#AWAWeek: Difference of Opinion

After having so much fun with the stables last month in celebration of the Survivor Series, we’ve decided to turn this December — and all Decembers in perpetuity — into Promotions Month. This week we have Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association. This is the Final Day of #AWAWeek, the sixteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. As (almost) always, we started by making AWA a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better. Then, we gave you the finer points of the company’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewing and spent some time talking about one of the Lies the WWE Told Us about Hulkamania. Now, we sum everything up with a “Difference of Opinion” that will likely be closer to a “Difference in Levels of Understanding”. 

Nick: David, you wrote a lot for us this week, mostly because you’re the resident AWA (and JCP) expert. So I’ll just ask: Where does the AWA rank for you in the all-time promotions list?

Dave: Well, I know a little about a lot; I’m hardy an expert.

Nick: Well, for reference, I had to check to see what the second “A” in AWA stood for.

Dave: With that said, the AWA was, in my opinion, a strong third promotion behind the NWA and the WWWF. It was basically a super-territory; a lot more like the 1990s WWF than any of its  NWA contemporaries.

Nick: It seems ridiculous how many people came from there. They seem like the proto-ECW with/regards/to that.

Dave: Yeah, absolutely. A ridiculous number of wrestlers got their start there, and Gagne was on par with Stu Hart in terms of training guys who became stars with reputations as reliable, talented workers.

Nick: It just seems remarkable that Curt Hennig and Hulk Hogan came from the same territory.

Dave: Well, Hogan really started in Florida, but he became a main event star in the AWA. I think that’s one of the things that made the AWA really special: the variety of talent. They had the Brody/Hansen wrestlers and the Bockwinkel/Gagne wrestlers and the Hennig/Michaels wrestlers. Their variety of talent was on par with the early Nitro era.

Nick: Was that a conscious effort or just a “we’ll grab who we can grab” type of thing?

Dave: In the early days (60s/70s), I think Verne was honestly a great evaluator of talent and knew that for the promotion to consistently draw they had to offer a little of anything. Post-Hogan, they were taking what they could get.

Nick: How badly did Gagne screw up with Hogan? Because it seems like he was actively trolling him on some level. And even if Gagne wasn’t a TOTAL DOUCHEBAG, would Hulk have left anyways?

Dave: It’s on the short list of all-time screw ups, no matter what. But if Gagne had treated him right for a few years, maybe Hogan could have made the next guy on the way out and kept the AWA stronger for a few more years. I mean, if he had put over Martel, Martel would have been seen as a great champion, not just a guy who could carry the belt.

Hogan was always going to wind up in New York, though.

Nick: Too much money/fame?

Dave: Hogan (like Gagne or McMahon) NEEDS to be right, and for him, being fired by Vince Sr. over Rocky was an injustice against Hulk Hogan. I think returning to New York as the be-all, end-all hero was personally very gratifying for him. I think he felt vindicated.

Nick: Feels* vindicated, you mean. Because Hulkamania still seems like it’s running wild in Terry Bollea’s head.

Dave: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. He’s very smart about maintaining the illusion by only going to markets where he’s rarely seen. I remember when he and Bischoff did their speaking tour of Great Britain, they were trying to say that the tickets they were selling was proof that people still wanted Hulk Hogan, which he used as leverage negotiating with TNA. Whereas if Hogan was speaking in, say, Atlanta, it would just be another event with a celebrity. Hogan’s a master of image control, which Verne Gagne dangerously underestimated when dealing with him.

Nick: SPEAKING OF BISCHOFF, I was a little disappointed I didn’t think to write anything on him this week. Because his run in the AWA is one of the great train wrecks in wrestling history.

Dave: Oh my gosh. That’s like you saying you want to write about Mike Adamle in 20 years when we’re writing about the 2000s.

Nick: Stan Hansen ran over the AWA title with his truck and still did less damage than Bischoff. And some of it wasn’t his fault, of course, but the entire conversation about Eric being a genius begins and ends with that OUTRAGEOUS team challenge.

Dave: Ha! Well, Bischoff had no idea what he was doing. He was basically a glorified telemarketer who get his job on screen because the previous guy got a DUI and couldn’t make the tapings. The Team Challenge was him and Greg, in all fairness. I credit them for trying to do something different, but yeah… Not a good idea. It was like they knew the AWA hadn’t had a fresh idea in 25 years, so they tried to do the most out-there thing possible to make up for it.

Nick: I suppose it was better than the Doomsday Cage.

Dave: Or the Dixieland Match.

Nick: Woah… woah… woah.. are you trying to say that last night’s tournament final shouldn’t have been a gimmicked match and instead should have been allowed to stand on its own?

Dave: Yes. It’s the World Title. The VACANT World Title. The vacant World Title on the eve of a new year. You need to have a real match.

Nick: Which, actually brings us back to my favorite thing about the AWA: how much different would things have been for the company if Verne would have just put the title on Hogan instead of pulling whatever the hell was going on with that Nick Bockwinkel match. And maybe more importantly, how much bigger of a deal would Bockwinkel have been??

Dave: Like I said earlier, I think Hogan would have eventually wound up in New York, but I think if Verne had played ball with him in good faith, the AWA could have made enough money to weather the storm of talent being pilfered from them and been healthy into the mid-90s, when they could have made some hay during the creative downturn of WCW/WWF between 1993 and 1996.

Nick: What about Bockwinkel? He seems like a lost great, and it appears that several generations of wrestling (read: WWE) fans don’t know who he is?

Dave: Oh yeah. Chris Jericho did the Lord’s work in terms of raising awareness for Bockwinkel. This is a weird math equation, but he’s Ric Flair + Damien Sandow.

Nick: And I think that might be because, and this is something you touched on with Lies The WWE Told Us, they really don’t want to acknowledge the existence of pre-WWF Hulkamania, and they can’t explain the story of Bockwinkel without mentioning it. Which was definitely a recurring theme this month, with each of the promotions we covered. When the WWE wants to Trotsky you, you keep on the look out for that ice pick.

Dave: Absolutely. The history of wrestling according to the WWE is basically swiss cheese. In Bockwinkel’s case, he never worked for them, so why celebrate his greatness? Jim Crockett Promotions had a better wrestling product without the production values, so why celebrate them? ECW was more over with their fan base than WWE, so why celebrate them?

Nick: I guess that’s what we’re here for. Well, except for the next two weeks.

Dave: Whatever. Europe closes for August, so this is nothing.

Nick: Happy Holidays, Everybody!