AWA #8 Page #2
During 1958 while still in the Army, Nick wrestling as Dick Warren teamed with Ramon Torres to capture the San Francisco, California version of the NWA tag team titles on two occasions.
Once his stint in the Army was finished, Nick traveled all over the country wrestling in several different territories slowly perfecting his craft and honing his skills. Bockwinkel captured titles in California, Oregon, Hawaii and Texas during the 60s. At times, Nick used such aliases as Roy Diamond and The Phantom. He was a fan favorite wherever he went feuding with villanous wrestlers like Mad Dog Vachon, King Curtis Iaukea, Handsome Johnny Barend, Tough Tony Borne, Killer Buddy Austin and Crazy Luke Graham. Nick's most notable match thus far in his career was a non title match against NWA champion Lou Thesz on February 20th, 1964 in Medford, Oregon.
It wasn't until 1970 in Georgia that Nick became a heel. Nick had toyed with the idea of transforming himself from a pretty boy fan favorite to hated villan for several years. By 1970, Nick felt confident enough to debut his brash, cocky and arrogant heel persona. This new twist in personality proved to be the turning point in Bockwinkel's career. Nick became the Georgia Heavyweight champion and was the most despised man in the territory. Impressed by Nick's arrogant heel gimmick, the NWA brass awarded Nick three NWA title shots at champion Dory Funk Jr. While Nick didn't defeat Dory for the NWA title, these matches established Nick as one of the top wrestlers in the United States. After finishing up in Georgia, Nick headed north to the AWA.
Carl Raymond (Ray) Stevens was born on September 5th, 1935 in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. When he was still a young baby, Ray and his two sisters were taken to Columbus, Ohio to live with their aunt, Molly Pope. Ray did some amateur wrestling while in high school but his main amateur wrestling training took place in a gym run by Columbus wrestling promoter Al Haft. According to Ray's ex wife the former professional wrestler Therese Theis, Ray at age thirteen walked into Al Haft's gym one day and started working out with the wrestlers. Exactly when Ray had his first professional wrestling match has been the matter of much debate. Some experts say Ray made his debut at age fifteen. Other experts including Therese Theis believe Ray was sixteen when he wrestled his first professional match.
After only a few matches in Columbus, Ray along with then girlfriend Therese Theis and a few other wrestlers ventured to Tennessee to work for promoter Nick Gulas. Stevens stayed in the territory for three months while Therese only stayed a few weeks. Because there wasn't enough work for them, female wrestlers never stayed in a territory very long. Ray and Therese met back up in Columbus a few months later and became inseparable. Ray with Therese at his side them wrestled in territories all over the country. According to Therese, she and Ray were married somewhere in South Carolina.
During the mid 1950s for the Columbus promotion, Ray's steady tag team partner was Don Kalt better known to most fans as Don Fargo. The duo started out as Ray Stevens and Don Kalt but the promoters quickly changed it to Ray and Don Stevens. Don Kalt suddenly became Ray's brother. The Stevens brothers even held the Ohio tag team titles for four weeks in May of 1956. Ray and Don worked several other places including the New York territory run at the time by Toots Mondt.
While working in New York, Ray met Roy Shire for the first time. Roy and Ray eventually decided to wrestle in Indianapolis as the Shire brothers. Roy and Ray Shire defeated Dick te Bruiser and Angelo Poffo in a tournament final held on August 6th, 1959 to become the Indianapolis version of the World Tag Team champions. After trading the belts back and forth with Dick the Bruiser and Gene Kiniski, the Shire brothers entered a feud with Chris and John Tolos. The Tolos brothers emerged victorious in the feud winning the tag straps from Roy and Ray on November 5th, 1960.
After dropping the titles to Chris and John Tolos, Roy Shire left Indianapolis for San Francisco, California. Roy purchased the San Francisco wrestling promotion from Joe Malcewicz. Roy brought Ray Stevens (no longer Ray Shire) with him to San Francisco and installed Ray as the United States Heavyweight champion. In his first televised interview upon his arrival to San Francisco, Ray Stevens called San Francisco a horrible place to live and referred to the residents of San Francisco as pencil neck geeks. The San Francisco fans were incensed by Ray's comments and turned out in droves to hopefully see Ray get his tail kicked.
