Rick Bassman founded UPW which was a developmental school that produced a number of future Superstars. The most notable of those is John Cena and Bassman was asked about discovering Cena when he joined The Wrestling Inc Daily podcast.
"I started John Cena at UPW. People always wanna give me credit for 'discovering' John Cena. But the truth is that John Cena discovered John Cena. He put the body together that he has and he was either born with or developed the work ethic he has. Whether it had been UPW or XYZ Wrestling School, I think ultimately, he would have found his way [to WWE]," said Bassman.
"But he found his way there through my system and it's one that I personally and financially supported so guys like John could have a place to get training and exposure and be put in front of people that could really bring his career to the next level. I did that for John and for free because at the time he came to me and told me he didn't have the money to go to the school. But I knew the guy would be a star. You didn't have to be a genius to see that he had all of the gifts and was positively going somewhere.
"The polar opposite of being appreciative about it, he's gone out of his way to hurt me and bury me ever since. It boggled my mind; that's all."
Bassman then expanded on that last comment and explained the history between he and Cena.
"John and I were never buddies. We got along but there's some guys from my company like Nova and [Paul] London that I'll be friends with until the day I die. We are buddies but John and I were never buddies," stated Bassman. "What happened was, immediately after leaving UPW he went to OVW and Cornette – who absolutely hates me even though I love him, not as a person as I don't really know him. I'd love to simultaneously beat the sh*t out of him and sit down and go to dinner with him. But John got to OVW, and I've heard this from so many people, that Cornette went to work on him and immediately said, 'Don't let that piece of sh*t [Bassman] put his hand in his pocket. Don't pay him a penny. He's taken advantage of the boys and that's not how it works.'"
Bassman then talked about how at UPW he put the school together himself, including paying for insurance which is not something most other schools did. He then put over the photographers and promotional materials he offered to help talent get work.
"There were two things that I charged for. One was tuition which was $250 per month and I can tell you that the aggregate tuition never covered the expenses of running a business. Then, Barry Bloom – who was the first business manager in wrestling – he and I set up a partnership where we set up a management company. It was to take people from the school who had potential, sign them to management, create opportunities for them and hopefully better their careers," said Bassman.
He then noted he had a couple of strikes against himself that made him appear evil including being a promoter, being Jewish and being short which played into a Napoleonic Complex.
"No matter how hard I worked and how good a guy I am, there's gonna be certain perception. That's part of what Cornette went at also. 'This guy is a scam artist and scumbag. He's taken money from you.' But, what wasn't taken into account was John coming up to me with tears in his eyes and saying he can't afford the tuition," recalled Bassman.
"I put him on 'scholarship.' I did it not because John and I were buddies but because I knew the guy was gonna make it. We talked about signing him management knowing I would get it back in other ways. So, we signed him to a management agreement."
Bassman said he booked Cena on a show called Manhunters and he worked hard to get John $40,000, including leaving his wedding anniversary dinner to close the deal.
"I was genuinely excited for John and this is where people who are haters can choose to believe me or not. My favorite thing to do was to call people and give them good news. Yeah, I wanna make my commission but, believe it or not, I love to deliver good news. So, I called John, 'John, deal's closed and we got you $40,000.' He goes to me, 'Huh, don't spend that $4,000 in one place, Rick.' It was so obnoxiously magnanimous. Here's a guy who just netted $36,000 and couldn't afford tuition a few months before. Right then I thought this is weird," stated Bassman.
"Anyway, John got to OVW and back in the day their average development deal then was $300 a week. That was a godsend back then as the idea of paying wrestlers to train was a whole new thing."
He then noted that he signed 43 people to WWE via UPW. He would be sent the contracts by WWE and then he'd hold a ceremony at the school for the talent. Cena was part a a four-man class and was the biggest star of the group.
"[The other three] had deals worth $300 a week. John's was $500 and that was unusual for those times. But I went to work hard on Bruce Prichard and Jim Ross who ran Talent Relations," said Bassman. "I told them he's gonna be a star and has a work ethic that's second to none. So we got him $500 and John paid me my $50 commission for 3-4 weeks… The second he got to OVW, he sent me a one-line letter dismissing me as his manager. Ever since then he's talked about me as shady and as a guy who takes advantage of the boys and puts his hands in their pockets. So, there you go."
Bassman then talked about where he and Cena stand at today.
"I don't really care and I don't ever expect any resolution on this. If I saw John today I would probably try to have a conversation with him. I don't want anything out of it as I hate shattered relationships and broken bridges. I've been really fortunate in my life to be able to put together any relationship a rift has developed in," said Bassman.
"With John, I'll say this about him – I'm in no way begrudging his success. This guy worked his ass off. I see that. But the disconnect, in my mind, comes in the way I described to you. I'd love to hear his take on it. Again, I don't really need to and he'd probably wouldn't waist the time or the breath on it. But I made a big investment – not in him per se – but an investment in having a place that I put together that people could come to and get opportunities from. I worked hard and smart to do that.
"At the end of the day, a good agent or manager who takes commission… sometimes you'll collect commission for years and years on a job you did very little work on. But typically, it's a lot of work and you're using your investment and beyond that, hopefully you've done a deal for the talent where their net is more than it would have been if they did the deal themselves. And I always did that for my clients."
Coincidentally this interview comes shortly after Cena's match at WrestleMania where the Firefly Fun House was a bit of an existential look at Cena's relationships with people. Bassman was asked if he saw any parallels between that match and the real John Cena.
"Here's a guy who's very intelligent but is at a certain age now. He's had amazing success for a long time but maybe he's stopping for a minute and going, 'Wow.' And I don't mean him going, 'Oh, that Rick Bassman is such a great guy after all' because it's never black and white. It's always shades of gray," said Bassman.
"Maybe John's finding his shades of gray a little bit; I don't know. One can only wish him the best on that journey."
Rick Bassman can be heard every week on his podcast Talking Tough. Bassman's full interview with Wrestling Inc aired as part of a recent episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it's released Monday - Friday afternoon by clicking here.