Although WWE implores fans not to try what they see on television at home, in a manner of speaking, practically everyone to actually work for the company was bound to defy that advice at some point in their lifetime. Granted, the key issue separating what these wrestlers did from what WWE is warning against was who happened to be with them when they tried it. Hopefully, aspiring wrestlers will be smart enough to seek out a seasoned veteran who can train them in how to properly perform wrestling moves, be it at their home gyms, in their backyards, or wherever else wrestling rings can be found.
While there are obviously less wrestling trainers than there are wrestlers in general, enough men and women are in the sports entertainment education business that it would be impossible to list them all in one article. What we can do is introduce some of wrestling’s greatest trainers by way of their most exemplary students, many of whom are still extremely successful today. An interesting thing to consider is that a trainer’s career is rarely relevant in regards to what their student goes on to accomplish, albeit with a caveat that the best students may well have learned from their teachers’ mistakes. Keep reading to learn about 15 pro wrestlers you didn’t know were trained by other wrestlers.
15. Killer Kowalski Trained Triple H
Certain wrestling trainers are better known than others, and Killer Kowalski is one of the most famous of all, thanks to his incredibly impressive roll call of students. Chief amongst them is definitely the self-proclaimed “King of Kings” and heir apparent to the WWE Universe, Triple H, and the 14-time WWE Champion is just the tip of the iceberg. Kowalski was also involved with the training of countless others, including HHH’s first tag team partner, Perry Saturn, and his future girlfriend, Chyna. More recently, Kowalski was able to take some credit for names like Kofi Kingston, Damien Sandow, and Fandango. Prior to training these future superstars, Kowalski himself was one of the most feared and hated villains of his era, a status he used to win countless championships, including the WWE Tag Team titles along with Big John Studd, collectively known as the Executioners. In recognition of his career as a wrestler and teacher, Kowalski was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996.
14. Lance Storm Trained Emma
If we can be serious for a moment, outside of the WWE Performance Center, an aspiring wrestler looking for training would be hard-pressed to find a better place to start than the Storm Wrestling Academy. Headed by former WWE Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion Lance Storm, who also won plenty of gold in WCW, ECW, and elsewhere around the globe, the SWA has been called one of the best wrestling schools around by names like Jim Ross, Chris Jericho, and Edge and Christian. Of course, these are all friends of Storm, and truth be told, the alumni list isn’t quite as impressive. That doesn’t mean Storm’s school is mere talk, though, as it’s completely possible his students simply haven’t hit the big time yet. There have been two moderate success stories thus far in Tyler Breeze and Emma, with other names like Sylvester Lefort and Leah West less notable but perhaps still memorable enough to deserve mention.
13. Fake Razor Ramon And Bad News Allen Trained Jinder Mahal
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that didn’t quite apply when WWE introduced the fake Diesel and Razor Ramon. While fake Diesel (a.k.a. Glenn Jacobs) went on to pretty great success as Kane, fake Razor (a.k.a. Rick Bognar) was all but forgotten in America, though he did go on to decent enough success in Japan wrestling as Big Titan.
In stark contrast to fake Razor’s mockery, Bad News Allen was a true original, years ahead of his time as a loner badass character in the late 1980s. How exactly Allen and fake Razor started working together isn’t clear, but whatever the circumstances, their collective talents were in part responsible for training Jinder Mahal. Mahal’s uncle Gama Singh was also involved in the process. Both Allen and fake Razor have been separately responsible for training a number of other smaller stars, as well, but none have been particularly noteworthy as of yet.
12. The Quebecers Trained Kevin Owens
Whether remembered as one of the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, half of the Quebecers, or maybe the Mountie, former WWE Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion Jacques Rougeau was mostly viewed as a somewhat comedic figure. Double that for Carl Ouelette, aka Jean-Pierre LaFitte, the first wrestling pirate. While this is occasionally the case with their student Kevin Owens, when the Prizefighter is at his best, comedy is the last thing on the crowd’s mind. As the owner of the wrestling school, Rougeau was Owens’ original main trainer, although he also credits Terry Taylor with having given him essential schooling later in his career. However, it was the Quebecers who clearly provided Owens with his foundation as a young trainee in Canada, not to mention Ouelette’s Cannonball, surely inspiring one of KO’s trademark moves. Jacques still runs a school and has produced a number of students who show great potential, including his own son Cedric, although it will be some time before he or anyone else comes near Owens as the prize trainee.
