The American Wrestling Assocation: A Legacy Tainted with Greed and Anger

Matthew HesterSenior Writer IAugust 18, 2010

The other day I was talking to my buddy about the history of the American Wrestling Association (AWA). I know my AWA history fairly well, so I wanted to see how his views compared to mine.

I won’t get into it too much, but I will say his views of the AWA were a bit off. In fact, the only term I could think of to describe him is a fanboy.

That is not to say that the AWA wasn’t a great promotion. We had many great wrestlers come out of that promotion. I would even go as far as to say that the WWF would be nowhere without the AWA.

Verne Gagne was a gifted wrestler who had the uncanny ability to develop a nobody into something special. He helped make many stars during AWA’s 30-plus-year history.

Without Gagne, we may have never seen such great stars as Curt Hennig, Jesse Ventura, HBK, and many other greats.

I will also give the devil its due as far as the way Gagne ran the television and merchandise market for his promotion. He planted the seeds for wrestling to grow to new levels on television.

He was also one of the first to capitalize on wrestlers’ names by selling merchandise with logos and names of fan favorites.

That is where my praise for Gagne ends, folks.

While he was great in ways that I just mentioned above, Gagne was also a very selfish, arrogant, and stubborn man.

When he left the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) to start the AWA in the '60s, I was cool with that. Many promoters were tired with the NWA’s antics by then.

The problem was that he always, and I mean always, had to be the guy in the spotlight. He was the AWA heavyweight champion 10 times.

If he was just a wrestler, I would be fine with that, but when you are the owner of the company, that is just inexcusable.

He spent years burying top talent because he could. Hell, he even did it to his own son! How can anyone respect business practices like that?

Gagne was also known as a cheap bastard. There have been many wrestlers who have gone on the record to state that they were stiffed by him. While Gagne was rolling in the dough, his wrestlers were on the road barely making ends meet.

To make matters worse, once Gagne started to sell and make big bucks off his merchandise, he low-balled most of his athletes on the sales of their merchandise. That was one of the main reasons Hulk Hogan left his cheap butt.

When Vince McMahon hit the scene in the early '80s, you would think Gagne would pony up a little dough, right? Well, we all know how that turned out, don’t we?

Towards the end, he had such a bad rep with the boys that they decided to leave him cold.

The fact is, he didn’t know how to handle the pressure of competition. By the time he decided to wise up, it was too late. He was left in the dust with no one to blame but himself.

He would hold on to this anger years after he folded. His hatred towards Vince was known by many in the wrestling business. It wasn’t until recently that he buried the hatchet after Vince put him in the WWE Hall of Fame.

So as far as I’m concerned, Gagne, and his AWA, is very suspect as far as how great his promotion was. Was it a good promotion? Without a doubt it was.

It was also a promotion that was flawed from the very beginning.


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