Written by: Tom Hopkins
The Main Characters
–Verne Gagne was the life of the American Wrestling Association. He was their champion and their owner and some of the biggest wrestling stars in history went through his company.
The AWA was an off-shoot of the long-running NWA and that history traces back to the start of the 20th century. It eventually split from the NWA and was its own wrestling group until its demise in the early 90’s.
The Film (1:49:24)
To know the history of the AWA you need to know the history of wrestling in America. In the early 30’s there were 6 main territories in the USA and so each territory had their own champ. The NWA was formed in 1947 to form one champion among all the promoters and basically ensure that the territories would co-exist peacefully. It worked well, for a while.
Verne was born in 1926 and wrestled in high school as well as playing football, then wrestled in the NCAA, winning a bunch of amateur awards along the way and was in the 1948 Olympics, but he wasn’t allowed to wrestle. When that happened he was signed by the Green Bay Packers, then was sent to the Bears who didn’t want him to wrestle and play football at the same time, so he chose wrestling. Verne traveled a bunch, Greg was born in 1948, and something in the 50’s influenced wrestling in a big way; television. A wrestling historian says Verne was a bigger star than Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. I don’t know if I agree with that. He was a big star, doing commercials and was just a huge name in the business. However, Gagne could never get the title belt from Thesz, the current NWA champ.
Suddenly, the peaceful coexistence of the territories was gone, as Verne broke away from the NWA with his AWA in 1957, and a few years later (in 1963) the WWWF broke away from the NWA as well. So the AWA was born, with Verne running things. Verne got things up and running very quickly, getting a television deal for many of the cities surrounding Minneapolis, even spreading out west to San Francisco. Verne was the first champ, which caused a conflict of interest to some, and it may have lead to problems down the line. Jim Ross says this is because the promoter was the only that could be trusted. A bunch of his former workers talk about how great Verne was in the ring. The workers also talk about Billy Robinson and Nick Bockwinkel.
Verne would work shows once a month and make a killing playing huge places some months, then every day in other months. AWA would pull huge television numbers and was possible the first to run huge outdoor stadium shows. Verne also ventured into movie-making, making a movie called “The Wrestler.” Michael Hayes says that the WWWF was the pinnacle, but the AWA was right there in the 70’s. Verne was huge though in shaping wrestling history, thanks to his training program and all those who came through there.
Some of the names they mention who found their game in the AWA is Mad Dog Vachon (with a clip of his great casket promo), The Crusher, Baron Von Raschke, The Texas Outlaws (Dick Murdoch & Dusty Rhodes), Ray Stevens, Bobby Heenan, The High Flyers (Jim Brunzell & Greg Gagne), Gene Okerlund, Superstar Billy Graham, Jesse Ventura and his teammate Adrian Adonis.
We segue to the big feuds of the AWA starting with Gagne and Bockwinkel. The AWA even got on the Phil Donahue show and that’s where Hulk Hogan made his debut. He had been fired from the WWWF to film Rocky and got a job with the AWA. He was originally brought in as a heel but he got so over with the fans in Minnesota he became probably the most popular guy in the company. Soon he was so big he received a title match against Bockwinkel. Hogan says he would’ve loved the title but he was going back and forth to Japan at the time and couldn’t take it. Hogan won a match in 1981 for the title but the decision was quickly reversed, which nearly started a riot. Hogan says that Verne wanted part of his Japan deal money; though Verne says he wasn’t good enough to win the title, which Greg agrees with. Of course, they can say whatever they want but he was wrong and Hogan went on to make money hand over fist in the WWE. Of course, with Hogan, you never know when he’s telling the truth or not, especially with Verne taking money from his merchandising sales but whatever it is, Hogan went to the WWE and the first seeds of the AWA’s demise were sown. This stuff is fascinating.
So Hogan was given an offer by McMahon Jr. he couldn’t refuse a few nights later. Hogan says he had already booked the next month’s matches. Verne and Greg don’t like that Hogan didn’t finish out their dates. Vince McMahon chimes in saying that he always encourages wrestlers to finish their contracts but suddenly can’t remember if Hogan did or not. Basically, Vince screwed them over by stealing their talent and Hogan didn’t have the balls to tell Verne to his face that he was leaving. In my opinion, it was both Gagne and Hogan that probably did things they shouldn’t have leading up to his departure. Hogan’s leaving was just the first in a wave of many. Okerlund was soon to follow to New York (again screwing the AWA by leaving the night before a TV Taping), then Jesse Ventura, and Greg says no one except Bobby Heenan filled their commitments before leaving to New York. There was definitely some dirty pool going on.
