AWA #5 Page #2

They billed Curt Hennig as Cool Curt Hennig. Bestowing the moniker "Cool" on Curt Hennig was another great example of how inept the AWA was at creating a cutting edge character. After all, this was the same promotion which gave Scott Hall the nickname "Big".

Another problem the AWA faced throughout the mid to late 80s was having their top talent raided by WWF boss Vince McMahon and NWA head honcho Jim Crockett. Almost every time an AWA wrestler would get over really well with the fans or would show the potential to be a top flight star, the WWF and occasionally the NWA would make the wrestler a contract offer the wrestler could not refuse. The wrestler would then jump promotions.

Even though Curt Hennig rejected an offer from the WWF opting instead for an AWA title reign, there were still other up and coming AWA stars who garnered attention from the WWF. One AWA tag team was high on Vince McMahon's AWA hit list. The sought after duo was of course the AWA tag team champions, The Midnight Rockers, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty.

Michaels and Jannetty were the most exciting tag team seen in the AWA since the Road Warriors and were two of the biggest reasons to watch an AWA television program or to attend an AWA house show. The matches between the Midnight Rockers and the veteran team of Playboy Buddy Rose and Pretty Boy Doug Somers were some of the bloodiest bouts ever witnessed in the AWA. Much to the dismay of the AWA and its fans, the WWF was successful in its pursuit of The Midnight Rockers. Michaels and Jannetty promptly dropped the AWA tag straps to Soldat Ustinov and Boris Zukhov on May 25th, 1987 in Lake Tahoe, Nevada and departed for the WWF.

For many years, the AWA held their television tapings in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the WTCN television studios. Minneapolis was the home base of the AWA territory. In early 1985, Verne Gagne made the decision to hold some television tapings at the Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. When Gagne inked a deal with ESPN later that same year, Gagne along with the ESPN management felt another location for the AWA television tapings was necessary. Gagne and ESPN finally settled on the Showboat Sports Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada as the venue for taping televised wrestling matches. The atmosphere for the ESPN tapings in Las Vegas was terrible. The crowds at the tapings were small and for the most part silent.

With most of the top wrestling talent in the WWF or NWA, Verne Gagne had to rely on bringing in older past their prime type wrestlers to challenge Curt Hennig for the AWA title. One of the aging superstars brought in by Gagne was Wahoo McDaniel. McDaniel was tremendous wrestler for many years but by 1987 most of Wahoo's skills had eroded. Wahoo could still chop hard though. The matches between Hennig and McDaniel were not very pretty. On the plus side though, the Hennig-McDaniel contests were ultra stiff brawls and could be enjoyed on that level. Curt emerged victorious in the feud beating Wahoo in an Indian Strap match seen nationwide on ESPN. 

Another persistent challenger to Hennig was Greg Gagne. Earlier in his career, Greg Gagne was a solid wrestler. The best thing I can say about Greg in his younger days is he always worked hard. The Greg Gagne of 1987 was a different story. Greg no longer possessed the quickness and agility he once had. Gagne had to rely on his experience and knowledge of ring psychology to beat his opponents. Greg's problem was nobody believed he was tough anymore. He was a thin veteran and most fans felt he could not compete with much bigger wrestlers. In other words, the fans did not buy the role in the AWA Verne Gagne had chosen for his son Greg.  Greg Gagne was just not championship material in most fan's eyes. Even though it was obvious Greg wasn't championship caliber, Verne Gagne continued to push the Greg Gagne vs. Curt Hennig feud. Verne Gagne knew he needed help from other small regionalized promotions in order to compete with the WWF and the NWA. Gagne made a deal with longtime Memphis, Tennessee promoter Jerry Jarrett in which AWA wrestlers would appear on the Jarrett promoted cards in Memphis while Memphis stars like Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee would wrestle on AWA shows. The talent exchange between Jarrett and Gagne would become more important in the months ahead.

Boris Zukhov, co-holder of the AWA tag team titles with partner Soldat Ustinov, jumped from the AWA to the WWF in October of 1987 knowing he team in the WWF with Nicolai Volkoff as the Bolsheviks. Zukhov didn't bother to drop the tag straps on his way out the AWA door. The AWA announced on television Boris Zukhov had left the AWA and Pretty Boy Doug Somers would be taking Zukhov's place alongside Soldat Ustinov in a title match held in Memphis, Tennessee at the Mid South Coliseum against Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee. Lawler and Dundee subsequently defeated Ustinov and Somers on October 10th 1987 in Memphis to win the AWA tag team titles.

