AWA #4 Page #2
In order to combat the ever growing WWF, the AWA and NWA combined forces to share talent on a television program called Pro Wrestling USA. The TV show featured some great matches but in the end both promotions were unable to work together. With Pro Wrestling USA a failure, Verne Gagne explored other television alternatives. In September of 1985, the AWA came to an agreement with national cable sports network ESPN to broadcast AWA matches on a weekly basis.
The Road Warriors dominated the AWA tag team scene like no other team had done in several years. Hawk and Animal took on all comers including the Fabulous Ones, Larry and Curt Hennig, Bruiser and Crusher, the Blackjacks, Jerry Lawler and Austin Idol and Manny Fernandez and Dusty Rhodes. The Fabulous Freebirds though gave the Warriors all they could handle. Matches between the Road Warriors and the Freebirds would never result in a decisive win for either team. The Freebirds scored a controversial win over Hawk and Animal on September 28th, 1985 in Chicago's Soldier Field. It appeared the Freebirds had won the AWA tag team titles but the decision was reversed after the match allowing the titles to remain with the Road Warriors. The next night in St Paul, Minnesota, Hawk and Animal weren't so fortunate. The Freebirds interfered in the Warriors' title defense against Jim Garvin and Steve Regal which allowed the underdog team of Garvin and Regal to win the AWA tag team titles. Hawk and Animal left the AWA for the NWA after losing the AWA tag titles.
Rick Martel had turned back all the challengers for his AWA heavyweight championship. Martel beaten such stars as Michael Hayes, Jim Garvin, Butch Reed, Nick Bockwinkel, Masked Superstar, Kamala and King Tonga. International superstar Stan "the Lariat" Hansen was brought to the AWA to challenge Martel. Hansen seemed more concerned with beating Martel up than winning the AWA title as Stan was disqualified in several of his matches against Rick Martel. The feud between Hansen and Martel went on for several months until Stan Hansen used a version of the Boston Crab to beat Rick Martel for the AWA title on December 29th, 1985, in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin and Mr Electricity Steve Regal held the AWA tag team titles for nearly four months. Garvin and Regal did not lose their tag titles in the ring. Steve left the AWA while he was still a tag team champion. This departure by Regal forced the AWA to make a decision about the AWA tag titles. On television the AWA ficticiously said Garvin and Regal had lost the belts to Curt Hennig and Scott Hall on January 18th, 1986 in New Mexico.
Curt Hennig was the son of longtime AWA star Larry "the Axe" Hennig and was a popular young star. His partner Scott Hall had an impressive physique but was relatively new to the wrestling business. Hennig and Hall were pushed big time. The AWA thought one of them would emerge as a major star. Curt and Scott were short-lived champions as they dropped the tag team titles by countout to Playboy Buddy Rose and Pretty Boy Doug Sommers on May 17th, 1986 in Hammond, Indiana thanks to interference by Colonel DeBeers. The feeling in the AWA was Hennig and Hall should both be pushed as singles competitors.
The AWA was not the strong promotion in 1986 that it was only a few years earlier. Attendance was down so much in some longtime AWA markets that the AWA stopped promoting cards there. As a result of the attendance drops and a few other factors, monetary payoffs for the wrestlers were dwindling. So when the WWF or NWA offered an AWA wrestler offered a job, the wrestler would not think twice about jumping promotions. Therefore you'd see a wrestler like Steve Regal walk out on the AWA without dropping a title belt. These departures became more commonplace as the years went by.
Even though Stan Hansen was AWA champion, the big Texan pledged his allegiance to Giant Baba and All Japan Pro Wrestling. Hansen had worked for AJPW for a number of years and was only working for the AWA at the request of Baba. Stan's gimmick in the AWA was a tobacco chewing Texas brawler. Hansen really did not attract fans to his matches in the AWA with this gimmick. Stan Hansen though was a fighting champion. He successfully defended the AWA title against top wrestlers like Sgt Slaughter, Jerry Blackwell, Scott Hall, Curt Hennig and a bunch of Japanese competitors. When Verne Gagne wanted Stan to drop the AWA title to Nick Bockwinkel in June of 1986, Hansen refused to do it because Giant Baba wanted Hansen to wear the AWA title belt on Stan's next tour of Japan. Because Stan refused to lose the AWA title in the ring to Bockwinkel, the AWA stripped Hansen of the title and awarded it to Nick Bockwinkel on June 29th, 1986 in Denver, Colorado.
With Bockwinkel once again the AWA champion, Verne Gagne found himself in the same position he was in during early 1984. An aging Nick Bockwinkel was the top dog and there was no successor in sight. By this time, Bockwinkel had turned face after an attack by Larry Zbyszko. Thus Nick defended the AWA belt against the AWA's top heels including Zbyszko, Boris Zhukov, Colonel DeBeers and Nord the Barbarian.
Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty debuted in the AWA during 1986 as singles wrestlers. Both guys were good looking and knew how to work in the ring. It wasn't long before Verne Gagne threw Michaels and Jannetty together as a tag team called the Midnight Rockers. Shawn and Marty moved quickly up the AWA tag team ladder and were soon the number one contenders to AWA tag team champions Buddy Rose and Doug Sommers. The feud between the Midnight Rockers and the Rose-Sommers combination was a very violent one. A great deal of blood was shed during their matches. Michaels and Jannetty really paid their dues during this feud. After many months of hard fought matches, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty defeated Rose and Sommers on January 27th, 1987 in St Paul, Minnesota to win the AWA tag team titles.
After Curt Hennig and Scott Hall lost the AWA tag team titles to Buddy Rose and Doug Sommers, Curt Hennig began to alter his style. Curt became much more aggressive inside the ring and set his sights on becoming AWA heavyweight champion. Near the end of 1986, Curt Hennig was deemed the top challenger to AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel. Hennig was relentless in his pursuit of Bockwinkel and wrestled Bockwinkel to a one hour draw in a match seen nationwide on ESPN. Even though Curt showed he was Nick's equal during that match, Hennig did not win the AWA title. This disappointment led Hennig to take drastic measures in the coming months in order to become champion.
Curt Hennig received another crack at Bockwinkel at Super Clash II in San Francisco, California on May 2nd, 1987. Hennig and Bockwinkel engaged in another classic confrontation with neither man gaining a decisive edge until Nick's arch-enemy, Larry Zbyszko, appeared at ringside. At first, it appeared Larry was just there to watch the match. While the referee was otherwise occupied, Zbyszko seemed to pass something to Hennig. Curt then hit Bockwinkel with a big right hand knocking Nick out cold. Hennig then scored the winning pinfall to become AWA heavyweight champion. Ray Stevens who was broadcasting the match at ringside saw something was fishy about the outcome of the match and went into the ring to confront Hennig and Zbyszko. Ray found a roll of coins that was used to knock out Bockwinkel. AWA president Stanley Blackburn ruled the AWA heavyweight championship would be held up pending review by the AWA championship committee.
Unbeknownst to the average fan, Curt Hennig was in negotiations with the WWF. Hennig had to decide whether he would jump promotions or become AWA heavyweight champion. This was the reason for the AWA title being held up. Hennig chose to remain with the AWA so a week later on television it was announced Curt Hennig was the new AWA heavyweight champion.
The dying days of the AWA
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