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 - Jim Zordani

During the late 60s and early 70s, the American Wrestling Association was known primarily as a tag team territory.  Verne Gagne was the AWA world champion but he only wrestled once or twice a week.  Therefore the tag tam champions main evented most AWA cards and were pushed the hardest on television.

On November 8th 1975, the lean mean machine Nick Bockwinkel defeated Gagne for the AWA heavyweight championship in Minneapolis Minnesota.  This title switch changed the AWA in many different ways.  The new AWA champion Bockwinkel would now be the focal point of the promotion.  AWA newcomer Big Bad Bobby Duncum whose outside interference helped Bockwinkel beat Gagne immediately became a top heel.  Ray Stevens who held the AWA tag team titles 3 times with Bockwinkel was left without a tag team partner.  Bobby "the Brain" Heenan not only was the manager of Bockwinkel but Stevens, Duncum and Blackjack Lanza as well. Bockwinkel's win over Gagne ushered in the era of the Heenan family. 

Since Verne Gagne did not wrestle full time, other AWA fan favorites such as Reggie "the Crusher" Lisowski, Billy Robinson and Larry "the Axe" Hennig were left to battle the villainous Heenan family.  The Crusher and his wrestling "cousin" Dick the Bruiser had beaten Bockwinkel and Stevens for the AWA tag team titles on August 16th, 1975 in Chicago, Illinois.

Crusher and Bruiser were veteran brawlers and were the top draws in almost every AWA city.  The beer guzzling duo would hold the tag team titles for several months before dropping them to Blackjack Lanza and Bobby Duncum on July 23rd, 1976 in Chicago, Illinois.  The Heenan family now had complete control of the AWA.  Bockwinkel was the heavyweight champion while Lanza and Duncum held the tag straps.

Like many top wrestlers of his era, Verne Gagne formed his own promotion and wanted his son to eventually succeed him as world champion.  Greg Gagne made his wrestling debut in 1972 and soon started teaming with another Minnesota youngster, "Jumping" Jim Brunzell.  Greg and Jim were dubbed the High Flyers and were being groomed as future tag team champions. 

The High Flyers started out on the undercard and slowly worked their way up to main event status.  On July 7th, 1977 in Winnepeg, Manitoba Canada, Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell defeated Blackjack Lanza and Bobby Duncum to become the AWA tag team champions.

Throughout his storied career, Ray "the Crippler" Stevens had always been a main event heel.   When Nick Bockwinkel captured the AWA heavyweight title, Stevens was left without a tag team partner and really had no role within the Heenan family. Something was bound to happen and on a televised interview with announcer Marty O'Neill, all hell broke loose.

Bobby Heenan was bragging how great Bockwinkel was and what a fantastic tag team Lanza and Duncum were.  Ray attempted to say something but was abruptly cut off by Heenan.  Stevens became incensed and a pier six brawl ensued.  Ray was now a fan favorite and started a war with the Heenan family.  Stevens unsuccessfully challenged his former partner Bockwinkel for the AWA title on several occasions and formed outstanding tag teams with Larry Hennig and Billy Robinson.  Eventually Ray Stevens grew tired of hearing the fans cheer him and reformed a team with his longtime partner Pat Patterson.  Stevens and Patterson were awarded the AWA tag team titles on September 22nd, 1978 when Jim Brunzell sustained an injury and the High Flyers were unable to honor their title commitments.


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