Abandoned: The History of the AWA World Heavyweight Championship

Kyle SchadlerChief Writer IFebruary 13, 2013

Abandoned: The History of the AWA World Heavyweight Championship

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    For this very special edition of Abandoned, I present the AWA World Heavyweight Championship!

    The American Wrestling Association was founded in 1960, but before that, they were a part of the National Wrestling Alliance much like WWE was in the early days. Known as NWA Minneapolis, the top star in the territory was Verne Gagne.

    The NWA was all about territories back then with the NWA World Heavyweight champion travelling from territory to territory defending the title. Minneapolis wanted Gagne to be the champion, but the NWA would not agree. In response, Gagne and Wally Karbo, who ran the territory, broke ties with the NWA to form the AWA.

    For 30 years, the AWA sold itself on technical wrestling and expanded to cities like Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas and San Francisco, while also up in Canada. The AWA also saw the rise of Hulk Hogan in the early 1980s, but after he and many other top talent like Adrian Adonis and Bobby Heenan jumped to the WWF, now WWE, the AWA began to decline.

    Throughout the 1980s, the WWF ditched being a northeastern region and started to become the national entity that it is today.  When WCW was officially formed, the AWA fell behind further and became inactive in 1990.

    The company would close its doors in 1991, and is now owned by WWE.

    The AWA World Heavyweight Championship was established when the company formed with then-NWA champion Pat O’Connor being recognized as champion. The title has seen a total 38 champions throughout its 30 years of existence, so let’s get started!

    I know I said that the ROH World Tag Team and Television Championships would be next, but the tag titles are taking a lot of time to do.

    Due to some teams only being together for a short time, their career highlights are very short, so I had to go back to the old way of doing the series so the slides aren’t bare. It’s taking time, but as soon as it’s finished, it’ll be online.

Pat O’Connor

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    Defeated: Recognized

    When: May 18, 1960

    Where: St. Louis, Mo.

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 90 days

    At the time, the National Wrestling Alliance wouldn’t grant Verne Gagne a shot at the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Due to that, Minneapolis and some other territories broke away from the NWA and formed the American Wrestling Association.

    They recognized current NWA World champion Pat O’Connor as their first champion with the stipulation of O’Connor having to defend the title within 90 days.

    The NWA refused to recognize O’Connor as the AWA World champion, so he was stripped of the title on Aug. 16, 1960 when the 90 days were up.

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time AWA World Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA World Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time NWA Central States Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA Central States Tag Team champion
    • Two-time NWA North American Tag Team champion (Central States version)
    • Three-time NWA United States Heavyweight champion (Central States version)
    • Four-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Central States version)
    • One-time NWA British Empire Heavyweight champion (Toronto version)
    • One-time NWA Canadian Open Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA Eastern States Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Chicago version)
    • One-time NWA Rocky Mountain Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time NWA New Zealand British Commonwealth Heavyweight champion
    • One-time WWA World Tag Team champion
    • One-time Ohio Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time World Heavyweight champion (Montreal version)
    • Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2007
    • Inducted into the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2007
    • Inducted into the NWA Hall of Fame Class of 2011
    • Inducted into the Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame

    Where Are They Now?

    Pat O’Connor continued to wrestle up until his passing on Aug. 16, 1990.

Verne Gagne

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    Defeated: Awarded

    When: Aug. 16, 1960

    Where: N/A

    Event: N/A

    Title Reign: 329 days

    Due to O’Connor not defending the title within the 90 days, his opponent, Verne Gagne, was awarded the AWA World Heavyweight Championship.

Gene Kiniski

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    Defeated: Verne Gagne

    When: July 11, 1961

    Where: Minneapolis, Minn.

