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Wrestling / American Wrestling Association

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"From coast to coast and around the globe, the greatest wrestlers in the world bring you the greatest wrestling in the world... that's the AWA!"
Tagline of AWA Championship Wrestling on ESPN

The American Wrestling Association (AWA) was an American professional wrestling promotion based in Minneapolis, Minnesota that ran from 1960 to 1991, owned and founded by Verne Gagne. The territory was originally part of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), before becoming an independent territory in 1960.

Gagne, an amateur wrestling champion who had earned a spot on the U.S. team at the 1948 Summer Olympics, had become a well-known and popular pro wrestler nationally in the 1950s. He aspired to become NWA World Heavyweight Champion, but political sentiment within the NWA (whose Board of Directors decided who was world champion) prevented it. In 1960, after unsuccessfully lobbying the NWA for a title match between Gagne and the then-NWA World Heavyweight Champion Pat O'Connor, Gagne led certain territories out of the NWA, forming the AWA. The AWA unilaterally recognized O'Connor as the first AWA World Heavyweight Champion in May 1960 and gave him 90 days to defend the title against Gagne. The NWA ignored the challenge. O'Connor was stripped of the AWA title and it was awarded to Gagne on August 1960.

Gagne would run the AWA with a progressive sensibility, firmly believing that sound technical wrestling should be the basis of a pro wrestling company. At their height they had weekly shows sold-out across the country, with the AWA having insane TV numbers in a dozen markets, being beaten only by 60 Minutes. Today's promotions are often lucky to put a thousand people in a building despite being aired on major cable outlets (such as TNA's run on Spike TV). A lot of this was built on the back of decades of relationships that head booker (and frequent champion) Gagne had built in his time.

After Gagne's retirement in 1981, he focused the promotion on Nick Bockwinkel, a loyal employee of several years who was a mat wrestling technician like Gagne had been. Bockwinkel faced numerous challengers for the title during the early 1980s, with by far the most famous of them being spry newcomer Hulk Hogan, who took on the villanous Bockwinkel in a heated rivalry which lasted up until 1983. Unfortunately, like many promoters, problems arose when the WWF began making its national push. Chief among them was that Hulk Hogan hadn't actually been crowned the next face of the company, and quit after 1983 due to disagreements with the money he had been making in his periodic trips to New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and an increasing feeling of nepotism on the part of Gagne who, among other things, was pushing his own son. A massive talent exodus ensued, including such names as Bobby Heenan, Jesse Ventura, and "Mean" Gene Okerlund. They would bounce back however by pushing some of their rising talent like Scott Hall, Rick Martel, The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty), Leon White, and others...but by the late 80's, WCW and the WWF had raided them into oblivion nearly bi-annually. The final straw for the company came in 1990, where money problems and a lapsed TV deal allowed champion Larry Zbyszko an opportunity to sign with WCW, and Gagne stripped him of the world title. With mounting losses, Gagne folded for good in 1991, though not without occasional reunion shows throughout the early 90's.

...and then there was "AWA Superstars of Wrestling", a reboot created by Dale Gagner (who renamed himself Dale Gagne to imply a relation to AWA's actual heritage). It started in 1996, and managed to continue to 2007 by that name, licensing the AWA branding all around the world along the way, including to Zero-1 in Japan. This charade ended when WWE finally stepped in and reminded Gagner that they actually owned the AWA branding. He rebranded to "Wrestling Superstars Live", abruptly ended all working relationships, then finally shut up shop in 2009.

"The major leagues of professional wrestling tropes":

