.

Three of Bassman's students have appeared on WWF television in 2000: Caryn Mower, Frosty Moore, and Lisa Marie Varon. Mower appeared briefly on television and at arena shows as Stephanie McMahon-Helmsely's personal trainer. Mower would implore the "fat people" in the audience to get up and exercise with her during commercial breaks. Moore, known in UPW as Miss Delicious, and Varon appeared on WWF television in August leading the "save the hos" chant after Steven Richards converted the Godfather into the Goodfather.

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