Every year around this time, aspiring wrestlers from all over the world begin preparation for one of the most unique opportunities available to them: The Harley Race/Pro-Wrestling NOAH Camp.

Harley Race watches intently from ringside during the 2006 Harley Race/Pro-Wrestling NOAH Camp. Photo courtesy HarleyRace.com

The camp, being held September 15-19, in Eldon, Missouri, will give entrants the chance to hone skills and get advice from one of the all-time greats in the wrestling business, Harley Race. As an added bonus, also in attendance will be representatives from the WWE and NOAH. This year’s WWE representative, as reported on the camp’s website, is Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Pro-Wrestling NOAH has already confirmed that they will be represented by GHC Heavyweight Champion Takeshi Morishima (who had a WWE dark match on Monday) and Naomichi Marufuji, as well as Ken Hirayama and owner Ryu Nakata.

The website encourages serious-minded wrestlers to attend the camp. “Finding success in professional wrestling requires a strong work ethic, talent, dedication, and, perhaps most importantly, being in the right place at the right time,” the website reads. “The annual Harley Race/Pro-Wrestling NOAH camp has proven itself to be the right place for the professional wrestler looking to take the biggest step in his career.”

Robert Anthony, Keith Walker and referee John Cone are held up as examples of men who signed developmental contracts with the WWE following their participation in the camp. Previous camps have been attended by Ted DiBiase Jr., who is now a Raw tag champ with Cody Rhodes, and Joe Hennig, Curt Hennig’s son, who is also in developmental. Trevor Murdoch, a graduate of Race’s school, is also said to be planning a visit to this year’s camp.

Participants can expect a rigorous five days. “It consists of cardiovascular conditioning, in-ring drills, and matches, as well as instruction on match structure, psychology, character development and marketing, microphone skills, and the many other necessary skills needed to become a star in professional wrestling,” the website instructs.

Which sounds all fine and good to Kyle O’Reilly, one of several Canadian wrestlers planning to attend this year’s camp. “I’m looking forward to it and am hoping it will be a good experience,” O’Reilly said, noting that he has been preparing for the camp for some time. “I just hope that I learn a lot from everybody in attendance. I’m taking my training very seriously in order to prepare for the camp; I’ve heard that NOAH is very demanding in their workouts.”

Gurv Sihra can tell O’Reilly that the camp is demanding. Sihra attended last year’s camp. “I had such a great time learning from not only trainers from NOAH, but from Mike Rotunda, and of course Mr. Harley Race, that I really wanted to head back down there this year again,” Sihra said. “There was such a great group of talent from all over the world that you learn from everyone, and it’s a great way of networking with the other workers.”

Sihra was quick to add: “I want to be the best and in order to become the best, you have to train with the best.”

The 2007 Harley Race/Pro-Wrestling NOAH Camp. Photo courtesy HarleyRace.com. Click here for a larger version

It’s a compliment that the camp’s founder, Harley Race, appreciates. “There’s no way in the world I would say that isn’t flattering,” said the wrestling legend. “But my objective isn’t to be flattered, it’s to funnel young kids into pro wrestling.”

Race has made the observation that the average age of men involved in wrestling has gone up 10-15 years since the time when he started, when most wrestlers started the sport in their early teens. “If it continues to go this way,” Race worries, “there won’t be anyone left in wrestling in the future.”

This is one of the reasons he holds the camp — to give kids a real chance to get noticed and succeed in a demanding sport. “Somebody’s got to train them,” Race insisted, adding, “It’s good for everyone who attends. For the beginners, it gives them a place to start, and for those that have been around awhile, it gives them a real opportunity to be seen by some influential people.”

The cream of the crop will be invited to participate in a wrestling card at the end of the camp, which will be filmed by both NOAH and the WWE. “So it’s the opportunity to perhaps be seen in front of worldwide audience,” Race noted — a pretty rare opportunity indeed.

But Race was quick to mention that he only wants wrestlers who are serious about succeeding in the business to attend the camp. “If they are not sure about it and not dedicated to the sport, then I don’t want them here,” Race said bluntly. “If you want it bad enough, you work hard enough and you’ll put yourself in a position to attain it. If you don’t have that kind of drive going in, then you’re not going to be successful when you get in.”

Gurv and Harv Sihra

For his part, Gurv Sihra is sure of his place in this year’s camp. He is bringing down his brother, Harv, this year as well. “Our goal this year is to obviously be noticed by the trainers and agents that are going to be there from WWE and NOAH and hopefully get a match at the end of the week,” he said. “We want to succeed in this business and want to learn as much as possible. We have been training very hard at the gym to get in the best shape for this rigorous camp and hoping to definitely leave an impression.”

Dean Danis, who works as Damian Styles, is another Canadian who plans to attend the camp. He agrees with Sihra — the camp isn’t just a fun and interesting wrestling event — it’s an opportunity. “Harley Race has a great rep in this business and has made many positive connections,” Danis said. “Being able to attend this camp will help put me in front of the right people. Having the trainers there that they do and the chance to be seen by top guys at NOAH creates opportunities for us to move ahead in the industry, which is what this is all about. If I ever feel that I don’t need to learn any more, then what’s the point in continuing?”

To that end, Harley Race invites all serious-minded wrestlers with a desire to move forward to attend his camp. He suggests all those thinking of joining visit HarleyRace.com and fill out a registration form. The cost for the camp is $500, including the $250 non-refundable deposit required to reserve a spot. For that reason, Race encourages all those considering coming to the camp to sign up quick.

As some of the Canadian kids have come to understand, the camp is a unique chance to learn something special and, and they all likely agreed with him when he said, “This is as good an opportunity as there is out there.” They might share Race’s mindset as well: “If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it.”