Hundreds of aspiring superstars darken the doorways of wrestling schools around the world every year with aspirations of fame and fortune. However, while many schools can boast many years in operation, often times their track record reveals that their graduates may never have achieved the potential that they envisioned when slapping their money down to train. In many cases, as the business of professional wrestling declined on the independents in the 1990’s, many promoters saw the addition of a wrestling school to their portfolio as a means to offset losses at the box office for their wrestling shows. In addition, they could breed a regular influx of new talent for their own shows.
There are, however, a number of established and outstanding wrestling schools across North America and around the world whose trainers have earned distinction for helping to build the foundation upon which Hall of Fame careers have been developed. The following 20 wrestling schools and trainers are among the most respected of all time, demonstrating a track record of producing talent that has ascended to the upper echelon of professional wrestling and who are willing to give credit to the individuals that gave them their start on the road to stardom.
20 Ted Betley
19 Michelle Starr
18 Shawn Michaels
While heralded as “Mr. WrestleMania” for his show-stopping performances in the ring, many people often forget that after his initial retirement from the industry in 1998, Shawn Michaels returned home to San Antonio, Texas where he opened up his own wrestling school. While his time as a trainer was fairly short-lived, the success of the wrestlers to be produced from the camp cannot be under-stated. Most famously, future WWE World champion and SmackDown general manager Daniel Bryan is a product of the Michaels school. Other alumni include TNA’s Matt Bentley, former WWE and World tag team champions The Hooligans - Paul London & Bryan Kendrick.
17 The Malenko Wrestling School (Boris & Dean Malenko)
16 Ohio Valley Wrestling (Danny Davis/Rip Rogers)
15 Can-Am Wrestling School (Scott D’Amore)
While Hamilton, Ontario was considered the epi-center for producing top wrestlers during the tenure of Jack Wentworth, that title may have shifted to Windsor, Ontario over the past generation and Scott D’Amore’s Can-Am Wrestling School. D’Amore, a well-travelled wrestler in his own right, has appeared for WCW, WWE, and TNA and has years of experience as a promoter as well with his Border City Wrestling promotion. D’Amore’s contributions to the business as a trainer are equally significant as the school lays claim to launching the careers of The Motor City Machine Guns – Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley – Petey Williams and Rhyno.
14 Fabulous Moolah
In wrestling history, very few wrestling schools have focused exclusively on training for women. If a female trainee was breaking into the business, she might find herself doing so as the lone lady among her male classmates. However, in the 1970s and '80s, Lillian Ellison established one of two wrestling schools for women in the United States, based in Columbia, South Carolina. Moolah, who also reigned as Women’s champion at that time, had considerable influence over wrestling promoters and was able to ensure an active match schedule for her girls once they graduated from her program, for a fee, of course.
13 The Monster Factory (Larry Sharpe)
12 Eddie Sharkey
While AWA promoter Verne Gagne may be recognized for his Minnesota-based wrestling camp, his long-time rival, Eddie Sharkey, is certainly no slouch in the training arena as well. In an interview for Minneapolis magazine City Pages, Sharkey admits that he has lost count of how many wrestlers have passed through his camp. Among them are wrestling Hall of Famers The Road Warriors – Animal and Hawk – Rick Rude, Barry Darsow, Jerry Lynn, X-Pac, Nord the Barbarian, Madusa Miceli, Jesse Ventura, Lenny Lane, Rick and Scott Steiner and even current era NXT star Austin Aries. Interestingly, Barry Darsow, who would train in the same camp as Michael Hegstrand (Hawk) and Joe Laurinaitis (Animal), would later go on to form a tag team that was considered by many to be a Road Warriors clone – Demolition.
11 Storm Wrestling Academy (Lance Storm)
10 Wild Samoan Training Centre (Afa Anoai)
9 Hart Brothers Wrestling Camp (Bruce & Ross Hart)
8 Johnny Rodz School of Wrestling
7 Sully’s Gym (Ron Hutchison)
6 Harley Race Wrestling Academy
5 The Funking Conservatory (Dory Funk Jr.)
4 Killer Kowalski’s Pro Wrestling School
3 Les Thatcher
2 The Dungeon (Stu Hart)
There can be little doubt that Calgary, Alberta is home to one of the most infamous wrestling schools in the history of professional wrestling. The basement of Stu Hart’s Calgary mansion, more commonly known as “The Dungeon,” was the starting point of many great ring careers – as well as a spot that deterred many from pursuing a career in the ring. Stu, an amateur that once had aspirations to compete in the Olympics, set up his basement with some weights and mats and used the space to train wrestlers. Among the stars to get their start with Stu include are WWE Hall of Famers “Superstar” Billy Graham and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine.
1 Verne Gagne
While Verne Gagne’s Hall of Fame career focuses primarily on his efforts as the founder and driving force behind the Minnesota-based American Wrestling Association, his contributions to the sport as a trainer may hold an even greater significance. Consider the number of world champions and future Hall of Famers alone that Gagne produced and his track record is truly staggering. The list of alumni from his camp includes WWE World champions Bob Backlund, The Iron Sheik, & Sgt. Slaughter; NWA World champions Ric Flair & Ricky Steamboat; and AWA World champions Dick the Bruiser & Curt Hennig. These champions are just the tip of the iceberg from one of the premiere wrestling camps of the 1960s and '70s that produced dozens of wrestlers who went on to become household names. Gagne’s reputation as a no-nonsense trainer and credible amateur meant that a graduate of the Gagne camp was sure to find work in any territory.
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