Okerlund says it was one thing, money. Vince asked Verne to sell his company to him but Verne had to get his house in order first. Vince said he never got the opportunity to get an asking price. That was August of 83 and by December of 83 he had raided the talent and took their TV timeslots. Vince says it was in the name of competition and it wasn’t unfair. I have to agree with Vince here. The WCW did the same to him with the talent “raids.” Vince was able to survive that. It’s not his fault that these old-timers like Verne and Greg couldn’t handle the heat. Heenan gives a great analogy. In response to Verne asking why he ran shows in “his” town, Heenan says that there’re four gas stations on a corner, its competition. So Verne tried to go to New York in response and that was a mistake.
Verne became complacent after this mainly because he thought that they had stars before Hogan et al, so they would just use the same ones that were big before Hogan came. Rick Martel was given a run with the title, but he was never a main event star on the same level of Hulk Hogan. Soon Verne could only rely on those he really trusted and that included his son, Greg, who was really pushed to the top without being a singles star. With no real stars left, Verne teamed with other companies to set up super cards, called SuperClash. This was all done in desperation to compete with the WWE. The egos were too big between the heads of the promoters for the Clashes to be worthwhile and Ross says it was doomed to fail.
Rick Martel dropped the title to Stan Hansen in 1985 then left the company to Japan when he was supposed to drop the title to Bockwinkel. We see the classic Hansen interview (about the fat wife and too many kids) in the before Ross says it wasn’t surprising to see Hansen leave (with the title) to Japan for more money. So the AWA needed a battle royale to crown a new champ and things were not going well for the AWA. Bischoff says that the office building never had a negative atmosphere through it all, though he could tell the thing was going downhill as less people would be in the office. Verne did get a coup in getting on television with ESPN and their daily shows, which were recorded all over the place and kept them in competition with the WWE and the NWA.
This was the beginning of a resurgence of talent that saw the Road Warriors, the Midnight Rockers, Sherri Martel, Scott Hall (with the porn mustache), the Nasty Boys, Eric Bischoff (who started in sales but ended up on TV thanks to an announcer getting a DWI and being jailed and not available for TV), Paul Heyman, and Curt Hennig wrestle in their ring. They show a clip of their ***** match with Bockwinkel and his title win at SuperClash II.
Ross thinks that people were using the AWA to jump-start their careers by moving to the WWE and more national exposure. Verne had 2-year contracts that he wouldn’t let people out of, like the Rockers were locked into, so Sherri didn’t sign and had no problem leaving. Lawler chimes in with Jerry Jarrett and his Memphis wrestling teaming up with the AWA. Lawler would end up defeating Hennig for the AWA title in Memphis. Lawler says it wouldn’t have happened if Hennig wasn’t on his way to the WWE. SuperClash III was a last ditch effort by the AWA, in conjunction with the WCCW and the Memphis territory, to compete with the WWE with their first (and only) Pay-Per-View. Vince wasn’t worried since the people who participated in the Clash couldn’t get along. Each promoter would want to protect their own guys and really nothing would get accomplished. The WCCW and the AWA titles were unified when Lawler squared off with Kerry Von Erich in just a bloodbath.
So Lawler was the champ but he didn’t get paid for working SuperClash III. If he wasn’t getting paid, he wouldn’t show up. Of course, Greg blames this on Lawler’s cowardice to not drop the title in Minneapolis. To this day, Lawler still hasn’t been paid and he still has the AWA title he won that night. So Verne protected himself first before the workers, which Bischoff doesn’t disagree with. Lawler doesn’t know if anyone was paid and this was just a huge nail in the coffin. The PPV numbers weren’t great, and again Greg does the blame game by saying their PPV was sandwiched between Survivor Series and Starrcade. It doesn’t matter where it is, if people wanted to see it, they would have. So Lawler was stripped from the title so a battle royale was held to crown the new champ. Larry Zybyzsko won the title, possibly because he was the only one Verne could trust since he was his son in law. That would never happen in the WWE, Vince giving the title to his son in law.
The Team Challenge Series was a draft-type thing the AWA did, though the rules of this series were never well-defined. Bischoff calls it an act of desperation and the company was running on fumes now. People think Bischoff was responsible for it but he had nothing to do with it, it was all the Gagne’s. The final nail was when the state of Minnesota enforced an eminent domain ruling on Verne’s property to make a park out of it. Verne fought this, lost the case and the property. The property was what Verne was borrowing against for the AWA was gone and so was the corporation. A bunch of talent discusses why the AWA folded. Some of it is the stubbornness to not change with the times to the lack of money to the lack of talent. Verne says he doesn’t have a grudge right now regarding McMahon. It was still tough for Verne to close the company.