11. William Regal Trained Daniel Bryan
Long before he spearheaded the Yes Movement, Daniel Bryan was a standout on the independent scene, calling himself the American Dragon. Given this moniker, it may be a bit surprising to learn he credits William Regal as his most integral trainer, what with Regal’s own style and heritage being pointedly British. Prior to meeting Regal, Bryan was first trained by Shawn Michaels and Rudy Boy Gonzalez, who were also certainly integral in his development as a worker. Not entirely through coincidence, Bryan was a tag team partner to Brian Kendrick throughout this era, and thus Kendrick found himself receiving training from the same industry icons as Bryan. While the school run by Michaels and Gonzalez produced several other notable trainees like Lance Cade, Paul London, and Hernandez, it might be worth considering that none were quite as successful as the ones who also had help from Regal, proving who between them was the better teacher of the bunch.
10. Verne Gagne Trained Ric Flair
At this point in history, it’s hard to imagine Ric Flair as anything other than The Man. Believe it or not, way back when he first trained to be a wrestling in the early-‘70s, he was actually the least qualified athlete in his wrestling school class. Flair trained with AWA legend Verne Gagne on the advice of his friends Ken Patera and Greg Gagne, both accomplished amateur wrestlers, unlike Flair. Also in the class were Jim Brunzell and the Iron Sheik, who had significant amateur training as well. In part due to this lack of preparation, Flair actually quit the training camp no less than three times, only for Verne to essentially beat him into coming back. Clearly, it more than paid off, as Flair has gone on to achieve far more than any of his classmates, some of whom didn’t do too bad for themselves, either.
9. Rikishi And Gangrel Trained Rusev
Notwithstanding the fact both became unlikely successes in WWE during the Attitude Era, there’s almost nothing to connect Rikishi and Gangrel. One is a WWE Hall of Famer who ascended to the main event after winning the WWE Intercontinental and Tag Team Championships multiple times, all with the odd gimmick of being an overweight hip hop dancer. The other was a wrestling vampire, slightly more in line with expectations insofar as he never won any major gold off the concept. Despite their differences, Rikishi and Gangrel somehow became partners at the Knokx Pro Wrestling Academy, where they collectively train aspiring young superstars. Rikishi’s cousin Black Pearl is also involved in operating the school. Still relatively new on the scene, KPWA has yet to produce many stars, though they already have one major success story through the “Bulgarian Brute” Rusev. Given his unique skills, Rusev’s exact career trajectory will be hard to match, but the star power available to academy could well produce another winner before long.
8. Mr. Hughes Trained Apollo Crews
Fans who remember Mr. Hughes likely know him as the journeyman bodyguard who made history by being the first man to steal The Undertaker’s urn. That said, there’s no blaming a fan who didn’t know this, because Mr. Hughes wasn’t exactly a big star despite spending time in WWE, ECW, and WCW. Quite frankly, Hughes didn’t have much in the way of ring skills, serving as more of a baseline enforcer with an intimidating look. This didn’t stop him from becoming a respected trainer after his career winded down, though, and thus far Hughes’s greatest student has been Apollo Crews. While his WWE career has yet to take off, Crews already impressed on the indie scene as Uhaa Nation, showing far more technical fair then his hulking mentor. Reports indicate Hughes is out of the managing game, so Crews may well remain his best student, but he isn’t alone—The Ruffneck also taught Heath Slater, Moose, AR Fox, and Samuel Shaw, amongst other smaller names.
7. Hiro Matsuda Trained Hulk Hogan
After having himself been taught by industry icons Rikidōzan and Karl Gotch, “The Master of the Japanese Sleeper” Hiro Matsuda blended the basics of pro wrestling with an emphasis on physical toughness to create some of the biggest legends of the 1980s. Chief amongst them was Hulk Hogan, who also best explains Matsuda’s training style with a story about how his training began. Apparently, Matsuda felt Hogan wasn’t serious about the industry, and intentionally broke his leg on his first day of training as a test. Hogan impressed Matsuda by returning immediately after his injury healed, and received legitimate training from then on. While none of them offer stories quite like this one, Matsuda also trained future legends like Lex Luger, Ron Simmons, Scott Hall, and Bob Orton, Jr., amongst many others.