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 28 days

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time AWA United States Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time AWA World Tag Team champion
    • One-time WWWF United States Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA International Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time NWA British Commonwealth Heavyweight champion (Toronto version)
    • Two-time NWA Canadian Open Tag Team champion
    • Two-time NWA British Commonwealth Heavyweight champion (Vancouver version)
    • 10-time NWA Canadian Tag team champion (Vancouver version)
    • Seven-time NWA Pacific Coast Heavyweight champion (Vancouver version)
    • Three-time NWA Pacific Coast Tag Team champion (Vancouver version)
    • One-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Chicago)
    • One-time NWA Los Angeles International Television Tag Team champion
    • Two-time NWA Hawaii Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time NWA North American Heavyweight champion (Hawaii version)
    • One-time NWA Hawaii Tag Team champion
    • Three-time NWA World Tag Team champion (San Francisco version)
    • One-time NWA International Heavyweight champion (Amarillo version)
    • One-time NWA Texas Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA Texas Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA Missouri Heavyweight champion
    • One-time JWA All Asia Tag Team champion
    • One-time WWA World Heavyweight champion
    • 1992 Other Honoree of the Cauliflower Alley Club
    • Inducted into the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2007
    • Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2008
    • Inducted into the NWA Hall of Fame Class of 2009

    Where Are They Now?

    Kiniski would retire in 1992, but he stayed in the wrestling business. He could be seen refereeing matches, promoting shows and even as the interim president of All Japan Pro Wrestling in 2000. He passed away on April 14, 2010.

Verne Gagne

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    Defeated: Gene Kiniski

    When: Aug. 8, 1961

    Where: Minneapolis

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 154 days

    Career Highlights:

    • 10-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • Four-time AWA World Tag Team champion

Mr. M

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    Defeated: Verne Gagne

    When: Jan. 9, 1962

    Where: Minneapolis

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 224 days

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time AWA United States Heavyweight champion
    • One-time WWWF United States Tag Team champion
    • One-time IWA World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time IWA World Tag Team champion
    • One-time WWA World Tag Team champion
    • Two-time World Heavyweight champion (Omaha version)
    • Inducted into the Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame

    Where Are They Now?

    Better known as Bill Miller, I couldn’t find out when Mr. M retired. After retiring, though, he got into veterinary medicine and opened up his own practice. He passed away on March 24, 1997.

Verne Gagne

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    Defeated: Mr. M

    When: Aug. 21, 1962

    Where: Minneapolis

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 322 days

    Career Highlights:

    • Four-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Minneapolis version)
    • Five-time World Heavyweight champion (Omaha version)

The Crusher

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    Defeated: Verge Gagne

    When: July 9, 1963

    Where: Minneapolis

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 11 days

    Five months earlier, The Crusher faced Gagne for the Omaha version of the World Heavyweight Championship. Crusher won the title, and after winning the AWA title, he became a double champion.

Verne Gagne

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    Defeated: The Crusher

    When: July 20, 1963

    Where: Minneapolis

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: Seven days

    This match saw both the Omaha World Heavyweight Championship and the AWA World Heavyweight Championship on the line. When Gagne defeated Crusher, he won both titles.

Fritz Von Erich

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    Defeated: Verne Gagne

    When: July 27, 1963

    Where: Omaha, Neb.

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 12 days

    This match saw both the Omaha World Heavyweight Championship and the AWA World Heavyweight Championship on the line. When Von Erich defeated Gagne, he won both titles.

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA International Tag Team champion
    • Three-time NWA Canadian Open Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA Southern Tag Team champion (Mid-Atlantic version)
    • Three-time NWA United States Heavyweight champion (Detroit version)
    • One-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Minneapolis version)
    • One-time NWA International Tag Team champion (Amarillo version)
    • Four-time NWA North American Heavyweight champion (Amarillo version)
    • 13-time NWA American Heavyweight champion
    • Six-time NWA American Tag Team champion
    • Two-time NWA Brass Knuckles champion (Texas version)
    • Three-time NWA Texas Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time NWA United States Heavyweight champion (Texas version)
    • One-time NWA World Six-Man World Tag Team champion (Texas version)
    • Two-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Texas version)
    • Inducted into the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2007
    • Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2009
    • Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2012

    Where Are They Now?

    After retiring in 1986, Fritz Von Erich remained in professional wrestling in a non-wrestling capacity. He passed away on Sept. 10, 1997, after unfortunately having outlived all of his sons but one.

