1926-2015By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents
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The wrestling world lost a true legend earlier this week, when former AWA world heavyweight champion Verne Gagne died. He was 89 years old. By the time I started watching wrestling Verne had retired from the ring (as the champ). He was the promoter and had an on-screen role during that time, even wrestled a few times too.
The thing I liked about the AWA was it was a decent alternative to the WWF and NWA. When I really started watching, Vince McMahon had already signed guys like Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura and Andre the Giant. But Verne had a talented roster and he worked hard to provide fans with wholesome, Mid-western wrestling action.
|Verne vs. Nick Bockwinkel|
Many men were given a chance in the AWA that would have likely been overlooked in the other "big two" companies. Guys like Nick Bockwinkel and Rick Martel made fine champions I always thought. Stan Hansen had a run at the top too as did Jerry "The King" Lawler and Curt Hennig. One of my favorite memories of the elder Gagne was his foray into the pay per view world and an event called WrestleRock. This video was used to promote it, and although cheesy it was memorable and I rooted for the AWA hoping they'd continue the tradition. (They did not though).
I remember his feud with Sheik Adnan al Kaissie and his army. Bruiser Brody was brought in to help the heels in their attempt to dominate Verne's allies, including son Greg. Even though he was well past his prime, Verne would step through the ropes and dish out whippings when he deemed it appropriate.
Verne fought the good fight for as long as he could before going bankrupt. The company folded and this meant no more afternoons of AWA Championship Wrestling on ESPN. I'd love watching it after school. Relative unknowns like Diamond Dallas Page, Shawn Michaels, Marty Jannetty and a guy named Leon White all went on to much bigger and better things, thanks to the vision of Verne Gagne.
|Hall of Fame induction|
In 2006 we had the honor of watching Verne become a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. It was an interesting idea at the time, as I think he became the first non-WWE employee/Superstar to get inducted. I was on pins and needles as he delivered his speech, wondering if he'd take any shots at the McMahons. He did not. Verne was a pro and kept it that way. Much respect to him and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and fans. Rest in peace.