6. Finn Balor Trained Becky Lynch
Given the current women’s wrestling revolution, it probably won’t be long before lists like this have as many female names on the trainer side as the men. As it stands right now, there aren’t many female wrestling trainers on the major scale outside of Sara Del Rey at the WWE Performance Center, and thus most famous women wrestlers today were in some way trained by men. The latest example of this trend has been seen in Fínn Balor’s training of Becky Lynch, which was also influenced by a general lack of wrestling schools throughout their native Ireland. This was of course well prior to either of them entering the WWE Universe, and Lynch had, in fact, taken a long sabbatical between her training with Balor and signing with the company, no doubt receiving plenty of additional training through NXT when she did so. Even so, the bond between Balor and Lynch remains extremely strong, showing modern fans how important a wrestler’s first trainer can remain for the rest of their lives.
5. Dave Taylor Trained Cesaro
As the best representative of European wrestling in WWE today, it makes sense Cesaro would be trained by a master of the genre in Dave Taylor. Equally unsurprising is that Taylor wasn’t Cesaro first or only trainer, as the Swiss Sensation started off in his home country with an education by way of SigMasta Rappo. Taylor is definitely the more famous of Cesaro’s teachers, though, as he later became one of the head trainers for WWE developmental territory Deep South Wrestling. His influence can definitely be seen in WWE today, each time an announcer tries to claim a superstar was influenced by the European style. That isn’t all, as Taylor was also involved with training CM Punk. It looks like Cesaro will always be Taylor’s closest student, though, or at least the only one he ever later formed a tag team with, as members of Team Uppercut in Ring of Honor.
4. Rick Michaels Trained A.J. Styles
It would be natural to assume some industry legend must have been involved in training a superstar as phenomenal as A.J. Styles, and yet his trainer Rick Michaels is probably the least famous name on this list. Of course, that’s the entire point, as it elaborates the idea that one’s trainer in no way dictates how successful they could become. Michaels’ sole noteworthy success in the wrestling industry was appearing for ECW in the earliest days of the company as Super Ninja, though he never won any championships of note. For all his lack of achievement in the ring, Michaels had a second life as the founder of NWA Wildside, where he also trained many of his future opponents. Further suggesting Styles’s talents may have been virtuosic and unrelated to his training, none of Michaels other students have become particularly notable, either, A.J. serving the “Phenomenal” exception to the school’s low success rate.
3. Chris Adams Trained Steve Austin
On paper, something seems off about wrestling’s ultimate badass “Stone Cold” Steve Austin having been trained by a self-proclaimed “Gentleman” from England like Chris Adams. However, a little digging reveals Adams was closer to being a tough Texan than his heritage let on, having built his reputation in the US working for WCCW. After becoming one of the biggest stars of the territory, Adams started a wrestling school while still performing, and Austin was indeed his biggest and most immediately successful protégé. Granted, “protégé” may be the right word, as Austin later claimed Adams didn’t do the best job at training him about the ways of the business. Somehow Austin didn’t hold it against him, though, as the two remained friends for many years. Perhaps it had something to do with Adams also introducing Austin to one of his wives, Lady Blossom, who also happened to be the Gentleman’s ex. Turns out gestures like that can more than makeup for a some shoddy training.
2. Ric Flair Trained Stan Lane
Years after getting his own training from Verne Gagne, the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair made a career out of telling people that to be the man, they had to beat the man. Perhaps in part to ensure no one would know all his tricks and accomplish such a task, Flair rarely took upon students, but the one he did take was a “Fabulous” one, for sure. Stan Lane is best known as a consummate tag team specialist, especially through his work with The Midnight Express, which lead to a number of NWA Tag Team Championships, plus plenty of other gold. Despite the incredible lineage of being Ric Flair’s student, Lane never branched out into the solo realms, therefore never coming close to his trainer’s legacy. That said, Lane did earn a main event or two along the way, once facing off against his trainer at Clash of the Champions IV in a tag team match.
1. Val Venis Trained Bobby Roode
All it takes for any of these wrestlers to start their path to the ring is one chance encounter. For Bobby Roode, that happened at an Ontario gym coincidentally also frequented by Val Venis, who had recently signed with WWE when he and Roode crossed paths. Roode merely asked for advice on how to break into the business, but Venis went way beyond the call of duty by offering to train Roode in the basics personally, doing so in his own backyard. Because Venis was about to embark on the best period of his career, he didn’t have that much time to train Roode, and it was up to his tag team partner and future TNA referee Shane Sewell to fill in the blanks. While Venis was busy, his fellow Canadian Glamour Boy was able to produce a Glorious wrestler who dominates NXT to this day.
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