An Inside Look at the Top Prospect Tournament

By Kevin Kelly
For the past 12 years, I have been on the front lines of Scouting and Development in Professional Wrestling. Starting in 2001, I was the first Talent Development Manager in the WWE, have hosted and instructed in over 50 camps and have evaluated athletes at each of the Ring of Honor Tryout Camps that have produced such stars as Michael Elgin, World TV Champion Tommaso Ciampa, Michael Bennett, Adam Page and others.
The lifeblood of this industry and a key to any company’s long-term success is talent development. That is why the eight men who compete in the Top Prospect Tournament, beginning on January 4th in Nashville, TN are worth following because any of them can win and perhaps become a future champion in Ring of Honor.
Last year’s Top Prospect Tournament winner, Matt Taven, also a product of the ROH Camp system, became the longest-reigning World Television Champion in ROH history. While it’s hard to imagine that this year’s winner will accomplish the same amazing feat, the winner of the Top Prospect Tournament receives a guaranteed TV Title opportunity.
Here are my thoughts about the eight men who look to launch their career into the stratosphere in ROH by winning the 2014 Top Prospect Tournament.
1.       Corey Hollis
I first met Corey three years ago and immediately liked this young man. Once I saw him wrestle, I knew the Alabama native could become a star. He remindes me of a young Shawn Michaels, who despite being undersized, could match up with anyone on the roster. Great explosiveness and the ability to change gears quickly make Hollis a tough matchup for anyone in the tournament.
The hound’s-tooth pattern on his tights is a tribute to his beloved Alabama Crimson Tide and their legendary coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant. His “Roll Tide” attitude could carry him to the title of Top Prospect but if he gets past the first round, he could be dangerous.
2.       Raymond Rowe
What’s it like to wrestle Raymond Rowe? Michael Elgin, who faced Rowe in 2013 at Road to Greatness Night 2 in Birmingham, Alabama, told me it was “like fighting a guy who had nothing to lose. He’s hungry, hits hard and has all the tools.”
Of course, Michael Elgin was in the first Top Prospect Tournament in 2011 and was described by many the same way. The Texas native, Rowe, brings a dense frame and a tremendous motor to the tournament. With a street fighter mentality, Rowe is still raw but his desire to win supersedes any deficiencies in his game.
To the man faced with challenging Rowe in the first round of the tournament, you will find out what fighting a man with nothing to lose is all about.
3.       “The Benchmark” Bill Daly
In the sports world, endorsements are a measurement of success. Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Peyton Manning are some of the top earning, sponsored athletes in their given professions.
Before even competing in his first official match in Ring of Honor, “The Benchmark” Bill Daly is already the top earning, endorsed athlete on the ROH roster. His sponsors include Jersey Pump, Muscle Maker Grill and Retro Fitness and they are just a few of the sponsorships he has earned.
Why would these companies invest in “The Benchmark”? Perhaps because he’s that good. I’ve personally scouted The Benchmark and with “The Hype” Will Ferrara as his corner man, I can tell you that Daly is big, fast and aggressive. Very confident as well. He’ll be tough to beat in the tournament. Believe the Hype.
4.       Cheeseburger
Talk about Cinderella stories, Cheeseburger, a graduate of the ROH Dojo, has achieved almost “cult hero” status, despite being the perpetual underdog. At just 125 pounds, Cheeseburger will give up a lot of size to everyone in the tournament but his heart can never be measured in pounds or inches.
Expertly trained by Delirious and mentored by “Brutal” Bob Evans, Cheeseburger can transform himself from cult hero to TV Title contender by winning the Top Prospect Tournament. It will be a long road but nothing has ever come easy to this young man, who works harder than anyone I have ever seen in my 22 years in this industry.
On January 4th, Cheeseburger will not be intimidated by the setting or the opponent and if anyone takes him lightly, this young man could go all the way. Never count out Cheeseburger!
5.       Andrew Everett
Every once in a while, you hear of a wrestler that does amazing things but you have to beat the trees to find him, the scout making long drives to obscure locations in hopes of seeing if their reputation is legit. To properly evaluate someone, they have to pass the “eye test”, meaning you have to see it to believe it because the eye never lies.
Over a decade ago, guys like me were driving long miles to watch AJ Styles, Matt Sydal and Delirious in person to see if they pass the rigid “eye test” and they all did, with flying colors.
Now, the next young man who is ready to amaze is Andrew Everett. The former Chiva Kid is set to burst on the scene on January 4th with an unpredictable style of high-risk offense that could burn the competition or flame out in the first round. If he can avoid the big mistake, the North Carolina native can go the distance but win or lose, fans will always remember the first time they saw Andrew Everett in a ROH Ring.
6.       The Romantic Touch
While February 14th is his favorite day of the year, The Romantic Touch has January 4th marked on his calendar with a big, red heart. His motivation appears to be love or wanting to be loved but this masked man will make his ROH TV debut in the Top Prospect Tournament.
American wrestlers wear masks to hide something, whether it’s their identities or perhaps a checkered past. We don’t know why The Romantic Touch prefers to hide his identity but masked wrestlers are an enigma. We saw The Touch throw a beautiful dropkick during his ROH Debut, in a Ringside Members exclusive match from Chicago earlier this year but little is known about him beyond that.
If The Romantic Touch wins the Top Prospect Tournament, he could become a World Television Champion for Valentine’s Day?
7.       Kongo
On a hot August night in 1996, Yokozuna wrestled Shawn Michaels on Raw, the main event of the first Raw broadcast of which I was a part. When I first saw Kongo with my own eyes, it took me back to that night as he reminds me of the former WWF Champion.
Prince Nana introduced me to Kongo and I was amazed with how agile he is for a man of his amazing size. A dangerous combination of savage intensity and stamina for the near 400-pounder will make him virtually unbeatable in this year’s Top Prospect Tournament.
But will Kongo remain in control of himself and his actions? Prince Nana’s other signees to ROH, Outlaw Inc., have proven to be unmanageable and a danger to those around them. Will Kongo follow their path or that of Yokozuna to claim the title of Top Prospect?
8.       Hanson
As a member of the broadcast team, I am expected to maintain an impartial position but Hanson is my pick to win the Top Prospect Tournament. I’m not going out on too big of a limb by picking him as many had him pegged as a future star before he made his ROH debut in August 2013 in Providence, RI.
Major shoulder surgery over two years ago nearly ended his career but Hanson transformed himself with furious rehabilitation into a bonafide physical force with all the tools to win the whole thing. A 12-year veteran, Hanson combines strength with agility better than anyone else in the field of 8.
Hanson fights “angry” and has a big chip on his surgically repaired shoulder. He was called “A Brand New Bad” when he first returned to the ring but he could very well be known as ROH Top Prospect at the end of the tournament.
Best of luck to all eight competitors in the 2014 Top Prospect Tournament!
The intrigue begins on January 4th in Nashville and with the “Phenomenal One” AJ Styles returning to ROH, Chris Hero has his first ROH match in almost two years and the legendary “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is scheduled to be a part of a special Autograph Session, the first television taping of 2014 is one that cannot be missed.