It wasn’t the end though, as Verne was called by the WWE to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. There was still a lot of enmity between the two of them but water under the bridge and all. Greg inducted his father into the Hall and I think it meant a lot to Verne. Vince says he was inducted because he should’ve been inducted. Vince says that the Hall of Fame isn’t about politics. So why isn’t Sammartino, Backlund, or Savage in there? I guess it is not political but more based on personal relationships. The people in the documentary talk about the legacy of the AWA to end the program.
This is a fascinating feature. From the history of the AWA and their departure from NWA to all the superstars that the AWA created you have a tremendous look at the history of the territorial days. The most engrossing thing about this DVD was the whole AWA/WWE competition starting with the signing of Hulk Hogan. Even now you can see a lot of ill will between the Gagne’s and McMahon. You can see how McMahon’s conquest of America with the WWE really put the heat on Gagne and how badly it affected them and their decisions. They were really put on their heels and never recovered, making bad decision after bad decision. It is a story of a great wrestling company that made probably more stars than any other of its time that unfortunately folded under pressure and eventually faded away into obscurity. This is an AWESOME feature and it is highly recommended.
1) Jim Brunzell: Ribs on the Road (2:39)
Jim talks about some of the pranks that the wrestlers would play. For instance, Murdoch and Rhodes would tell border patrol that the wrestlers in the car behind them had drugs. Jim also talks about Patterson emptying a sand ash-tray into his bag. Jim got him back by smearing red hot on his underpants and filling his socks with soap.
2) Michael Hayes: Getting the Call (1:54)
Hayes discusses a split between a Mississippi promoter and the TV and Verne taking over. Hayes and Gordy wanted to work for the AWA when they went down to Jackson.
3) Michael Hayes: Freebirds Leave AWA (2:27)
The Freebirds were with the AWA for only a couple of months and raised feathers right away by suggesting a Freebird/Road Warriors feud but Verne balked. I should mention that Hayes is wearing a See No Evil hat, the Kane movie. Gagne tried to get the Freebirds to stay, but the Freebirds didn’t.
4) Nick Bockwinkel: The Crusher (2:27)
Nick talks about sauntering to the ring while waiting for the Crusher. He talks about making a comment that the Pollack is having to much trouble lacing his shoes and he never had a problem with him again.
5) Nick Bockwinkel: Ric Flair, The Fan (1:36)
Nick remembers Ric telling him a story about wanting to take a shot at Nick while walking to the ring and Nick telling him he would’ve been down before he had a chance.
6) Nick Bockwinkel: The Bobby Heenan Joke (2:19)
Nick talks about Bobby pulling out a Hustler magazine on television. I think that’s what it was; I wasn’t paying too close attention.
7) Nick Bockwinkel: The Lou Thesz Joke (2:21)
Nick talks about not being afraid of Lou Thesz and pissing on Thesz’ leg one time when he was a very young boy (6 months old to be exact). Lou and Nick always went along with that joke that Nick pissed on his leg and not telling anyone it was when he was a baby.
8) Nick Bockwinkel: A Long Night of Wrestling (2:27)
He tells a story about wrestling being on the same card with Sammartino (the WWE champ), Race (the NWA champ) and Bockwinkel (the AWA champ), the only time that happened. Nick wrestled 30 minutes with Jose Lothario, then wrestled Terry Funk (for an hour) when Race was late to the show.
9) Nick Bockwinkel: My Favorite Match (1:54)
Nick’s favorite match was his Showboat match with Curt Hennig that was an hour draw.
10) Eric Bischoff: Ninja Star Wars (4:40)
Eric talks about his friendship with Sonny Onoo and their friendship started due to their love of the martial arts and traveled together. Sonny came up with an idea for a game called Ninja Star Wars. It was like tag but with throwing stars that you could toss at other people and have them stick on their felt vests. 10,000 of these games were made in Korea but they couldn’t get them on toy store shelves. So Bischoff had the idea to sell these on AWA’s ESPN timeslot. He met with Verne and they aired the commercial on the AWA show. This started the relationship between Bischoff and Verne and eventually got a job there.