Over the next ten years, Ray Stevens won and lost the United States Heavyweight championship nine times. Ray wrestled just about every top star in the business while in San Francisco. His most famous encounters were against Pepper Gomez, Bruno Sammartino and Pat Patterson. Pepper Gomez was a former bodybuilder turned wrestler billed as The Man With The Cast Iron Stomach. Gomez allowed other wrestlers to jump from a ladder onto his stomach. When several wrestlers failed to hurt Gomez in these televised stunts, Ray Stevens decided to give it try. Stevens jumped twice off the ladder onto Pepper's stomach but could not any damage to Gomez. After Pepper agreed to let Ray have a third attempt, Ray changed his tactics. Instead of coming down off the ladder onto Gomez's stomach, Stevens delivered his famous Bombs Away knee drop across Pepper's throat. Gomez sold the maneuver big time coughing up blood. Pepper left the San Francisco territory for several weeks due to what the promotion said was damaged vocal cords. Gomez eventually returned and the grudge match between Stevens and Gomez set an attendance record at the San Francisco Cow Palace that stood for thirty five years. To put this in proper prospective, The Stevens-Gomez match had higher gate receipts than concerts held at the Cow Palace by the Beatles and Elvis Presley. A rematch between the two men was tentatively scheduled for Candlestick Park but it fell apart when Ray was injured in a motorcycle accident.
On July 15th, 1967, WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino traveled to San Francisco to face Ray Stevens in a title versus title unification match. It was Bruno's WWWF title against Ray's United States Heavyweight championship. Stevens won the match by countout after hitting Bruno with the Bombs Away knee drop. Ray was announced in the Cow Palace as the undisputed world champion. The rules in San Francisco stated a title could change hands on a countout so the fans in San Francisco regarded Ray as the World's Heavyweight champion. However the rules in the WWWF said a title can only change hands by pinfall or submission. Since Sammartino was counted out of the ring, the WWWF did not acknowledge the title change which allowed Bruno to go back east with his title intact. In other words, Bruno was brought to San Francisco to put Ray over and add legitimacy to the United States title. No unification was ever discussed.
In 1965, Ray formed a tag team with Pat Patterson called the Blond Bombers. Stevens and Patterson teamed off and on for the next five years and held the San Francisco version of the NWA tag team title on two occasions. The Blond Bombers set the standard by which teams are judged from that time period. Many tag teams patterned themselves after Stevens and Patterson including the duo of Greg Valentine and Ric Flair as well as Steve Austin and Brian Pillman. In 1969, Stevens and Patterson had a huge falling out resulting in a megafeud which turned the once hated Stevens babyface. Before the biggest match of their feud could be held, Ray once again was injured in an outside the ring incident. Stevens was rounding up cattle on his ranch when a bull hit the gate. The gate came of its' hinges and hit Ray right in the face breaking several of his facial bones. Ray would miss nearly one year of ring time before reentering the squared circle. After feuding with Patterson and then dropping the United States Heavyweight Title to Paul DeMarco on June 5th, 1971, Ray Stevens accepted a more lucrative offer from the AWA and left San Francisco.
As profiled above, the AWA was receiving two of the biggest stars in wrestling when Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens came aboard. Nick made his AWA debut on December 5th, 1970 defeating preliminary wrestler Dave Cox in a match held at the Minneapolis based WTCN televisions studios. Over the next several months, Bockwinkel was groomed as the AWA's top heel defeating such stars as Red Bastien, Bull Bullinski, Sailor Art Thomas, Edouard Carpentier, Billy Red Cloud and Ernie Ladd. Nick received several title shots against AWA champion Verne Gagne and more than held his own in a feud with AWA legend Crusher Lisowski.
Ray Stevens made his AWA debut on June 24th, 1971 scoring a victory over Kenny Jay in a televised match. The decision was made quickly for Bockwinkel and Stevens to become a tag team. On August 28th, 1971, Ray was battling Red Bastien in a televised match. Nick Bockwinkel came to ringside during the match and climbed on the ring apron. Bastien slugged Bockwinkel. Ray then nailed Red from behind and Bastien got busted wide open during the ensuing melee by Bockwinel and Stevens. The team of Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens was born.
I'll cover the the AWA tag title reigns of Bockwinkel and Stevens in depth.
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