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Race's camp teaches harsh reality of wrestling
"If you're in your late 20s and not in great, great physical shape, wanting to wrestle should be the furthest thing from your mind."
That's one of the messages WWE Hall of Famer Harley Race had for the 36 participants at his third annual Pro Wrestling Training Camp. Race runs the camp in connection with his World League Wrestling in Missouri.
Last year Race had 30 people attend his camp, and this year the turnout was even better and more widespread.
"We had a lot of people over here. The youngest was 19 and the oldest was 35 years old," he said. "The 35 year old won't make it. This is a young man's business. The only way I was able to survive it as long as I did was because I knew what to do at a very young age, and as I got older, I knew what not do.
"People have come from all over this year, though. We had two kids here from England, three out of Canada and even one from Australia. They came from all over the United States, too. It lets us know our website is working," he joked. "We had a lot of people here, but there are some people that just don't belong in a wrestling ring. You have to weed on through that, and when you get rid of it, take what you have left and teach them. We had 36 people here at the camp, and I hope to have two or three that will (continue to train)."
WWE's Vice President of Talent Relations, John Laurinaitis was also in attendance for the camp scouting the talent. Race said having Laurinaitis there was a big plus and that he had a harsh, but very real, message for all of the students.
"John Laurinaitis is probably one of the most sincere guys I've ever known," said Race. "He speaks directly from the heart. And when he was talking to these kids, he told them that the chance of them making it is absolutely slim to ‘none', and none hasn't left town yet, but it's close. And that's how you should talk to these kids. The odds of someone breaking into the wrestling business nowadays with the expectation of going to WWE is astronomical. Back when I broke in, there were territories all across America. If you couldn't make it in one territory, you would just go to another one and eventually someone would use you. But that's not out there anymore."
Although Race says that the odds are not in these kids' favors, there were a couple of students at the camp that he feels might be able to make it to the next level. Keith Walker, a 27 year old from Chicago, is one of those Race thinks might make it.
"The camp was great. We did a lot of conditioning drills just to keep us in good shape, and we also had a lot of matches," said Walker. "It was absolutely outstanding. They helped us improve with a lot of criticism both inside and outside the ring. I've been training for three years and this is the first time I've done a camp like this. It's been a real honor to be down here with Harley Race. Just to be in the same building as him is great. To have him coming up to us and letting us know what we're doing wrong and helping us become a better wrestler is just an honor."
Jason Bates was another standout. Bates, a South Dakota native, has been training for six years, and has spent the last three years training with Race.
"This was my second Harley Race camp and I've been to two Ohio Valley Wrestling camps, and every camp I go to, I pick something else up," said Bates. "It's great to work with so many different styles. Every time you're in the ring with someone new, you can pick something else up, especially with the guys being from all over. And it's always an absolute honor to work with someone like Harley Race. He is so intimidating; even after knowing him very well. Every time I see him, it puts me in awe."
Whether students of the camp like White and Bates will some day make it to WWE remains to be seen, but perhaps Steve Fender, who ran the camp with Race, says it best: "Everyone here is at a different stage in their careers, but everyone needs improvement. And there's only one way to improve and that's to get in the ring and work harder, and harder and harder."