Rick Bassman may not be a name known to tons of wrestling fans, but as the former owner of Ultimate Pro Wrestling from 1998 to 2010 his influence has actually been very profound. UPW served as a potent training ground for many mainstream stars including John Cena, Samoa Joe, Chris Masters, Tara, Christopher Daniels, Jon Heidenreich, The Miz, Melina, Sim Snuka, Mike Knox, So Cal Val, Nova/Simon Dean, and many others.
Nowadays, Bassman has been working on his autobiography, Been There, Done That, that covers not only his years in professional wrestling, but also his time as a concert promoter, agent at William Morris for William Hurt, Ed Harris and Christopher Lee Nichols, running his own sports/celebrity agency with clients from the Denver Broncos and Nuggets, and his job as a senior executive at the Walt Disney Company where he won an Emmy Award for writing and producing, and much more.
Through it all Bassman has always seen himself as a very average guy with a normal upbringing that ended up at the very top of various areas of the entertainment world.
“In a lot of ways it’s almost Forrest Gump-like,” commented Bassman.For his book Bassman based it on the nine lives notion, but on the cover of the book lives one through eight are crossed out, while life number nine has a question mark because that’s the one Bassman feels he is currently leading.
“When I started writing the book, although there is a lot of standalone bits where I tell wrestling stories, fighting stories, and whatnot, I realized there were almost eight separate and distinctive parts of my life and each one where I had a radical low or a radical high and in many where I literally could have died,” elucidated Bassman.
One of those low points is what ultimately led him to start his book and eventually set it up as a Kickstarter project. “I sat home one night, drank a bunch of scotch, and took my laptop out; and figured, ‘Eh if I’m going to exorcise the demons in my head, get my life on paper, and I have nothing else to do, now is the time to start.'”
When asked by SLAM! Wrestling how he got his start in professional wrestling, Bassman admitted in the early days he didn’t know much about the business. His initial idea was to create an all-American hero group of wrestlers because he felt the ones around at the time weren’t as articulate or had as good a physique as he felt they should have.
“The idea was one black guy, one blonde haired, blue-eyed American boy, one Italian-American, and one American Indian,” Bassman said. “Again, this was so ill-conceived; I didn’t know you couldn’t take four green guys and put them all in the same territory and make them stars overnight.”Yet, Bassman set out and did exactly that using his own money, and after some recruiting, found four guys, who ended up being called Power Team USA.
“From that group I ended up discovering Sting and the Ultimate Warrior; Sting being my all-American blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy, and Warrior being my American Indian,” recalled Bassman. The lesser known of the two were Mark Miller and Garland Donoho.
Fast forward to 1998 and Bassman decided to open the first mixed martial arts gym in the state of California in Orange County and called it Extreme University.
“For whatever reason, I must have been thinking about a wrestling school, I built a hybrid ring; one that had locked in springs that you could use for boxing or wrestling,” said Bassman.”Shortly after I opened it, I advertised to start a pro wrestling school and then it started to steamroll. All these giant guys started to show up and I met Tom Howard who became the new head instructor, and the next thing you knew we had 30-40 attendees who all looked the part.”
One day in class, Justin McCully, the future UFC fighter, suggested to Bassman that the school should put on a show. Thinking it was a good idea Bassman came up with the name Ultimate Pro Wrestling on the spot.
“I was a big fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship so I made up the name and later got sued for by Dana White for copyright infringement,” recalled Bassman.
Over time as business grew UPW moved its shows into bigger venues and launched a presence on the web. One day Bassman received a phone call out of the blue from Bruce Prichard of WWE.
“Bruce Prichard said, ‘Hey, we know you’re a good hustler and we’re going to be in the area and we’ve heard about your gym and we’re looking to cast an all-female pro wrestling show called Smackdown,'” Bassman recalled.
“He said, ‘We’re doing this casting in New York and L.A., and do you think you guys can do the L.A. casting for this?’ So what we did was reach out and got pretty much every top female martial artist, body builder, American Gladiator, and fitness model to show up.”
However, Bassman’s plans didn’t end there. After he was told that Prichard would be accompanied by Jim Ross for the tryouts he had three of his students show up, and accidentally drop in.
“I had them put their gear in their car,” said Bassman.
“The three of the guys walked in together exactly as I planned, and Pritchard and Ross’ mouths dropped open. I introduced them and we did an impromptu deal. Next thing you knew I had in the mail three development contracts in the mail.” (Cena wasn’t one of the three, though; it was Sylvester Terkay, a German named Stefan Gamlin and a 7-footer, Russ McCullough).
