AWA #3 Page #2

Verne Gagne's philosophy was, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. For over 20 years, Gagne had promoted the same way in the Midwest. During the 70's, only Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel were AWA champion. Verne thought longtime AWA veterans like the Crusher, Baron Von Raschke and Nick Bockwinkel could still be huge drawing cards and that a top notch worker had to be your world champion. Gagne viewed Hogan as a gate attraction but not as a world champion for his promotion.

In the summer of 1982, Verne Gagne brokered a deal resulting in a new man being crowned AWA heavyweight champion. European superstar Otto Wanz paid Verne a sum of money in order to become AWA champion. Wanz was a large man standing well over 6 feet and weighing well over 300 pounds.

Otto won the title from Nick Bockwinkel on August 29th, 1982 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Wanz's title reign was a short one as he lost the title back to Bockwinkel in Chicago six weeks later. The title changes confused AWA fans as Wanz was unknown in the United States. The AWA would have been better served to have Bockwinkel lose the belt to an up and coming North American star like Tito Santana, Dino Bravo or Hulk Hogan which would elevate the new champion to superstar level but all Verne Gagne could think about was having the money Otto Wanz paid him inside his pocket.

Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell had beaten Jesse Ventura and Adrian Adonis in the summer of 1981 to win the AWA tag team titles for a second time. Greg and Jim were pushed to the hilt as nearly unbeatable superstars similar to Bockwinkel or Hulk Hogan. In the back of Verne Gagne's mind, he still saw his son Greg Gagne as the future of the AWA. So almost every Gagne and Brunzell match would end with Greg scoring the victory with the Gagne sleeper.

Sheik Adnan El Kaissey had come to the AWA in late 1981. Kaissey originally was billed as an Arabian madman and received a solid singles push. As the months went by, Verne Gagne developed a slightly different persona for Sheik Adnan. Instead of being a madman, Kaissey was molded into being a wealthy Sheik who wasn't afraid to throw his money around.  The Sheik made Jerry Blackwell an offer which included lots of money and a harem of beautiful women to become his tag team partner. Blackwell accepted Sheik Adnan's offer and became known as Sheik Ayatollah Blackwell. Blackwell and Kaissey would become top contenders for the AWA tag team championship.

After Sheik Adnan had his arm broken in a tag team match against Mad Dog Vachon and Verne Gagne in Gagne's first of many comebacks, Blackwell was left without a healthy tag team partner. Kaissey bought the contract of strongman Ken Patera from Bobby Heenan and promptly teamed Blackwell with Patera. Patera also adopted a Sheik persona just as Blackwell had months before. The team of Patera and Blackwell was an immediate success defeating Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell on June 26th, 1983 to capture the AWA tag team titles.

Nick Bockwinkel was the consummate professional wrestler. He excelled at every aspect of the sport. Nick gave excellent interviews to hype his upcoming AWA heavyweight title defenses and could go hold for hold with any wrestler in the world. Plus, he had the world's greatest manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan at his side. There was one drawback to Bockwinkel though in 1983. He was in his mid 40s and needed to be replaced by a younger wrestler as AWA champion.

For many years, the conventional wrestling wisdom was the promotion's best worker should be its world champion. However, in the early 80's, the landscape of professional wrestling was changing. Cable television was booming all over the country and syndicated televised wrestling shows were now seen in many areas outside of the local territory. It was up to the promoters to capitalize on this new television phenomenon.  Verne Gagne saw no reason to change with the times. He had the most recognizable wrestler in the United States, Hulk Hogan, on his roster.  Yet Verne could not comprehend replacing Bockwinkel with Hogan as AWA champion. Hogan was not a good worker. Therefore, Gagne would not allow the Hulkster to become AWA heavyweight champion. 

Hulk Hogan received several title shots against Nick Bockwinkel. Most matches would end in a controversial decision with neither man scoring a clean victory. Several times in arenas across the country, Hogan would pin Bockwinkel and be announced as the new champion inside the arena only to have the decision reversed the next week on television due to a technicality. These screwjob finishes incensed AWA fans as they wanted Hulk Hogan to be their champion. After seeing the same finish to a Hogan-Bockwinkel match on more than one occasion, the fans figured out Hogan would never be the AWA champion. As a result many fans stopped attending AWA shows in the majority of AWA cities.

In late 1983, Vince McMahon Jr, owner of the World Wrestling Federation based in the northeast, decided to capitalize on the cable wrestling phenomenon by taking his promotion national. McMahon needed a wrestler that could draw fans all over the country not just in the northeast.  Vince saw how popular Hogan was and how much national media attention Hulk received and decided Hogan would be the perfect man to front his promotion as world champion so he made Hulk Hogan an offer The Hulkster couldn't refuse. Hogan accepted McMahon's offer and left the AWA for the WWF.  The loss of Hulk Hogan was catastrophic to the AWA. Attendance was already poor in several cities and now the promotion had lost its most popular star and top drawing card. Many AWA stars like Jesse Ventura, Bobby Heenan, Blackjack Lanza and announcer Mean Gene Okerlund soon followed Hogan to the WWF. The AWA would never be the same.


The ESPN years.

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