AWA #7 Page #2
Larry Zbyszko billed himself as the Living Legend. He claimed he retired Bruno Sammartino and Nick Bockwinkel. Neither claim was true but that was Larry's story and he was sticking to it. Zbyszko was an entertaining interview usually talking down to the fans in a snobbish tone. It's ironic Larry took Bruno's nickname, the Living Legend, and borrowed from Nick Bockwinkel's snobbish interview style.
As a wrestler, Larry was not very flashy and was known for stalling. A typical Zbyszko match would see him refuse to lock up with his opponent for the first five minutes of the match. This stalling technique was Larry's way of drawing heat from the fans. He felt stalling would make the fans hate him more.
Pat Tanaka and Paul Diamond kept their stranglehold on the AWA tag team titles. The team of Badd Company managed by Diamond Dallas Page seemed like they would hold the straps forever. Countless different tag teams were unable to defeat Paul and Pat. On March 25th, 1989 in Rochester Minnesota, the title reign of Badd Company came to an end. The team of Ken Patera and Brad Rheingans known as the Olympians defeated Tanaka and Diamond in a stunning upset to become the new AWA tag team champions. In a booking decision that still mystifies me, the AWA felt Tanaka and Diamond should split apart and become bitter enemies. Tanaka turned on
Diamond and sided with Akio Sato. Diamond was now a fan favorite while the Tanaka/Sato combination was the AWA's new heel tag team.
Another move the AWA made was to elevate Wayne Bloom and Mike Enos from preliminary wrestlers to main event superstars. The two men subsequently were billed as the Destruction Crew, "Mean" Mike Enos and Wayne "the Train" Bloom. Enos and Bloom were given Luscious Johnny Valiant as their manager. The Destruction Crew made their mark in the AWA by injuring several opponents including Wahoo McDaniel and Ken Patera. Patera's injury created a void in the AWA tag team division. Ken was unable to defend the tag team titles so the AWA stripped Patera and Rheingans of the belts on September 18th, 1989. A tournament was held to crown new champions a few weeks later. The Destruction Crew captured the AWA tag team titles by defeating Greg Gagne and Paul Diamond in the tournament final on October 1st, 1989.
By late 1989, injuries had taken their toll on Greg Gagne. Greg decided to retire but not before doing a career ending injury angle. During a ringside interview, Gagne was attacked by Kokina Maximus who would enjoy huge success as Yokozuna in the WWF a few years later and Sheik Adnan El Kaissee. Kokina, a 500 pound Samoan giant, splashed Greg several times putting him out of action. In typical Gagne fashion, Greg did not lose the AWA International television championship before retiring. The AWA simply did not crown a new titlist.
In a last ditch effort to come up with some revolutionary programming, the AWA began touting the Team Challenge Series. At first vignettes aired on the weekly AWA television show saying all sorts of famous wrestlers would be competing in the Team Challenge Series. For instance the AWA hyped the Midnight Rockers as being possible competitors. Of course this claim was a fraud as the Midnight Rockers were contractually obligated to the WWF.
The AWA Team Challenge Series placed all the AWA wrestlers on three teams captained by Larry Zbyszko, Sgt. Slaughter and Baron Von Raschke. The wrestlers on each team would compete against each other in a series of gimmick matches with points going to the team of the wrestler who won the match. The prize going to the team with the most points at the end of the TCS was one million dollars.
During their run on ESPN, the AWA had gone downhill year after year. With the advent of the Team Challenge Series, the AWA reached a new low. The gimmick matches presented in the TCS were idiotic. Unbelievable concepts such as the Behind the Eight Ball Battle Royal and the Great American Turkey Hunt were passed off as legitimate wrestling matches.
It's difficult to even write about the TCS debacle. Think of WCW or the WWF at its worst, multiply it by ten and you might have an idea how pathetic this concept was. Larry Zbyszko continued to headline AWA cards as the heavyweight champion. Larry gave some hilarious interviews talking about taking his opponents to Larry Land. He was actually pretty funny. Zbyszko defended the AWA strap against a variety of opponents including Greg Gagne, Sgt. Slaughter, Nikita Koloff and DJ Petersen. In an attempt to get the AWA belt some much needed noteriety, Zbyszko agreed to defend the belt against Mr Saito at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. Saito upended Larry to win the belt at the Tokyo Dome on February 10th, 1990. Zbyszko regained the belt from Saito on April 8th, 1990 in St Paul, Minnesota at Super Clash IV. The trading of the AWA title between Zbyszko and Saito didn't help the AWA at all. Crowds at AWA house shows reached record lows. The end was near.
Meanwhile the Destruction Crew of "Mean" Mike Enos and Wayne "the Train" Bloom decimated team after team in pursuit of the AWA tag team titles. Enos and Bloom continued to gain valuable experience and both men looked to have promising futures ahead of them. During a down period in the AWA, Verne Gagne loaned the Destruction Crew to WCW. Enos and Bloom wore masks and were known as the Minnesota Wrecking Crew II. They feuded briefly with the Steiner brothers before returning to the AWA. On August 11th, 1990 in Rochester, Minnesota the team of DJ Petersen and the Trooper who would do to be known as the Patriot Del Wilkes defeated Enos and Bloom to win the AWA tag team titles.
The Team Challenge Series had new matches each and every week on ESPN. The TCS standings with very close with each team standing a chance of winning the one million dollar prize. The AWA was drawing so few fans in 1990 the TCS matches had to be held in a secluded big pink room. The AWA said the reason this happened was to prevent outside interference. The truth was the AWA did not want the national television audience to see the low crowds. Near the end of the TCS, Sgt. Slaughter received a lucrative offer from the WWF and promptly jumped promotions. Colonel DeBeers replaced Slaughter as a captain. The final TCS match was the infamous Great American Turkey Find with Colonel DeBeers facing longtime AWA preliminary wrestler Jake "the Milkman" Milliman. Milliman scored a shocking upset winning the TCS for Zbyszko's team called Larry's Legends.
In late 1990, the AWA lost its contract with ESPN and became virtually inactive. Larry Zbyszko joined WCW in December of 1990 and was stripped of the AWA title. The American Wrestling Association closed up ship soon afterwards. The AWA died a slow death. Verne Gagne simply refused to change with the times and it led to the demise of his once proud promotion.
We'll cover in depth the tag team of Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens.
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