11) Eric Bischoff: First Announcing Job (6:39)
Eric relates that Verne would fly everyone in once a month for meetings and only the workers were allowed to meet there which Bischoff says is Verne keeping kayfabe. So Eric was invited in one day because they needed an announcer. He did it, and didn’t do a great job. Eric went back to his job, and he didn’t want to be on TV anyway, but the guy they hired was worse than him so he got the job again. Another guy was brought in and Eric was brought back when the other one was fired. Soon, Bischoff had the full-time job because the Gagne’s got used to the pain of his horrible announcing.
12) The Flying Coffin (4:19)
The Gagne’s got a corporate plane in the late 70’s which Larry Hennig called a flying coffin. They had a military pilot and everyone hated flying in it They talk about Mad Dog tossing people’s luggage out the door that he open. They couldn’t close the door and they had to declare an emergency.
13) Greg Gagne: Verne’s Match in Buffalo, NY (1:10)
Greg just tells a story of Verne selling out an arena after getting shows on the WGN network.
14) Nick Bockwinkel, Verne Gagne: Gunshots in Chicago (1:40)
Nick and Verne wrestled a match against each other when bullets were fired. Nick didn’t hear the gunshots but his manager, Bobby Heenan did. Three shots were fired into the ring, missed the workers but hit some women at ringside.
15) Baron Von Raschke: Johnny Valentine and The Rib (2:46)
Baron pinned some local town ruffian at a show and that person’s pants split. So Valentine split them wide apart and the guy wasn’t wearing any underpants.
16) Wahoo McDaniel-Superstar Billy Graham Feud (2:15)
Billy Graham talks about his big break in the AWA and his feud with Wahoo.
17) Mad Dog Vachon: Pine Box Interview (2:42)
This is the famous interview with Mad Dog as he builds the coffin he’s going to use against Jerry Blackwell.
18) Bobby Heenan Interviewed by Gene Okerlund (1:29)
Heenan cuts an interview about Tito Santana, who is complaining about not getting a title shot against Bockwinkel.
19) East-West Connection Interviewed by Gene Okerlund (1:20)
This is from 9/9/80. The date’s actually given for this on the DVD; I didn’t know when it was from. Jesse wants to beat Patterson and Stevens in their hometown.
—Disc Two— (2:43:27)
All the extras on Disc Two are the matches.
1) High Flyers vs. Nick Bockwinkel & Ray Stevens (13:50)
This is from August 23rd, 1971. Bock and Stevens cut a short promo prior to the match starting, introducing us to their new manager, Bobby Heenan. Was this his first appearance in the AWA? The High Flyers are Jim Brunzell and Greg Gagne. I’d imagine this was early in the High Flyers career. Nick and Ray go after Greg early, double-teaming him in the corner. Greg escapes and Brunzell is tagged in. He is a house of fire and clears the ring. Bockwinkel comes back in and misses a knee drop, allowing Gagne to work the knee. Stevens is tagged in but is caught in a headlock. It looks like we cut forward a bit to Stevens breaking and Gagne hitting a dropkick. He tries another but Stevens catches him and spins him around but Gagne scissors out of it and twists Stevens down. Brunzell comes in with a side headlock. Nick is tagged in, blows a hiptoss and we’re back to the side headlock. Stevens kicks him from behind to break the hold and chokes Brunzell. Greg comes in and headscissors Nick down and covers, but Stevens breaks the hold. A double shoulderblock knocks both guys down, allowing Gagne to come in with some dropkicks and Gagne locks on the sleeper. Heenan distracts the ref, allowing Stevens to come in with a knee from the top rope. The heels continue beating on Gagne, the referee is tossed, and random jobbers come in to try and stop the bedlam. Larry Hennig does come in to make the save. Let’s call the time of the match at 9:50. The flow of the match was off. There was no heel segment where they pound on the faces allowing for the big comeback. There were no heat segments and the match came across as disjointed. There was too much going on in terms of quick comebacks and interference to get one invested emotionally into the match. Not a great match to showcase any wrestling, though we did see the big stars of the AWA. *.
