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 - Jim Zordani

The wrestling career of Verne Gagne took a major turn in 1960. Verne became the promoter in Minneapolis, Minnesota replacing longtime boss Tony Stecher and bought a significant percentage of the Minneapolis Boxing and Wrestling Club. In addition to being the territory's world title claimant, Gagne also was in charge of the promotional end of the territory. This type of arrangement wasn't uncommon in the 1960s. Many well known wrestlers of the 1950s television era became promoters in one of the territories and booked themselves as the top star. The Sheik in Detroit, Dick the Bruiser in Indianapolis, Fritz Von Erich in Dallas and Eddie Graham in Florida are a few examples of wrestlers who promoted their own territories.

Minneapolis was one of the few cities if not the only city to recognize Verne Gagne's world title claim. Over the next several years, the AWA would move into midwestern cities like Chicago, Milwaukee and Omaha but in 1960 the AWA was a one horse town. Gagne did wrestle in places like Milwaukee, Omaha, Denver, Detroit and Winnipeg during the early 60s. He just wasn't billed as the world heavyweight champ in those particular towns.

Gene Kiniski was one of the toughest challengers Verne faced in Minneapolis. Gene was a former player in the Canadian Football League and was one of the best performers in the wrestling industry during the 1960s. Kiniski was not only a brash individual making it easy for fans to hate him but was a legitimately tough human being. Gene had a presence that commanded respect. Kiniski and Gagne had a lengthy feud in which Gene defeated Verne on July 11th, 1961 to capture the AWA World's heavyweight title. Gagne bounced back four weeks later and regained the AWA title from Kiniski on August 8th, 1961. 

A few years earlier in the Omaha territory, Gagne had feuded with Bill Miller who used the masked Dr. X persona. Verne wanted to recreate the feud with Miller in the AWA and brought Bill to Minneapolis as the masked Mr. M in late 1961. On January 9th, 1962, Mr. M beat Verne Gagne to capture the AWA heavyweight championship. Mr. M held the AWA title for several months and was the most hated man in the Mnneapolis territory. Many wrestlers not only challenged Mr. M for the AWA title but tried to unmask him as well. Often times when a wrestler would try to unmask Mr. M, it would lead to their defeat. When a wrestler had Mr. M in trouble, they would try to unmask him instead of going for the winning pinfall.  More...

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