Shortly after, UPW became a developmental territory for the WWE.
“The wrestling thing for UPW culminated in all sorts of primetime specials with Discovery, Learning Channel, training thousands of students through the school, sending more people to WWF/WWE than any school in history, selling out shows all over the place, and doing very well on DVD with deals at Wal-Mart, Target, and so forth.”
One person who has been friends with Bassman going all the way back to those UPW days is Evan Marriott, who people may remember as reality TV’s Joe Millionaire. Prior to doing the Fox Network show, Marriott was actually training to be a professional wrestler at UPW.
“UPW did a lot of things with WWE at the time and I was training to go into the WWE and things didn’t work out necessarily there,” Marriott said. “When I left wrestling it wasn’t because of anything bad or anything anyone did, it was because here’s a reality show and I’m going to go do it and who knows what will come out of it. Rick, I talked to him several months up until the show aired. Rick has always been an integral part of anything that I ever did.”
During his time as owner of UPW, Bassman competed in the ring on a couple of occasions. However he didn’t fight often.
“I’m 5’4, 135 pounds; because I had a company I would get involved in the storylines; and being involved would eventually lead to a match. My entire ‘wrestling’ career I did five matches. I ended up main eventing in Korakuen Hall in Tokyo against [Shinya] Hashimoto who was the owner of Zero One. That was amazing, that was a thrill.”As Bassman described it, the match with Hashimoto was setup as a shoot, which was very scary for him.
“I was brought over there under the pretense that I was doing a match with Nakamura, Hashimoto’s partner, who was 5’8, 160 pounds,” remembered Bassman.
“Then the night before the match at Korakuen, I found out it wasn’t Nakamura, it was Hashimoto and he wouldn’t talk to me before the match at all. I was going to have all my guys come in and restrain him, and then I decided, ‘Ah @#$! it!’ So I kind of threw myself at him like Piper/Andre The Giant and he came back at me with a leg kick and I said, ‘Wow, I’m going to lose my leg,’ so I bailed.”
As for what he misses about those days Bassman told SLAM! Wrestling it was the big, giant dysfunctional, extended happy family which the company was.”We would always shoot a group photo backstage before every show. We would do a big hello and thank you for being here.”
Another friend that Bassman made through UPW in 2001 is Mike Bucci, who fans may best remember as Nova in ECW and Simon Dean in WWE. “I met Rick when he brought me out to UPW originally to tag with Aron Aguilara,” Bucci said. “We became instant friends. At the time UPW was the place to get noticed. It was after ECW closed down, and UPW filled an ‘underground’ voice, so to speak. The shows were packed and the Internet was always buzzing with stuff going on at UPW. Some of the best times I had in my career were at UPW.”
Bucci feels without Bassman there would have been no Simon Dean because he would have quit soon after ECW closed. “Rick showed through determination and honesty that a good show and good company can be run successfully; I will always be the first to defend him, if needed,” said Bucci. “Rick and UPW gave me my passion to continue wrestling.”
One of the unique things about Bassman is how many got their first break through UPW, one of whom is TNA Announcer Todd Keneley. One night UPW’s play-by-play announcer couldn’t make it and Bassman gave him a call to come do the show. That initial show Keneley described as a bit of a trial by fire, but Keneley got through it and used the lessons he learned in UPW to go on to announce for MMA, UFC, Versus Network, and TNA.
“There is no way I would be where I am without that initial opportunity; he was the one working on the celebrity wrestling show as a producer with Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff and introduced me to Eric,” said Keneley. “I ended up getting on as a ring announcer and later on Hulk Hogan’s 2009 Australian Tour. Through that I ended up impressing Eric and now here I am announcing for TNA.”
Keneley feels that Bassman has a very unique perspective on the wrestling business, and when you add the trials and tribulations from Bassman’s life, make the Kickstarter project worthy of supporting. “He has these amazing stories from breaking in many of the biggest stars in wrestling history into the business and the stories he has of their early days and how it came about,” explained Keneley. “There are stories from the fledgling days of MMA when it really was more of a sideshow and you had weight classes and different fighting disciplines where you would have a karate guy against a sumo wrestler and stories of the initial UFC events. He’s really been around every aspect of entertainment and knowing what kind of writer he is I know they’ll come to life on the pages of his book.”If there is one thing that Bassman feels he has learned over the years it is to treat everybody well and be genuine in everything you do and have only the best intentions for everybody in your actions, words, and thoughts.
