THE SPECIALISTS OVW SPECIALIST - Ranking the Top Eight Prospects in WWE Developmental
Jun 12, 2007 - 11:53:00 AM
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In this edition of Developmental Spotlight, we rank the top eight prospects currently in the WWE Developmental system. Any prospect that has spent at least three months on Ohio Valley Wrestling or Deep South Wrestling television is eligible, and the rankings are based on the criteria of current skill level, potential and chances of upper-card success on the WWE main roster given the traits WWE tends to look for when awarding pushes.
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#8: VLADIMIR KOZLOV
If there is a handbook for what not to do with a 6'6", 310lb foreign menace, it's likely checked out to those pulling the strings on the career of Oleg Prudius. Brought to the offices of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment by Jerry Jarrett and in informal talks with WWE dating back to 2002, Prudius has a resume that would excite any wrestling promoter: A 2005 United States National Sambo Championship; A United States Kickboxing Association heavyweight title; A background in amateur wrestling, theatre and with several film credits to his name.
Reportedly signed to an abnormally lucrative developmental deal, Prudius was assigned to Deep South Wrestling in the early part of 2006 and eventually given the ring name Vladimir Kozlov. Roughly one month after beginning his training as a professional wrestler, Kozlov was assigned to begin working house shows matches with the Raw brand, and word spread quickly about the awful new foreigner coming to World Wrestling Entertainment. Why would you invest heavily in a man with strong potential, only to sabotage him by putting him in the ring in front of thousands of people weeks into his training as a professional wrestler? Hold that thought.
Now ask yourself this question, what is the second worst thing you could do with an ass kicking Russian who could probably legitimately take out anyone in the company? You turn him into Borat - A dimwitted foreigner who people laugh at. That's right, the 2005 USA Open Weight Sambo Champion in one week's time became a comedy figure.
Vince McMahon is reportedly unhappy that the Russian isn't ready for the big time, despite the fact that Kozlov has only actually been training as a wrestler for less than a year, most of which was spent in Deep South Wrestling, the former developmental territory that no one ever seemed to noticeably develop in. Reassigned to Ohio Valley Wrestling in late 2006, Kozlov's offense, including his devastating backbreaker slam, has improved noticeably in the past few months. Despite the improvement, World Wrestling Entertainment needs to be looking to 2008 and beyond to debut the big Russian if they want him to possess the tools necessary to succeed.
#7: DAN RODIMER
Dan Rodman, better known as Daniel Rodimer of the 2004 Tough Enough competition, is the blueprint of what WWE looks for in potential prospects. At 6'7" and 300lbs, with a naturally arrogant presence, Rodman knows how to play the part of the heel, which is why WWE reportedly wanted him to win the 2004 Tough Enough competition over such entrants as Mike "The Miz" Mizanin, Nick Mitchell and Daniel Puder.
With a background in college football at the University of South Florida, Dan Rodimer wrestles a power style and bills himself as the strongest wrestler in OVW. Despite a reported 500lb bench press, Rodimer is far from all brawn. Graduating with a 3.8 grade point average, Rodimer started a mortgage company, suitably named Champion Home Lending, in the Tampa area. As a lifelong wrestling fan who grew up idolizing Hulk Hogan, Rodimer has claimed that he would wrestle for free.
Rodimer worked a string of un-televised matches late last year, and it seemed as though he was being positioned for an immediate debut and strong push, but cooler heads prevailed and the decision was made to give him more time in the developmental system to hone his craft. Recently, Rodimer has appeared on several episodes of WWE Heat, most recently defeating Eugene.
While Rodimer still needs a lot more in-ring experience before being called up to the main roster, the passion he has for the business, along with his physical and mental gifts, should put the young prospect in a very good position once his number is called.
#6: ATLAS DABONE
The first time one sees Atlas Dabone, there is a good chance they will hate him. Everything from his look to his gimmick to his mannerisms, down to the way Ohio Valley Wrestling play by play man Dean Hill will say that "DaBone is coming to DA ring for DA match" and the way he calls everyone "JACK!" in his interviews. You wonder what planet this guy even came from.
And then slowly, over the course of several weeks, it hit will hit you: Atlas DaBone is awesome.
Just who is Atlas DaBone? A 5'10"(ish), 280(ish) whirlwind of Jive. With a bushy, five star perm and the biggest gold chain around his neck you will ever see, DaBone bounces to the ring to the song "Jive Soul Bro" as performed by "The Doctor of Style" Slick. With a finisher called "Da Boneyard Boogie", Atlas DaBone is as over the top as anyone in the developmental system. It's almost as if DaBone did in fact come from another planet, because almost no background information on him seems to exist. With bodybuilding roots, DaBone showed up in OVW without a contract, but within no time, WWE had signed him to a developmental deal.
