AWA #36 Page #2
Nick's first stint for Crockett was in April and May of 1979. Among the wrestlers Nick faced during that stay were Paul Orndorff, Ricky Steamboat, Jim Brunzell and Pedro Morales. Bockwinkel returned to Jim Crockett Promotions in September and October of 1979. Ricky Steamboat and Jim Brunzell were Nick's most frequent opponents during Bockwinkel's second run for Crockett. During his two tenures for Crockett, Bockwinkel hit most of JCP's major cities including Greensboro NC, Hampton VA, Raleigh NC, Greenville SC, Columbia SC and Charlotte NC.
While having AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel defend the belt all over United States, in Canada and in Japan added great prestige to the AWA title, there was another reason for Bockwinkel appearing in so many different promotions. Nick Bockwinkel was being considered for a NWA title run. Dallas promoter Fritz Von Erich and Houston promoter Paul Boesch were Nick's biggest backers in the NWA. So Nick going from territory to territory defending the AWA belt as a traveling champion in some ways was a trial run for Bockwinkel as NWA champion. Eventually Nick Bockwinkel decided to pull his name for NWA title consideration feeling the travel the NWA champion endured was too much to handle. Nick preferred the lighter schedule of the AWA.
French Canadian superstar Dino Bravo made his AWA television debut on the October 29, 1979 edition of All Star Wrestling defeating the previously unbeaten Super Destroyer Mark II (Bob Remus aka Sgt Slaughter). Bravo was an excellent athlete who could perform power moves and aerial maneuvers with equal effectiveness. Dino could slam huge men like Jerry Blackwell and throw dropkicks with the best of them. Bravo normally used the airplane spin as his finisher. Dino received several shots against AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel during late 1979 and the first half of 1980. While Dino Bravo did not win the AWA title from Nick Bockwinkel, the matches between Bravo and Bockwinkel were stellar and established Dino as a threat to win any championship at any time.
Bobby Heenan returned to the AWA in December of 1979 as his suspension was lifted and quickly entered a feud with fellow manager Lord Alfred Hayes.
Hayes had been managing Super Destroyer Mark II and Super Destroyer Mark III (Neal Guay aka the Hangman) for several months in the AWA prior to the feud with Heenan. As the storyline went, Super Destroyer Mark II had a falling out with Lord Alfred and Super Destroyer Mark III and allied himself with Bobby Heenan and Nick Bockwinkel. Hayes and Super Destroyer Mark III joined up most of the time with the Crusher but occasionally with Mad Dog Vachon and Greg Gagne as well. The exact particulars on how this all transpired escape me but it did lead to singles, tag team and six man tag team matches between the side of Hayes, Super Destroyer Mark III and the Crusher (or Mad Dog or Greg Gagne) and the side of Heenan, Bockwinkel and Super Destroyer Mark II. After several months of feuding, Super Destroyer Mark III left the AWA. Lord Alfred Hayes lost a series of loser leaves town matches to Bobby Heenan. Heenan and Bockwinkel then turned on Super Destroyer Mark II eventually driving Mark II out of the AWA.
Fast forward to the Summer of 1980. Verne Gagne had not received an AWA title shot against Nick Bockwinkel in almost two years. Verne claimed Nick was ducking him. Nick countered by saying Verne did not deserve a title shot. Finally Chicago matchmaker Bob Luce inked an AWA title match between the current champ Bockwinkel and the former champ Gagne to be held on July 18, 1980 at Comiskey Park. The storyline for this match was terrific.
Verne Gagne having to wait nearly two years to get a crack at Bockwinkel. Nick wanting to prove his superiority over Gagne once and for all. On July 18th, 1980 at Comiskey Park in Chicago Illinois, Verne Gagne used his vaunted sleeper hold to subdue Nick Bockwinkel and capture the AWA heavyweight title for the final time.
Special thanks as always to AWA historians George Schire and Jim Melby. Without the work of men like Schire and Melby, columns like this one would not be possible.
I'll be taking a break from covering the career of Nick Bockwinkel. Instead I'll be doing a second column on the AWA's enhancement wrestlers to coincide with Kayfabe Memories month long tribute to enhancement performers.. So if you would like to see a certain enhancement wrestler profiled or if you have any vivid memories of AWA enhancement wrestlers, please drop me a line at email@example.com. The series of columns on the career of Nick Bockwinkel will resume in two months.
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