AWA #39 Page #2

Hulk was given Luscious Johnny Valiant as his manager and the AWA initially felt the best way to get Hulk over was to have him decimate two or sometimes three preliminary wrestlers in handicap matches. What the AWA didn't envision was fans cheering Hulk Hogan instead of booing him. To its credit though, the AWA quickly changed Hogan from heel to babyface. Luscious Johnny Valiant was shown the door in short order. Feuds against Jerry Blackwell, Adrian Adonis, Jesse Ventura and Ken Patera established Hulk Hogan as the AWA's number one babyface and the promotion's top drawing card. Hulk Hogan received his first title shot against AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel on February 27th, 1982 in Chicago, Illinois. Hogan won that bout by disqualification. Hogan and Bockwinkel faced each other several more times the next few months but there was never a clean winner. The majority of the bouts ended in disqualification wins for Hogan.  

During the period between leaving the WWF and entering the AWA, Hulk Hogan worked on the movie Rocky III where he played a champion wrestler known as Thunderlips. Rocky III debuted in theaters during May of 1982 and Hogan's role in the film as Thunderlips led to Hulk receiving national media attention including an appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Hogan had so many things going for him. The national media attention. His popularity in the AWA. His ability to draw fans into arenas. An AWA heavyweight title reign had to be right around the corner. BUT ... 

Verne Gagne had other plans. Austrian superstar Otto Wanz made Verne an offer Gagne couldn't refuse. The 350+ pound Wanz reportedly gave Gagne fifty thousand dollars in exchange for an AWA title run. Wanz debuted in the AWA during July of 1982. His most impressive feat on television was ripping up phone books which former Olympic weightlifter Ken Patera failed to do. The angle was designed to make fans think Wanz was stronger than Patera. The AWA also paired Wanz with the very popular Baron Von Raschke in an attempt to get Otto over. On August 29th, 1982 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Otto Wanz defeated Nick Bockwinkel to capture the AWA heavyweight championship. To say Otto's victory over Bockwinkel was a shocking upset is an understatement. Nobody and I mean nobody expected Wanz to beat Bockwinkel. There are those who believe giving Wanz the strap increased the AWA title's stature because Otto was a superstar in Europe. However in the eyes of the average A WA fan, Nick Bockwinkel had been beaten by a fat Austrian that liked to wear a funny looking hat. Thankfully Otto's title reign was short lived as Bockwinkel regained the AWA title from Wanz on September 9th, 1982 in Chicago, Illinois. 

Rick Martel ventured into the AWA for the first time during June of 1982. Only 26 years old when he came to the AWA, Martel was a seasoned veteran as he had made his pro debut at the age of 17 in 1973. Rick had wrestled in many different places including Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Georgia, Texas, the Pacific Northwest, Montreal and the World Wrestling Federation. He had held numerous tag team titles and a few singles belts in his career prior to joining the AWA. Martel was a good looking French Canadian with an excellent physique. Rick could perform high flying manuevers and could mat wrestle very well. He was a terrific all around performer. His only drawback was talking on the microphone but with all the other attributes Rick had going for him, his lack of interview skills really didn't hurt him that much. Martel challenged Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA title several times during the second half of 1982 and established himself as one of the AWA's top babyfaces.  

Special thanks 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 have tons more on the attempts of Hulk Hogan, Rick Martel, Jumbo Tsuruta, Jerry Lawler and even Blackjack Lanza to defeat Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA heavyweight championship.  

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