Verne Gagne

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    Defeated: Fritz Von Erich

    When: Aug. 8, 1963

    Where: Amarillo, Texas

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 100 days

    Gagne would win only the AWA World Championship here. A month later, he would defeat Von Erich again, this time for the Omaha World Heavyweight Championship.

    Instead of carrying both belts, the titles were unified. The Omaha World Heavyweight Championship was abandoned as a result.

The Crusher

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    Defeated: Verne Gagne

    When: Nov. 16, 1963

    Where: St. Paul, Minn.

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 28 days

    Career Highlights:

    • Three-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time AWA Brass Knuckles champion
    • Nine-time AWA World Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA Georgia Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA International Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA Canadian Open Tag Team champion
    • Three-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Chicago version)
    • Two-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Minneapolis version)
    • Six-time WWA World Tag Team champion
    • One-time Minneapolis British Open Tag Team champion
    • One-time World Heavyweight champion (Omaha version)

Verne Gagne

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    Defeated: The Crusher

    When: Dec. 14, 1963

    Where: Minneapolis

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 140 days

    Career Highlights:

    • Two-time NWA United States heavyweight champion (Chicago version)
    • One-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Chicago version)

Mad Dog Vachon

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    Defeated: Verne Gagne

    When: May 2, 1964

    Where: Omaha, Neb.

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 14 days

    Career Highlights:

    • Five-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time AWA Midwest tag Team champion
    • Two-time AWA World Tag Team champion

Verne Gagne

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    Defeated: Mad Dog Vachon

    When: May 16, 1964

    Where: Omaha

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 157 days

    Career Highlights:

    • Two-time NWA Texas Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Texas version)

Mad Dog Vachon

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    Defeated: Verne Gagne

    When: Oct. 20, 1964

    Where: Minneapolis

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 207 days

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time IWA World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time IWA World Tag Team champion
    • One-time PWA Heavyweight champion
    • One-time Canadian International Tag Team champion

Mighty Igor Vodic

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    Defeated: Mad Dog Vachon

    When: May 15, 1965

    Where: Omaha

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: Seven days

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time AWA Midwest Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA United States Heavyweight champion (Detroit version)
    • One-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Detroit version)
    • One-time WWA International Television Tag Team champion
    • One-time WWC Puerto Rico Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NIWA Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time Nebraska Heavyweight champion

    Where Are They Now?

    I couldn’t find much information about Vodic’s life after professional wrestling. All I could find is that he passed away on Jan. 7, 2002.

Mad Dog Vachon

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    Defeated: Mighty Igor Vodic

    When: May 22, 1965

    Where: Omaha

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 91 days

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Central States version)
    • One-time NWA Southern Tag Team champion (Mid-Atlantic version)
    • One-time NWA Southern Heavyweight champion (Georgia version)
    • One-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Georgia)
    • Six-time NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight champion

The Crusher

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    Defeated: Mad Dog Vachon

    When: Aug. 21, 1965

    Where: St. Paul, Minn.

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 83 days

    Career Highlights:

    • Inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame Class of 1994
    • Inducted as Other Honoree of the Cauliflower Alley Club Class of 2000
    • Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2005

    Where Are They Now?

    After retiring in 1988, The Crusher stayed in the business in non-wrestling roles throughout the 1990s. In 2005, he became paralyzed after years of hip and knee surgeries, as well as the removal of a tumor. The Crusher passed away on Oct. 22 of that year.

Mad Dog Vachon

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    Defeated: The Crusher

    When: Nov. 12, 1965

    Where: Denver, Colo.

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 365 days

    Tim Woods would win the AWA World Heavyweight Championship from Vachon on Jan. 8, 1966. After AWA President Stanley Blackburn reviewed the match on Jan. 14, though, he declared the match a no-contest due to Woods having his feet on the ropes.

    Vachon and Woods had a rematch that very same day, and Mad Dog retained the title. Woods’ reign as champion is not officially recognized.