  • Affably Evil:
    • Nick Bockwinkel was much like former top star Verne Gagne, a loyal company man, agreeable if not as friendly, he even wrestled similar to Gagne. Bar Bockwinkel's ego, lack of sportsmanship, and tendency to insult them, fans liked him.
    • Sgt. Slaughter as well, not in style so much but he was a patriot.
  • Anti-Villain: Nick Bockwinkel. Sure he cheated and called fans "cretinous humanoids", but he was just so eloquent and well spoken that you could always see where he was coming from. When he finally turned face in the mid-80s, it was a fairly seamless transition.
  • All-American Face:
    • Verne Gagne was a decorated amateur wrestler before founding the AWA with multiple Big Ten and AAU championships as well as a spot on the 1948 U.S. Olympic team to his credit.
    • Also, Sgt. Slaughter, a more militant example (obviously).
  • All Asians Know Martial Arts: Pat Tanaka's Red Baron was "The Sensei", despite the fact that he was born in Hawaiʻi.
  • Ax-Crazy
    • With names like "Butcher" and "Mad Dog," how could the Vachons not qualify? They used to terrify audiences but their antics eventually fell into the realm of nostalgia, making them babyfaces by default. Foaming-from-the-mouth, crazy babyfaces.
    • Larry Hennig was known as "The Ax" for a reason.
  • Badass Biker: Legion of Doom, a pair of no selling chopper riders whose protective gear was decorated in Spikes of Villainy. But LOD were SO badass they turned face.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Nick Bockwinkel, though he still had standard ring gear for actual matches
  • Big Eater: The explanation for Scott Norton's "Flapjack" nickname was that he had supposedly eaten all the pancakes at the lumberjacks' camp by himself in one sitting.
  • Cool Helmet: Nord The Barbarian's horny viking helmet.
  • Cool Mask: Double X and Dr. X had black masks.
  • Cool Old Guy: Nick Bockwinkel during his final World Title run at age 52. Not to mention that Bockwinkel was able to rap better than everyone else, including the younger talent, in the WrestleRock Rumble video.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Pretty much every match on All-Star Wrestling was this.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Hulk Hogan beat Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA Title, despite Bobby Heenan cheating against him, only to have the title stripped away by AWA President Stanley Blackburn because Hogan had also cheated (to defend himself from Heenan and Bockwinkel). Hogan won the title a second time in a match that involved throwing Bockwinkel over the top rope, which would be a disqualification in AWA rules except that, given the way he was stripped of the title last time, the match was done as a no disqualification match. Unable to find an excuse for Hogan not to be champion, Blackburn simply took the belt from Hogan anyway. The fans nearly rioted and were only pacified by Hulk Hogan giving an extra beating to his tormentors.
  • Dirty Coward: And Bobby Heenan's running from another one.
  • Foreign Wrestling Heel: Baron Von Raschke (Germany), Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissie (Iraq), Abdullah the Butcher (Sudan), Kamala (Uganda), Boris Zhukov (Russia), Akio Sato (Japan), Soldat Ustinov (Russia), Col. DeBeers (South Africa), etc.
  • Gimmick Matches: Punching was legal in all Brass Knuckles title matches, which were often taped fist matches as well to discourage grappling. Sometimes actual brass knuckles were used openly.
  • Gorgeous George: "Superstar" Billy Graham and later, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, though they were less ambiguously gay than most examples.
  • Heel–Face Return: Of a sort. Hulk Hogan was the bad guy in Rocky III but being in a movie still made the fans treat him like a superstar babyface in his appearances after the movie.
  • Highly-Visible Ninja: Larry Zbyszko's training partner Mr. Go was supposed to be a ninja.
  • I Call It "Vera": During Baron Von Raschke's late-1980s feud with the the Sheik's (Adnan Al-Kaisse) Army, he carried around a baseball bat he called his "Louisville Sleeper."note 
  • Invincible Hero: Verne Gagne, ten-time AWA World Heavyweight Champion, right before he retired. Gagne couldn't get NWA World Champion Pat O' Connor on his show, so he broke away from the NWA, declared O' Connor the AWA World Champion, and then "stripped" O' Connor of the belt for "failing" to defending it for 90 days, Gagne awarding it to himself.
  • Insistent Terminology: For a time in the mid-1980s, the announcers would refer to the DDT as a "short piledriver."
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Nick Bockwinkel, a well-read man with the paychecks of a champion, and also the top heel of the AWA.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Big Bill Miller, though he was a veterinarian.
  • Mr. Fanservice: The Midnight Rockers (Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty)
