AWA #29 Page #2
Bockwinkel took a few months off before starting full time in the AWA. Nick's first AWA television match happened on December 5th, 1970 where Bockwinkel beat Dave Cox. Nick immediately went on a huge winning streak to establish himself in the AWA. Among the wrestlers Nick defeated in late 1970 and in the first nine months of 1971 were Paul Diamond, Billy Red Cloud, Edouard Carpentier, Red Bastien, Bull Bullinski, Bill Miller, Sailor Art Thomas, Ernie Ladd, Don Muraco and Hercules Cortez. In August of 1971, the decision was made for Nick Bockwinkel to team with another AWA newcomer Ray The Crippler Stevens.
Ray Stevens was one of the biggest names in professional wrestling at that time. Stevens had been the top heel and top star in San Francisco for several years. He set attendance records in the Bay area that lasted until the mid to late 1990s. Ray was regarded as one of the top performers of his era. Stevens made his AWA debut on June 24th, 1971 downing Kenny Jay in a televised match. The AWA needed a big angle to quickly get Bockwinkel and Stevens over as the mos t villainous tag team in the territory. On August 28th, 1971, Ray was battling Red Bastien on a televise edition of All Star Wrestling. Nick Bockwinkel came to ringside during the match and climbed on the ring apron. Bastien slugged Bockwinkel. Stevens then nailed Red from behind and Bastien was busted wide open by Bockwinkel and Stevens during the ensuing melee. The team of Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens had arrived in the AWA.
The two on one assault by Bockwinkel and Stevens against Red Bastien was monumental for a few reasons. It signified the formation of the hated Bockwinkel and Stevens tag team. It established a feud between Bastien and the team of Nick and Ray. Plus the attack by Bockwinkel and Stevens showed fans would maim their opponents by any means neccessary.
Red Bastien and Hercules Cortez had won the AWA tag team titles from Mad Dog and Butcher Vachon on May 15th, 1971 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two months into their tag title reign, tragedy intervened and changed the course of AWA wrestling history. On the night of July 23rd, 1971, Bastien and Cortez were involved in a serious car accident just north of St. Cloud, Minnesota. The 39 year old Cortez, real name Alfonso Chicharo, was killed in the car accident. The 40 year old Bastien suffered a few injuries but was not seriously injured. After taking some time off to recover from his injuries and then touring Japan defending the AWA tag team titles with Billy Howard as his partner, Red Bastien returned to the AWA and selected the Crusher to take Cortez's place as his AWA tag team championship partner.
The stage was set. Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens were the top contenders to the AWA tag team titles held by Red Bastien and the Crusher. The two teams would battle over the AWA tag belts for the next few months with Bastien and Crusher hanging on to their titles. On January 20th, 1972 in Denver, Colorado, Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens defeated Red Bastien and The Crusher to capture the AWA World Tag Team Titles. According to the Crusher Lisowski record book published by George Lentz, the finish of the match happened this way. Bastien was about to deliver his "Atomic Drop" finisher to Stevens when he was kicked in the stomach by Bockwinkel. Bastien fell to the mat and was pinned by Stevens.
Special thanks to wrestling historians George Schire and Jim Melby. Without the work of people like Schire and Melby, columns like this one would not be possible.
Any comments, questions and corrections can be sent to JZ92264@webtv.net.
I'll cover the AWA tag team title reigns of Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens.
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