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA Brass Knuckles champion (Texas version)
    • Three-time NWA Texas Tag team champion
    • Two-time NWA Canadian Tag Team champion (Calgary version)
    • Three-time NWA International Tag Team champion (Calgary version)

Dick the Bruiser

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    Defeated: Mad Dog Vachon

    When: Nov. 12, 1966

    Where: Omaha

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: Seven days

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • Five-time AWA World Tag Team champion
    • Two-time AWA World Tag Team champion (American Wrestling Alliance, not Association)
    • One-time NWA International Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA United States Heavyweight champion (Chicago version)
    • One-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Chicago version)
    • Four-time NWA United States Heavyweight champion (Detroit version)
    • One-time NWA United States Heavyweight champion (Hawaii version)
    • Three-time NWA Missouri Heavyweight champion
    • 11-time WWA World Heavyweight champion
    • 14-time WWA World Tag Team champion
    • One-time WWA World Heavyweight champion (Los Angeles version)
    • One-time World Heavyweight champion (Georgia version)
    • One-time World Heavyweight champion (Omaha version)
    • Inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame Class of 1994
    • Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2005 (as team with Crusher)
    • Inducted into the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2007
    • Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2011 (singles competitor)

    Where Are They Now?

    Dick The Bruiser retired from the ring in 1985. He became a talent agent for WCW, and remained as such until his passing on Nov. 10, 1991.

Mad Dog Vachon

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    Defeated: Dick The Bruiser

    When: Nov. 19, 1966

    Where: Omaha

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 99 days

    Career Highlights:

    • Recipient of the 2003 Iron Mike Mazurki Award from the Cauliflower Alley Club
    • Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2004
    • Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2020

    Where Are They Now?

    Mad Dog Vachon retired from the ring in 1986. A year later, he lost his leg in a car accident. Vachon stays active in professional wrestling, though, as he participates in various legends reunion shows and makes appearances at independent events and conventions.

Verne Gagne

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    Defeated: Mad Dog Vachon

    When: Feb. 26, 1967

    Where: St. Paul

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 538 days

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time NWA World Junior Heavyweight champion
    • One-time IWA World Heavyweight champion

Dr. X

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    Defeated: Verne Gagne

    When: Aug. 17, 1968

    Where: Bloomington, Minn.

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 14 days

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time AWA World Tag Team champion (San Francisco version)
    • One-time NWA United States Heavyweight champion (Central States version)
    • One-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Texas version)
    • One-time NWA International Television Tag Team champion (Los Angeles version)
    • One-time NWA North American Heavyweight champion (Hawaii version)
    • Two-time NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team champion
    • One-time WWA World Tag Team champion (San Francisco version)
    • One-time WWA International Television Tag team champion (Los Angeles version)
    • Three-time WWA World Heavyweight champion (Los Angeles version)
    • Two-time WWA World Tag Team champion (Los Angeles version)
    • One-time AJPW All Asia Tag team champion
    • Four-time PWF United States Heavyweight champion
    • One-time Canadian International Heavyweight champion
    • Recipient of the 1996 Iron Mike Mazurki Award from the Cauliflower Alley Club
    • Recipient of the 2003 New York State Award from the Professional Wresting Hall of Fame
    • Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2005

    Where Are They Now?

    Better known as The Destroyer or Dick Beyer, Dr. X retired in 1993. He went onto teach physical education in New York before becoming a board member of the Cauliflower Alley Club. He still serves as a board member to this day.

Verne Gagne

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    Defeated: Dr. X

    When: Aug. 31, 1968

    Where: Minneapolis

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 2,625 days

    Career Highlights:

    • Inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame Class of 1993
    • Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2004
    • Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2006
    • Recipient of the 2006 Lou Thesz Award from the Cauliflower Alley Club

Nick Bockwinkel

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    Defeated: Verne Gagne

    When: Nov. 8, 1975

    Where: St. Paul

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 1,714 days

    On March 25, 1979 AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel would go one-on-one with WWF champion Bob Backlund. Fans saw the match end in a double count-out.