2) Verne Gagne(c) vs. Baron Von Raschke for the AWA Title (8:00)
This took place on July 13th, 1974 at the Amphitheater. Greg and Verne call the match, which is JIP. We see Baron getting tripped up by Verne. The two exchange blows, complete with cheesy sound effects. Verne goes to work on the knee as the two tells us that Baron came to Verne from Nebraska to train but didn’t like it and trained in Canada with Mad Dog Vachon. Baron locks on the Claw, with current day Verne and Greg talking about the holds in kayfabe. It dies hard in these old-timers. Verne and Baron slug it out, with Verne going after the arm. We cut to Baron working the arm, then a nerve pinch. Baron misses a blind charge leading to the Gagne sleeper. Baron backs Gagne into the corner to break. Another cut leads to Baron locking on the Claw, and then we see Gagne putting on the sleeper which Baron breaks the same way as before. A dropkick misses by a mile and the Baron slugs away. A backbreaker covers but pulls Verne up at two. Baron tries for a back suplex but Verne falls on top of him for the pinfall at 7:32 (shown). It’s tough to rate this since it was just highlights, but it looked really boring. Let’s go *.
3) Pat Patterson & Ray Stevens vs. Billy Robinson & Frankie Hill (10:02)
This took place on May 20th, 1978. Pat is introduced from the location of San Francisco. That’s too funny. Frankie Hill had an opponent who didn’t show so Billy Robinson takes his place. He’s attacked from behind and Patterson goes to work, slugging at him in the corner. Robinson comes back with a running forearm then a neckbreaker. This draws Stevens and Patterson is sling-shot into Stevens. Robinson gets a backbreaker to get the first fall at 1:03. The second fall starts with Robinson putting Patterson in a bearhug. Hill comes in and chops away and works in an armlock. Patterson makes the comeback and Hill is bodyslammed down for one. Robinson comes back in and tosses around Stevens. He works over the arm of Stevens, something Frankie Hill does when he comes in. His abilities are not quite as good as Robinson as he corners Stevens right next to Patterson and Patterson comes in and smacks around poor ol’ Frankie. A snapmare leads to a knee to the face. So after working over the poor Indian what does Stevens do? He kicks Frankie into his corner and Robinson comes in. He gets a double underhook suplex which Patterson has to break. A neckbreaker follows and another cover, but he gets up when he sees Patterson ascend the turnbuckles. He tosses him off and covers but Stevens breaks that (illegal) pinfall up. The ref disqualified Patterson and Stevens at 5:57 then destroy him in the ring. Some of the faces run in to clear the ring of Patterson and Stevens. Robinson is severely injured and Patterson and Stevens will be fined. Why would they show a match like this, which would set up a feud, instead of showing us the blow-off to the feud? What is with this match selection so far? Three matches and none of them being really watchable. *1/4.
4) Verne Gagne & Mad Dog Vachon vs. Jesse Ventura & Adrian Adonis(c) for the AWA Tag Team Titles (7:11)
This is from March 22nd, 1980. The team of Gagne and Vachon were stripped of the tag titles and they want them back. Of course, the East-West Connection won’t give them back. We go JIP with Vachon bodyslamming Ventura and Adonis breaking up the pin. The announcer says this is at the 15-minute mark. Vachon gets a backbreaker and Adonis again breaks the count, with Verne coming in to express his dissatisfaction. Verne comes in and rakes the eyes, then tosses Ventura into Adonis, tagging him in. Adonis is brought in to get raked in the eyes and back. Mad Dog and Ventura are tagged back into the ring, with Ventura getting rakes as well. Vachon weakly chops Ventura down and covers, but Adonis breaks that pinfall up as well. Adonis breaks up a fourth pinfall attempt, and then stops Vachon from doing a piledriver. So Gagne comes in and dropkicks Ventura down. Gagne puts on the sleeper and Adonis breaks that up, but Gagne won’t break the hold. Vachon comes in but that only allows Adonis to axehandle Gagne from the top rope and that breaks the sleeper. Vachon tosses Adonis to the outside, and then tumbles with Ventura over the top. The bell rings at 4:20 (shown) with no word as to what the finish was. Well, that’s just great. I think it was a Double DQ, or the fact that Ventura went over the top led to Gagne and Vachon getting DQ’ed. Was there ever a clean finish in the AWA? Or a complete match? Why all the JIP stuff? This seemed to be about ** based on what I saw.
