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 - Jim Zordani

The next few installments of this column will deal with the wrestling career of Verne Gagne. Being I'm 36 years old and started watching the AWA in 1969 at the age of 5, I didn't get to see Verne Gagne wrestle in the early part of his career. For the most part though, I had to rely on resource materials researched by James Melby, Don Luce, George Lentz, Dave Meltzer, Royal Duncan, Gary Will, Dale Litwaki, Steve Yohe and Steve Slagle in addition to various posts on the Kayfabe Memories message board, the Wrestling Classics message board and the Wrestling Legends mailing list to compile the information for this column.

Verne Gagne was born on May 10th, 1923 in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. Gagne attended Robbinsdale High School where he starred in wrestling and football gaining many local accolades including the Northwest AAU wrestling championship in 1942 and the Minnesota State High School wrestling championship in 1943. Gagne received a scholarship to the University of Minnesota where he competed in both wrestling and football. Verne was named to the all conference football team as a freshman in 1943 and won the Big Ten conference wrestling championship at 175 pounds in 1944. After completing his freshman year, Verne entered the Marines for a tour of duty. Verne Gagne was stationed in California and played on the El Toro Marines football team. Gagne also taught hand to hand combat during his stint in the Marines.

Once he finished his tour of duty with the Marine corps, Verne returned to the University of Minnesota to finish his academic studies and to continue his athletic career. Gagne picked up right where he left off by capturing the Big Nine conference (From 1946 to 1949, the Big Ten conference only had nine teams and was known as the Big Nine conference) heavyweight wrestling championship in 1947, the Big Nine conference 191 pound wrestling championship in 1948 and the Big Nine Conference heavyweight wrestling championship in 1949. Verne also won the National AAU wrestling championship at 191 pounds in 1949 and captured the NCAA wrestling championship on two occasions. The first time Verne won the NCAA wrestling championship was in 1948 competing in the 191 pound division. The second time he captured the NCAA wrestling championship was in 1949 when Verne beat future NWA champion Dick Hutton in a double overtime match in the heavyweight division. Gagne lost to future 191 pound gold medalist Henry Wittenburg in the finals at the 1948 Olympic trials but still made the 1948 Olympic freestyle wrestling team as an alternate.  More...

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