    Career Highlights:

    • Four-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time AWA World Tag Team champion
    • One-time AWA Southern Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time NWA Georgia Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time NWA Georgia Television champion 

Verne Gagne

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    Defeated: Nick Bockwinkel

    When: July 18, 1980

    Where: Chicago

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 305 days

    The AWA World Heavyweight Championship would be declared vacant on May 19, 1981 when Gagne officially retired from the ring.

    Where Are They Now?

    Before retiring, Gagne began to train other wrestlers, but after his retirement, he started training others on a more regular basis. He has trained, or assisted in training, such greats as Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Bob Backlund, Jimmy Snuka, The Iron Sheik and Curt Hennig.

    Gagne has since been afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and is currently living in a health-care facility.

Nick Bockwinkel

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    Defeated: Awarded

    When: May 19, 1981

    Where: N/A

    Event: N/A

    Title Reign: 467 days

    The title didn’t stay vacant for long after Gagne’s retirement. The AWA World Heavyweight Championship would be awarded to Bockwinkel later that day.

    Hulk Hogan would take the title from Bockwinkel on April 18, 1982. Both Hogan and Bockwinkel would use a foreign object during the match, and the referee made the decision to award the title to Hogan as a result.

    The title was awarded back to Bockwinkel on April 24, though, due to the use of the foreign objects. Hogan’s reign as champion is not officially recognized.

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time NWA Florida Tag team champion
    • Two-time NWA Hawaii Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA Hawaii Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA United States Heavyweight champion (Hawaii version)

Otto Wanz

28 of 39

    Defeated: Nick Bockwinkel

    When: Aug. 29, 1982

    Where: St. Paul

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 41 days

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • Four-time CWA World Heavyweight champion

    Where Are They Now?

    Otto Wanz retired from the ring in 1990. He now organizes strongman competitions in his home country of Austria.

Nick Bockwinkel

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    Defeated: Otto Wanz

    When: Oct. 9, 1982

    Where: Chicago

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 501 days

    Jerry Lawler would win the title from Bockwinkel on Dec. 27, 1982. The title would be held up shortly afterwards for unknown reasons, and a rematch was scheduled for Jan. 10, 1983. Bockwinkel won the rematch and thus remained the AWA champion.

    Hulk Hogan once again won the title on April 24, 1983 in a No Disqualification match. During the match, Hogan threw Bockwinkel over the top rope, and back then, throwing someone over the top rope was an automatic disqualification.

    Since AWA President Stanley Blackburn couldn’t disqualify Hogan, he decided to strip him of the title immediately after the match. The title was then given back to Bockwinkel. Hogan’s second reign is also not recognized as an official reign.

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Texas version)
    • Two-time NWA World Tag Team champion (San Francisco version)
    • Two-time NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team champion

Jumbo Tsuruta

30 of 39

    Defeated: Nick Bockwinkel

    When: Feb. 22, 1984

    Where: Tokyo, Japan

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 81 days

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time NWA International heavyweight champion
    • Nine-time NWA International Tag Team champion
    • Five-time NWA United National champion
    • One-time NWA World Tag team champion (Detroit version)
    • Three-time AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight champion
    • Seven-time AJPW Unified World Tag Team champion
    • One-time PWF World Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time PWF World Tag Team champion
    • Winner of the 1977, 1980 and 1991 Champion’s Carnival in All Japan Pro Wrestling
    • Winner of the 1978, 1980, 1984, 1986 and 1987 World’s Strongest Tag Team League in All Japan Pro Wrestling

    Where Are They Now?

    Jumbo Tsuruta retired from the ring in 1999 due to declining health. He passed away about a year later on May 13, 2000.

Rick Martel

31 of 39

    Defeated: Jumbo Tsuruta

    When: May 13, 1984

    Where: St. Paul

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 595 days

    AWA champion Rick Martel wrestled NWA champion Ric Flair one-on-one on Oct. 2, 1985. Fans in attendance saw the match end in a double count-out.