Atlas Dabone has a long way to go in the ring, which is to be expected at his experience level, but he has one thing going for him that nobody can take away: In an environment dominated by handsome six footers with the same haircut and regretful tattoos, DaBone is different. Much different. Already getting huge reactions on the OVW circuit, DaBone has spent the last several months engaged in a Tony Atlas/Ken Patera style strongman feud on Louisville television with Daniel Rodimer.
If he is given time to hone his craft in Louisville, and he is brought up with the right push, DaBone could instantly become a cult favorite on the main roster.
#5: PAUL BURCHILL
In 1937, a brilliant book on professional wrestling promotional philosophy called "Fall Guys" was published. If author Michael Kenyon had a crystal ball, he likely would have added a chapter about the difficulties of moving a wresting Pirate up the card.
Cases like Paul Burchill are why it is so hard to predict which developmental talents will be successful on the big stage, because just when you think someone has all the tools to be a top act for years to come, they wind up with a sword and an eye patch, and all bets are off.
A former school teacher, Burchill carved a name for himself in England's Frontier Wrestling Alliance, where he gained worldwide notoriety amongst hardcore wrestling fans for "Burchill's Monster Moments", a series of squash match video packages where he showed incredible strength and remarkable agility for a man his size. To see a 6'4", 260lb heavyweight executing the C4 (a standing Spanish Fly) and a standing Shooting Star Press was incredible, and soon thereafter the Surrey native was offered a WWE Developmental Contract.
Burchill appeared for several months on WWE Smackdown, eventually becoming a pirate due to genealogical links to Captain Blackbeard, and taking on a short term "buxom wench". Just as the novelty of seeing such a thing had reached an all time low, Burchill suffered a knee injury - perhaps thankfully - that sidelined him for several months.
Paul Burchill has since fully recovered and resurfaced in Ohio Valley Wrestling, meaner than ever. Don't be fooled by his poorly conceived Smackdown run early in 2006, Paul Burchill is good. Really good. Currently working as "The Ripper" Paul Burchill and wearing a ski-mask type hood to the ring, Burchill is back in his comfort zone, laying fundamentally sound beatdowns on the babyfaces of OVW. Looking to have put on about 10lbs since last seen nationally, and with an overall modified look, Burchill is as ready as anyone in the developmental system to be called upon to fill the void of upper mid card heels. At a time when old school, monster heels like Umaga, Snitsky and The Great Khali are being paired off with top babyfaces, The Ripper could show up next week on Raw and work a main event feud with John Cena and probably pull it off. Burchill is poised to be a breakout star, all he needs now is someone with decision making power looking out for him..
#4: JAKE HAGER
Perhaps the most heavily recruited developmental wrestler in quite some time, Hager represents what could be the end of a dying breed: Top ranked collegiate standouts in amateur wrestling who are lured into professional wrestling. With the explosion of MMA in the United States, and the much more natural transition from one sport to the other, the legitimacy and ticket to fame that MMA offers amateur wrestlers may drive all top heavyweights further away from an entertainment form that is still considered by many to be a black eye on their sport.
A 2006 All American from the University of Oklahoma, Hager stands 6'4" and weighs 280lbs and will all but surely have big push waiting for him when he eventually gets the call that he is being promoted to the main roster. Wrestling in a Kurt Angle style singlet with an Oklahoma 'O' in the center, Jake Hager possesses limitless potential, but at this point is at least a year away from being ready for primetime.
Some questions remain to be answered. Can Hager shake the off-putting squeaky clean image that he projects? Can he loosen up in the ring and work a more natural and fluid style? Jake Hager doesn't need to be perfect at such an early stage in his training. He doesn't even have to be good. But if the young athlete can progress at even a fraction of the pace that former amateur standouts like Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle and Shelton Benjamin did in the developmental system, he is in store for a very bright future in WWE.
#3: CODY RUNNELS
As the son of "The American Dreams" Dusty Rhodes, and the half brother of Dustin Runnels, nobody in the WWE developmental system has the pressure and expectations on them that Cody Runnels does. A former stand out amateur wrestler at the high school level, wrestling has been in the blood of Cody practically since birth.