In addition to giving past their prime veterans a chance to wrestle, Verne Gagne also gave many young men their first big break by allowing them to work for the AWA. One young man given a chance by Gagne was manager Paul E Dangerously. Paul started out doing his Danger Zone interview skits on AWA telecasts. Dangerously had the ability to rant and rave so the Danger Zone skits were an excellent way to introduce Paul to AWA fans. Dangerously was eventually given the Original Midnight Express Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose to manage. Paul's managerial gimmick was his telephone. Dangerously would always be talking on his cell phone while Condrey and Rose were competing in the ring. When Condrey and Rose needed help, Paul would smash the cell phone over the head of a hapless opponent leading to a victory for his new team. Condrey was well known to most fans as the former member of the Midnight Express tag team with Bobby Eaton in the NWA. Earlier in his career Rose had teamed with Condrey as the Midnight Express before Eaton and manager Jim Cornette ever joined the team. So the claim of Condrey and Rose being the Original Midnight Express was a valid one.

Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee did drop the AWA tag straps to the team of Dr D. (Carl Styles) and Hector Guerrero on October 19th in Memphis, Tennessee on October 19th, 1987. Lawler and Dundee though did regain the AWA tag titles a week later in Memphis. This AWA tag title switch was only acknowledged in Memphis. The AWA never said one word about it.  Lawler and Dundee subsequently lost the AWA tag team titles in Whitewater, Wisconsin on October 30th, 1987 to the Original Midnight Express Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose.

Greg Gagne and Curt Hennig continued their feud with even their fathers getting involved. Curt's father Larry would interfere in his son's AWA title matches against Greg Gagne. So Verne Gagne began accompanying his son Greg to his matches against Curt Hennig. Most of the matches ended in double disqualifications until Greg Gagne scored an apparent AWA title victory over Curt Hennig on November 26th in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Greg was announced the AWA champion in the arena but the decision was later overturned and the AWA belt was returned to Curt Hennig.

Verne Gagne was in a bind. He desperately wanted his son Greg to be the AWA heavyweight champion. The other AWA promoters saw thing differently.  They wanted no part of a promotion with Greg Gagne as world champion. The apprehension from the AWA promoters about having Greg as champ is most likely the reason why the AWA belt was returned to Curt Hennig after the Hennig-Gagne match on November 26th in Minneapolis.

When it became obvious to Verne he could not make Greg the AWA champion, Verne Gagne decided to create the AWA International TV title as a belt for his son Greg to hold and defend. As a result, Greg Gagne defeated Adrian Adonis in a tournament final on December 27th, 1987 held in Las Vegas to become the first AWA international TV champion.

The Midnight Rockers Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty had left the AWA in June of 1987 to join the WWF. Their stay in the WWF was short lived as Michaels and Jannetty immediately got into some trouble on the road and were quickly fired by the WWF. Shawn and Marty then went to wrestle in the Continental territory followed by a stay in Memphis for Jerry Jarrett. In late 1987, The Midnight Rockers returned to the AWA to challenge the Original Midnight Express for the AWA tag team titles. Michaels and Jannetty wasted no time regaining the AWA tag straps as they defeated Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose on December 27th in Las Vegas, Nevada.

With the Original Midnight Express and their manager Paul E Dangerously leaving the AWA for the NWA, the AWA needed a new heel manager and a new heel tag team to battle the Midnight Rockers. Verne Gagne decided to give a relatively unknown manager named Diamond Dallas Page his first big break in the business. Page could talk a mile a minute and looked like he had a bright future as a manager. Gagne paired Page with two talented but rather vanilla type wrestlers in Pat Tanaka and Paul Diamond. The AWA created a pimp type persona for Diamond Dallas Page always surrounding Page with beautiful women which Page referred to as diamond dolls. Tanaka and Diamond were given cool outfits and sunglasses and were billed as Badd Company. Diamond Dallas Page would often say B-A-double-D Badd Company as part of the team's promos. Badd Company was an immediate success as Paul Diamond and Pat Tanaka defeated Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty on March 19th, 1988 in Las Vegas, Nevada to win the AWA tag team titles.

Jerry "The King" Lawler had established himself as the number one contender to AWA champion Curt Hennig. Lawler's dream was to win the the World's heavyweight championship right in front of his hometown fans in Memphis, Tennessee. Finally a match was signed between Hennig and Lawler for the AWA heavyweight title for May 9th, 1988 in Memphis at the Mid-South Coliseum. Lawler made all sorts of promises to his Memphis fans even saying at one point he'd retire if he didn't beat Hennig for the belt. On the night of May 9th, 1988 Jerry "the King" Lawler realized his lifelong dream by defeating Curt Hennig in an action packed match to win the AWA heavyweight championship of the world.


A look at the AWA title reign of Jerry Lawler, and the about Lawler's title reign as well as the title tenure of Larry Zbyzsko.

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