  • Non-Indicative Name: Much like WCW, the American Wrestling Association Women's Championship was defended almost exclusively in Japan, about as far away from America as you can get. Though unlike WCW, this only happened with WSL's replacement belt that was created in 1999 after AWA closed. Pro Wrestling ZERO1 eventually sent it back to the USA and then retired it after Sherri Martel died. On other hand, almost all the active AWA belts and substitutes ended up being almost exclusively defended in Japan after WWE sued Wrestling Superstars Live.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted with Jerry 'The Crusher' Blackwell and Reggie "The Crusher" Lisowski. They did feud over this.
  • Parts Unknown: Nord the Barbarian, from "Norwegia"
  • Piss-Take Rap: The WrestleRock Rumble had 99% of the roster give piss take raps. Arguably the best rapper on the whole roster? Nick Bockwinkel, who was 52 at the time.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Baron Von Raschke and Col. DeBeers, for your network-acceptable takes on Nazism and Apartheid.
  • Power Stable: The Heenan Family, The Diamond Exchange.
  • Pretty Boy: The one and only Bobby Heenan was billed as such
  • Ring Oldies: The combination of the AWA style resulting in less wear and tear on the wrestlers bodies and the WWF signing away their younger talent made the AWA especially prone to this in the 80s. Nick Bockwinkel, Verne Gagne, The Crusher and Baron Von Raschke all had World Heavyweight or Tag Team title runs past the age of 50.
  • Rule of Cool: The Crusher's signature move, the bolo punch, ran on this.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: An all too common theme near the end of the AWA's life was for wrestlers and even announcers to leave with no warning after not getting paid or just seeing the writing on the wall for the promotion. Among the many sudden defections included Sgt. Slaughter (described as having "gone AWOL" when he left for the WWF) Jerry Lawler (who left with the AWA championship belt after Verne Gagne didn't pay him for Superclash III and took both the Memphis territory and World Class Championship Wrestling with him) and announcer Larry Nelson (who described his sudden defection in his book Stranglehold as both realizing the AWA was doomed and wanting to leave the Twin Cities for a fresh start in his personal life).
  • Spiritual Successor
    • In 1996, the former AWA employees in Superstars Of Wrestling began selling rights to use the AWA name to other promotions in the UK, Canada and Japan. After WWE got the AWA rights, the AWA SOW company changed its name to Wrestling Superstars Live but WWE ended up filing a lawsuit against them anyway in 2007, causing the break up of the budding alliance and ending the use of AWA properties among those purchased who purchased them from SOW/WSL. WSL would continue on for another year after the suit before closing, meaning the closest thing to a continuation of the AWA ended up being a few regional promotions such as Carolina Wrestling Federation Mid-Atlantic. WSL's AWA title belts continued to be to defended in various Japanese promotions even after WSL's end, Zero 1 getting the most of them.
    • Also in a real case of Artifact Title, AWA Australia, which opened in 2006.
    • The "Pro Wrestling International" alliance of promotions that was formed in 2007 can be seen as one to the licensed AWA alliance, given CWF Mid-Atlantic joined.
  • Stout Strength: The 5'10 450 lbs "Man Mountain" Jerry Blackwell.
  • Unrelated Brothers: The Crusher and Dick the Bruiser, though more commonly billed as cousins.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Hulk Hogan did not have an amateur wrestling background and was not deemed a good enough technician on the mat to be a singles champion. He was bigger and stronger than most however and popular enough to justify having him hover around the top. Gagne himself would have made an exception to "Champion must be the best technical wrestler" but was making money having Hogan chase the champion and wanted to keep milking it...leading Hogan to leave to promotions that would shoot him to the top more quickly, leaving AWA without a top draw they could be set to rely on for years down the line.
  • World's Strongest Man: Ken Patera was billed as this.
  • Wrestling Doesn't Pay
    • The Lumberjacks (John Nord and Scott "Flapjack" Norton)
    • The Trooper (Del Wilkes)
    • The Asian Assassin Akio Sato. Obviously wasn't racking up kills while on TV.
  • Wrestling Family
    • Larry Zbyszko was part of the Gagne family by marriage, but this was never mentioned on camera.
    • The Gagnes (Verne & Greg), the Vachons (Butcher & Mad Dog) and the Hennigs (Larry & Curt).
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: As their manager Diamond Dallas Page would say, "Badd Company, and that's B-A-DOUBLE-D BADD!"

Alternative Title(s): AWA