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time WWWF/WWF World Tag Team champion
    • One-time WCW World Television champion
    • One-time NWA Georgia Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA Canadian Tag Team champion (Vancouver version)
    • One-time NWA North American Heavyweight champion (Hawaii version)
    • Three-time NWA British Commonwealth Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA Austria-Asian Tag Team champion
    • One-time Stampede International Tag Team champion
    • One-time USA Heavyweight champion
    • One-time WWC North American Heavyweight champion
    • One-time Canadian International Heavyweight champion
    • Inducted into the New England Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2011

    Where Are They Now?

    Rick Martel retired from the ring in 1998 and became a trainer for WCW. After WCW closed its doors, he began appearing at conventions, which he still does today.

Stan Hansen

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    Defeated: Rick Martel

    When: Dec. 29, 1985

    Where: E. Rutherford, N.J.

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 181 days

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA International Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA International Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA United National champion
    • One-time NWA Columbus Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time NWA Georgia Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time NWA Georgia Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA United States Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA World Tag Team champion (Mid-Atlantic version)
    • One-time NWA Texas Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA North American Heavyweight champion (Tri-State version)
    • Two-time NWA United States Tag Team champion (Tri-State version)
    • Four-time AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight champion
    • Eight-time AJPW Unified World Tag Team champion
    • Four-time PWF World Heavyweight champion
    • Four-time PWF World Tag Team champion
    • One-time CWA International Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWF Heavyweight champion
    • 1992 and 1998 winner of Champion’s Carnival in All Japan Pro Wrestling
    • 1996 Other Honoree in the Cauliflower Alley Club
    • Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2010

    Where Are They Now?

    Stan Hansen retired from the ring in 2000, and a year later, he became the commissioner of All Japan Pro Wrestling’s promotion Pacific Wrestling Federation. He resigned in 2007, though. He can now be seen at conventions.

Nick Bockwinkel

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    Defeated: Awarded

    When: June 28, 1986

    Where: Denver, Colo.

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 308 days

    At the time the match was scheduled, Stan Hansen was not with the AWA. He had left the company and therefore didn’t show up for the match. Bockwinkel was awarded the title as a result.

    Hansen would return in July 1986 to take the title to Japan, though. Despite defending the title there, he was not officially the champion.

    Career Highlights:

    • Two-time NWA “Beat the Champ” Television champion
    • Two-time WWA International Television Tag Team champion
    • Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2003
    • Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2007

    Where Are They Now?

    Nick Bockwinkel retired from the ring in 1987. In 1993, he became a road agent for WCW and came out of retirement for Slamboree: Legends Reunion to compete in a match against Dory Funk Jr. He was also the on-air commissioner of WCW.

    Nowadays, Bockwinkel is the President of the Cauliflower Alley Club.

Curt Hennig

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    Defeated: Nick Bockwinkel

    When: May 2, 1987

    Where: Daly City, Calif.

    Event: SuperClash 2

    Title Reign: 373 days

    The title was held up right after the match due to some controversy. Larry Zbyszko interfered in the match, which caused Hennig to defeat Bockwinkel. A few days later, though, the AWA Championship Committee ruled that there was no evidence of the interference.

    As a result, Hennig was given back the AWA World Championship.

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time AWA World Tag Team champion
    • Two-time WWF Intercontinental champion
    • One-time WCW United States Heavyweight champion
    • One-time WCW World Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team champion
    • One-time WWC Universal Heavyweight champion
    • One-time FOW Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time i-Generation World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time MECW Heavyweight champion
    • Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2007
    • Inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Hall of Fame Class of 2007

    Where Are They Now?

    Curt Hennig wrestled right up until his passing on Feb. 10, 2003. At the time, he was working for TNA Wrestling.

Jerry Lawler

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    Defeated: Curt Hennig

    When: May 9, 1988

    Where: Memphis, Tenn.

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 256 days

    On Dec. 13, 1988, Lawler defeated Kerry Von Erich for the Continental Wrestling Association’s WCWA World Heavyweight Championship. The match ended in some controversy due to it being stopped because Von Erich was losing too much blood from a cut.

