Before the WWE established their own developmental brand with NXT, and even before the days of Ohio Valley Wrestling, they often partnered with smaller wrestling promotions to help develop talent. One of those was Ultimate Pro-Wrestling and the likes of John Cena, The Miz and Samoa Joe passed through UPW before heading to WWE.
Rick Bassman was the owner and founder of UPW and he talked about starting Ultimate Pro Wrestling on The Payoff Pod.
"So I wanted to start a school and I started a school. It was called Ultimate University and started a promotion that was attended to that was called Ultimate Pro-Wrestling, or UPW. Not long thereafter, I signed my first development deal with WWF...," said Bassman. "I had two different contractual periods with them under UPW, and in that period of time I discovered, trained and delivered. When I said trained, I did a little bit of it myself. I'm not a worker; I trained promo class. I think I'm pretty good at that... I did a little bit of psychology work and in-ring training, but I had great trainers. When I say I, I never mean I. It's we, us, our, it was a whole collective effort.
"Let's say through the UPW system, which I ran point on, through the years there were 43 guys and girls that went on to WWF and in WWE through me in my system. That's a record that'll never be equaled again... But some of the guys and girls were Victoria, who became WWE women's champion, of course. Nathan Jones, John Heidenrich, Chris Masters, The Miz, John Cena. These are all people that I started with. There are also a whole bunch of others that came to us, guys like Paul London and Brian Kendrick. They were already well, well into their training and working days but they would relocate, from their case from Texas, all the way to California to be part of my system because they believe they can best be seen through UPW then take the next leap."
Long before Bassman founded UPW, he was scouting talent and looking for the next wrestling superstar. One of those people who he helped discover was The Ultimate Warrior who was transitioning from bodybuilding to wrestling. Bassman talked about helping discover the Warrior before he made it big in the world of pro wrestling.
"A new friend at that time was Ed Connors who was one of the founders and was the operating partner of Gold's Gym, worldwide, including in Venice where he was headquartered," Bassman said. "I told him we were looking [for aspiring wrestlers]. He goes, 'I think I might have a perfect guy for you.' He shows me this photo of Jim Hellwig [The Ultimate Warrior] in his bodybuilding prime, and I looked at that photo, I'm like, 'Holy sh*t!' Physique-wise, face-wise – I mean, this guy just – the hair...He looked absolutely amazing.
"So Ed said, 'Can I set up a phone call?' Anyway, impression one was the visual, just the photographic image. Two was Ed asked if I wanted to set a call. Of course I took him up on it. Got on the phone with Jim, and my initial impressions were extremely intelligent, extremely articulate and pretty introspective. Businesslike for sure, but I thought for sure when I got off that first call that I had my guy."
That was in the mid-1980s and just a few years later The Warrior was headlining WrestleMania VI in a match against Hulk Hogan. While the match featured the two most popular WWE wrestlers at the time, it isn't hailed as an all-time classic due to the lumbering styles of both competitors.
Still though, Bassman says the focus should be more so on the reactions generated than the technical aspects of the match.
"Whatever the lack of high-flying, incredible five-star match or whatever...we watched these matches," stated Bassman. "Obviously, we're watching them on mute so I've been paying more attention to crowd reaction than I ever probably did prior to this. I look at the fans, I mean, they went nuts. They loved it. It was significant to them. Therefore, you can't really say that it wasn't a home run of a match. Obviously, it's something that lives on all these years later."