“Past that let the chips fall where they may; I tell you at times that’s been a very challenging thing to do,” expressed Bassman.
“That was a lesson learned because I haven’t always been that way.”
With regards to what brought Bassman to that low point alluded to earlier on, it was a confluence of events including his marriage going sour, living in a motel, taking care of his father who was dying from pancreatic cancer, needing shoulder surgery which led to a drug addiction, and not being able to devote the attention he needed towards UPW and Valor.
“My main employees who had been with me forever were on my @$! saying, ‘Rick, you’re taking the eye of the ball, you better start doing something here.'”
Unfortunately, all of those things proved to be too much and Bassman lost all his money overnight. While Bassman was able to fight back and eventually meet a new girlfriend, that fell through too.”I got a couple of dogs and made a bit of a comeback, but because I had my head up my @$! so badly, and I bought a new house with whatever resources I had left, I kind of blew the relationship with my new girl, lost that house; and as I was trying to find a place to live I boarded my dogs, which at this point became my life,” he confessed.
Sadly the boarder let his dogs out and Bassman frantically drove out to the outskirts of town to try and find them.
“I found one of them crushed on the road and I went nuts,” Bassman quietly said.
“I basically parked my car on the dirt road and for two months lived in the backseat of my car looking for my other dog. I ended up one day on that road and basically existing on what I could steal which was mainly vodka and Vicodin. I broke into a store, got snagged by the security guard, got shot, walked out of the store, went back to my car, put my shotgun in my mouth and had a moment to have a decision made up: either blow my head off or really pull my head out of my @$! and try to get back to it. I made a call, got a place to crash, and then started climbing back.”
Bassman was successful in rebuilding his life with the help of his friends, which would eventually lead him to his book.
“The end is very much in sight. Once I complete the Kickstarter part, God willing, that’s when I go the self-publishing and part of the self-publishing venture is to hire an editor, and they vet it before it goes to print.”
The reason why Bassman decided to go the self-publishing route is that he felt very close and personal to the story and wanted to be able to tell it and market it in his own way.”I just didn’t feel that they were going to do with the book what I thought could be done with it. Now seguing there to Kickstarter, the bottom line is this, it takes money to self-publish,” he said. “While I’m doing much better these days than when I was at the apex of the low I’ve described, I need to raise the money to do it. I just don’t have the funds myself. So I thought it would be really cool to reach out to the wrestling world and the fighting world to see if I could gather the support to make that happen.”
Marriott is one of those who believes in the project and feels that people should support it because Bassman’s story is a universal one that everyone has lived to some degree.
“It’s a guy that has basically throughout his life done the best he could to take lemons that were tough, and to use the term, made lemonade out of them,” Marriot expressed. “Some of us have substance abuse problems, some of us have made bad business decisions — hey, I’m in that category — and so there is a piece of Rick’s story in all of us. So when you invest in this Kickstarter project you’re not just supporting it, you’re supporting yourself. There are so many facts with his life, there are so many people who share what he has been through. I’m actually waiting for him to send me a copy!”
Bucci also supports Bassman and couldn’t see why people wouldn’t want to donate.
“I love it; Rick has a unique story and is a survivor,” Bucci said. “He has worked with some of the biggest names in the world, in many different business aspects. On top of that, this Kickstarter is actually legit and will get something done; 90% of the time, they are total b.s. and just rip the fans off. Rick should be supported and this has been the only project I have ever donated to.”
As to the lowlight he experienced, six months to the day that Bassman discovered his dog Marley on the roadside he managed to get his other dog Ramon back and a couple of years later got a sister for him from a friend who rescues animals, actress/director Linda Blair.
“Shortly after that I went and got them service certified and about two months after that I took them down to Tarzana,” said Bassman.When Bassman had Stage 4 cancer he spent an enormous amount of time at the children’s ward so he decided to take his dogs down to the hospital to cheer up the kids there.
“I brought them into the children’s oncology ward in the hospital and spent three hours there taking them around to every kid and all the parents, who were so thrilled to meet my dogs. They weren’t scared, it was just a way for them to get some love and I got to see my dogs making them happy and talk to the parents about how I was right in the same situation 30 some years before and there is a way out of it. That was probably the best day of my life.”
For more information on Rick Bassman’s book Been There, Done That and his Kickstarter project please go to his Kickstarter page.