    Lawler became the USWA Unified World champion as a result, but his reign as AWA champion came to an end on Jan. 20, 1989 when Lawler was stripped of the title after the AWA broke ties with CWA and WCCW.

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • 52-time AWA Southern Heavyweight champion
    • 10-time AWA Southern Tag Team champion
    • Two-time AWA World Tag Team champion
    • One-time CWA Heavyweight champion
    • Three-time CWA International Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time CWA World Tag Team champion
    • Three-time NWA Mid-America Heavyweight champion
    • Seven-time NWA Southern Heavyweight champion (Memphis version)
    • 10-time NWA Southern Heavyweight champion (Mid-America version)
    • Five-time NWA Southern Junior Heavyweight champion
    • Nine-time NWA Southern Tag Team champion (Mid-America version)
    • One-time NWA Tri-State Heavyweight champion (Alabama version)
    • Two-time NWA Tri-State Tag Team champion (Alabama version)
    • One-time NWA United States Tag Team champion (Mid-America version)
    • Three-time WCWA World Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time NWA Macon Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA Tennessee Tag Team champion
    • One-time IWA Heavyweight champion
    • One-time JAPW Heavyweight champion
    • One-time MCW Heavyweight champion (Maryland Championship Wrestling)
    • One-time MCW Tag Team champion
    • Two-time MCW Southern Heavyweight champion (Memphis Championship Wrestling)
    • Two-time Memphis Wrestling Southern Heavyweight champion
    • One-time Memphis Wrestling Television champion
    • One-time NWA Polynesian Pacific Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA All-Star Heavyweight champion
    • One-time PPW Tag Team champion
    • Two-time SMW Heavyweight champion
    • One-time TCW Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time USWA Heavyweight champion
    • One-time USWA Texas Heavyweight champion
    • 28-time USWA Unified World Heavyweight champion
    • Six-time USWA World Tag Team champion
    • One-time WCWA Texas Heavyweight champion
    • 1988 CWA Lord of the Ring
    • Winner of 1996 Slammy Award for I’m Talking and I Can’t Shut Up
    • Winner of 1996 Slammy Award for Most Embarrassing Moment
    • Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2007
    • Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2011
    • Winner of 2012 Slammy Award for WWE.com Exclusive Video of the Year
    • Winner of 2012 Slammy Award for Comeback of the Year

    Where Are They Now?

    Jerry Lawler is now semi-retired and can be seen every Monday night at the announce booth on WWE Monday Night Raw. He still wrestles on occasion, but after his heart attack after a match last year, fans will probably never see him wrestle for WWE again.

Larry Zbyszko

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    Defeated: Battle Royale

    When: Feb. 7, 1989

    Where: St. Paul

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 368 days

    With the title vacant, the AWA set up a Battle Royale to determine a new champion. In the end, Larry Zbyszko last eliminated Tom Zenk to become the new champion.

    Career Highlights:

    • Two-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time AWA America’s Heavyweight champion
    • One-time AWA World Six-Man World Tag Team champion
    • One-time AWA Superstars of Wrestling World Heavyweight champion
    • One-time WWWF Tag Team champion
    • One-time WCW World Tag Team champion
    • One-time WCW World Television champion

Mr. Saito

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    Defeated: Larry Zbyszko

    When: Feb. 10, 1990

    Where: Tokyo, Japan

    Event: Live Event

    Title Reign: 57 days

    Career Highlights:

    • One-time AWA World Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time WWF World Tag Team champion
    • One-time NWA Florida Heavyweight champion
    • Five-time NWA Florida Tag Team champion
    • Two-time NWA United States Tag Team champion (Florida version)
    • One-time NWA North American Tag Team champion (Los Angeles/Japan version)
    • Two-time NWA Canadian Tag Team champion (Vancouver version)
    • Three-time NWA America’s Tag Team champion
    • Two-time NWA “Beat the Champ” Television champion
    • Two-time NWA World Tag Team champion (San Francisco version)
    • Two-time NWA Alabama Heavyweight champion
    • Two-time IWGP Tag Team champion

    Where Are They Now?