At 6'1", 230lbs, Rhodes already seems much more mature than he should be at 22 years of age. During Wrestlemania Weekend 2007, the celebration to honor his father going into the WWE Hall of Fame turned into a coming out party of sorts for Cody, who without a hint of nervousness made his national television debut by looking directly into the camera and pronouncing his father the greatest talker in the history of the business. And ironically, Cody seemed to have a hint of the old man in him that night.
With a ring methodology reportedly modeled after the high flying Greg Gagne, Runnels works a classic babyface style and has really shown a strong grasp for the fundamentals. Cody appears to be amongst the best young wrestlers in the developmental system, and with each week that passes his abilities and confidence build. Currently in the midst of a bitter feud with Shawn Spears, Runnels has become perhaps the most beloved babyface in Ohio Valley Wrestling.
Cody worked a dark match recently, and he will probably work many more in the coming weeks. The safe bet would be that he will probably be promoted to Raw or Smackdown sometime this summer. Honestly, it's going to be a tough road for Cody Runnels. As the son of a legend and having pretty boy good looks, the wrestling fans of today will likely test him. Luckily, Runnels carries himself with an air of confidence and doesn't seem to be rattled easily. If Runnels can make it through the first six months, and give the fans no choice but to respect him, there is a very good chance that he can be a major force in World Wrestling Entertainment for years to come.
#2: RYAN O'REILLY
There are certain wrestlers who you just see and say "That guy has it". A certain indescribable star quality that makes them stand out in a crowd; Ryan "Roughhouse" O'Reilly is one of them.
With a few years of experience under his belt, including a match with Monty Brown on TNA television several years ago, Ryan O'Reilly has quickly developed into a promising sports entertainer in his time with Deep South Wrestling. Over time, Roughhouse O'Reilly has won over the central Georgia crowd and become the most popular fan favorite in the promotion, based largely on his magnetic charisma.
On the microphone, O'Reilly is a natural and shows the potential to some day be amongst the best in wrestling. His emotion comes right through the television, and his delivery leads you to believe he must have grown up watching Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and Dusty Rhodes. Rather than building to a punch line, O'Reilly possesses the uncommon ability to pull the viewer into the story he is trying to tell.
With the relationship between Deep South Wrestling and WWE dissolved, O'Reilly finds himself floating in limbo with many other DSW developmental talent as the new program in Tampa is constructed. At 6'5" and somewhere around 250lbs, Ryan O'Reilly has the size, look, intelligence and intangible qualities to some day challenge for a World Championship if he can continue to improve his abilities in the ring.
#1: SHAWN SPEARS
Shawn Spears is in a strange place in Ohio Valley Wrestling. He isn't the second generation son of a legend of professional wrestling. He wasn't carefully recruited as a hand chosen future star like Jake Hagar. He wasn't even really portrayed as the star of his former tag team with Cody Runnels. It's not even certain that he is one of the handful of developmental talents that WWE is keeping a close eye on. Yet one thing is certain, Shawn Spears is head and shoulders above everyone else in the WWE developmental system.
While Spears originally set out to pursue acting, he had interest in becoming a professional wrestler since the age of five, and after meeting Total Nonstop Action's Eric Young at a Canadian independent show 2002, he began training with him. Soon, Shawn was cutting his teeth on the Ontario independent scene. In February of 2005, Spears received his first big break in the wrestling business, teaming with Mike Yamaha against Rosey and The Hurricane in a match at Penn State University taped for WWE Heat. Shortly thereafter, Spears was offered a WWE Developmental Contract, and in May of 2005, he worked his final show for Great Canadian Wrestling and headed off for Louisville.
Citing favorite wrestlers like Shawn Michaels, Chris Benoit and AJ Styles, the twenty-six year old prospect possesses a smooth, athletic style in the ring. Spears almost looks like he could be Randy Orton's older brother, and in a lot of ways he represents what WWE would love Orton to be. Spears can draw the viewer into his matches and really make you feel the desperation in his selling and the fire in his comebacks. He's equally fantastic as a heel and as a babyface, strong on the mic, crisp and fluid in the ring, and has the look and delivery of a can't miss future star. His former tag team with Cody Runnels could be promoted to Raw or Smackdown at any time and instantly be a strong upper card act, and an encore of his turning on Runnels has the potential to work just as well on the big stage as it did the small one.
It is high praise, but if Shawn Spears has a weakness, it has yet to show itself during his tenure in Ohio Valley Wrestling. Let's just hope someone in WWE remembers this talented young prospect while the welcome parade for Cody Runnels is being rolled out.
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Stay tuned for future editions of The Scouting Report, where we will examine other young prospects in the WWE Developmental System.
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