    Mr. Saito retired from the ring in 1999 and seemed to stay away from professional wrestling until 2006. That year, he became the supervisor of young talent in the Kensuke Office promotion. He still holds that position.

Larry Zbyszko

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    Defeated: Mr. Saito

    When: April, 8, 1990

    Where: St. Paul

    Event: SuperClash 4

    Title Reign: 248 days

    The AWA became inactive as a promotion in the fall of 1990. As a result, Zbyszko left the company and signed with WCW. The AWA would strip him of the title on Dec. 12, but it ultimately didn’t matter.

    The American Wrestling Association would close its doors in 1991, and in 2003, WWE would buy the rights to the AWA name and tape library.

    Career Highlights:

    • Two-time NWA National Heavyweight champion
    • One-time NWA Western States Heritage champion
    • One-time NWA “Beat the Champ” Television champion
    • One-time SCW Southern Tag Team champion
    • One-time USA North American Heavyweight champion
    • 1996 Other Honoree of the Cauliflower Alley Club
    • Inducted into the XWF/LPW Hall of Fame Class of 2008
    • Inducted into the New England Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2010

    Where Are They Now?

    Larry Zbyszko still wrestles on the independent circuit. You can also see him at various conventions.

Statistics and Final Thoughts

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    Most Reigns: Verne Gagne (10 times)

    Longest Reign: Verne Gagne (2,625 days)

    Longest Combined Reign: Verne Gagne (10 reigns equaling 6,777 days)

    Shortest Reign: Verne Gagne, Mighty Igor Vodic and Dick the Bruiser (seven days)

    When I was born in 1986, the American Wrestling Association was already in decline. I’ve been told that even as a baby, I was watching professional wrestling as my father would have it on television. He mostly watched WCW and WWF, though, so by the time I was old enough to realize there was another promotion out there, it was too late.

    I never got to see the AWA in its glory, or even in its decline. In the company’s final years, AWA Championship Wrestling was airing on ESPN, and thanks to ESPN Classic, those old episodes are still aired.

    When I am able to catch an episode, what I see is great. The wrestling is top-notch and some of the matches are great. I can see why the AWA centered the company around technical wrestling. They weren’t sports entertainment, they were wrestling.

    The title has a rich history of great all-around wrestlers. The likes of Verne Gagne, Nick Bockwinkel, Fritz Von Erich and Curt Hennig were great technical wrestlers. With all the talent that has held this belt, the AWA World Heavyweight Championship is definitely one of my favorite titles.

    I wish that I got to see the title and the company in its heyday, but I’ll just have to settle with ESPN Classic and whatever WWE puts out.

    Thanks for reading this special edition of Abandoned! Wrestling Gold will return as soon as I’m able to finish the ROH tag and television titles, which will hopefully be soon. See you all next time!

    Previous Installments

    WWE Women’sWWE EuropeanECW TelevisionWCW HardcoreWCW US Tag TeamWWF Martial ArtsWWF InternationalWCW Women’sECW WorldWWE CruiserweightWWF Light WeightECW Tag TeamFTW WorldWCW 6-Man Tag TeamMillion DollarWWF JuniorWWF Women’s Tag TeamWCW International│ WCW TV pt.1WCW TV pt. 2WWE Hardcore │WCW Tag Team pt. 1WCW Tag Team pt. 2World Tag Team pt. 1World Tag Team pt. 2│ World Tag Team pt. 3World Tag Team pt. 4WWWF USA

    Wrestling Gold Series

    WWE DivasTNA KnockoutsTNA Knockouts TagWWE TagTNA TagShimmerWWE US 1WWE US 2TNA TVTNA X-DivisionWWE IC 1WWE IC 2WWE IC 3WWE IC 4

    Sources

    http://www.wrestling-titles.com/awa/awa-h.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Wrestling_Association

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AWA_World_Heavyweight_Championship

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_Wrestling_Association

    Information on wrestler title histories and “Where Are They Now” provided by Wikipedia

    Don’t forget to hit me up on Twitter, where I always follow back fellow wrestling fans and usually tweet during the shows!