5) Verne Gagne vs. Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA Title (10:00)
This is from May 10th, 1981. We get a preview interview from Nick hyping this match, which would be Verne’s last. Verne gives an interview about his last match before we’re joined in progress with the match. Gagne shoves off Bockwinkel from a side headlock but Bockwinkel collides with the ref. Gagne dropkicks Bockwinkel and covers for the visual pin, but no ref. Bockwinkel axehandles from behind and covers but Gagne kicks out at two. A victory roll for Gagne gets two. He dropkicks Bockwinkel down but misses a second one. I guess no one ever told him the adage about going to the well too many times. A Bockwinkel piledriver follows but Gagne kicks out at two. Bockwinkel tries a piledriver but Gagne backdrops out of it and covers for two. Gagne grabs a sleeper but Bockwinkel backs into the corner to stop it. Bockwinkel says whatever you can do I can do better and puts his version of the sleeper on. Because Bockwinkel is a bad guy, it’s the Oriental Sleeper! How eeeeee-vil! Gagne back suplexes out of it and covers for the pin and the title at 5:07. You know you run the company when you book yourself to go over on the champ so you can retire with the belt. Was footage of the entire match unavailable? Anyway, it had an exciting ending, and I’ll go ** for what I saw.
6) High Flyers vs. Jesse Ventura & Adrian Adonis (7:36)
This is from August 30th, 1981. Adrian Adonis and Jesse Ventura formed the East Coast Connection. The two talk to Okerlund and are raving mad that the High Flyers won’t wrestle them for the tag titles. They have a tape to show them beating the Flyers. We see the tape of that match, which is joined in progress, with Ventura getting worked on in the corner. The High Flyers were Jim Brunzell and Greg Gagne for those who didn’t know. The Flyers do some heel tactics (choking in the corner) to get face heat. Interesting. Gagne hits a backbreaker but the pin is broken by Adonis. Brunzell drops a knee onto Ventura’s leg and the Flyers start working that leg. Gagne misses a dropkick and Ventura tags into Adonis. Adonis slugs down Gagne, leading to illegal involvement on the part of Brunzell. Adonis hits a clothesline for two. A bulldog follows but a second try leads to Gagne shoving Adonis off into the ropes. Adonis tries a piledriver but is backdropped off and Brunzell is tagged in. He dropkicks Adonis and Ventura needs to run-in to break the count. Adonis is sent to the corner where he goes up and over. Brunzell piledrives Adonis and covers and again Ventura breaks the pin. The timekeeper says we’re 15 minutes in now, though we’ve only seen about four. Brunzell misses a blind charge and Ventura comes in and promptly misses an elbow drop. Gagne’s tagged in and locks Ventura in the sleeper. Adonis breaks it up and the East-Coasters hit a spike piledriver for the pin and the victory at 6:45 (shown). It was close to *** based on what I saw.
7) Nick Bockwinkel vs. Hulk Hogan for the AWA Title (5:06)
This is from April 18th, 1982. We see the beginning bell, but it’s all quick-cut from there. Hogan shoulders Bockwinkel down and drops an elbow for two (which is announced as being at the 10-minute mark. That’s nice, let’s just get rid of 10 minutes. Bockwinkel takes advantage of a back drop telegraph and boots Hogan and then proceeds to choke him. Hogan fights back and the big boot leads to the legdrop. He covers but Heenan, Bockwinkel’s manager, breaks up the pin. Hogan’s head is split open from the foreign object Heenan used and Nick pounds away. Hogan hulks up and fights back as Heenan distracts the ref. Heenan tosses in the brass knuckles but Hogan uses them to knock out Bockwinkel and pin him for the title at 4:11. The pop here was just incredible. So Hogan is announced as the winner but there’s a little note on the bottom saying that Hogan was stripped of the belt for using a foreign object. That’s a Dusty finish and it didn’t help in anyway for the AWA and Hogan was right for leaving. Let’s call this **.
8) Jesse Ventura vs. Baron von Raschke (7:08)
A guy interviews Ventura about what he did to Raschke last week. I guess he injured him and I guess this is the blowoff match from March 16th, 1983. We see about two minutes of introductions, then fast-forward ahead 10 minutes in the match with Jesse working an arm. Baron fights back and connects with a legdrop and an elbow drop for two. He follows that with a backbreaker for two. Baron misses a blindcharge and shoulders himself on the ringpost. Baron comes right back with the Claw and both guys end up dumped on the outside. Baron sends Jesse into the ringpost and it is a double disqualification finish at 3:36 (shown). I’ll go *.
9) Hulk Hogan vs. Mr. Saito & Mr. Hatori in a Handicap Match (4:47)
This is from August 28th, 1983 and it’s guess what, JIP! Hulk atomic drops Saito and covers, but picks him up at two. He suplexes him then David Schulz runs up. Hogan knocks him down and the ref gets bumped. Hatori throws salt in Hogan’s eyes, allowing for a Schulz/Saito double-team. Hogan’s busted open now and the ref revives and DQ’s Saito. The double-team continues until Hulk revives and takes out both men. This leads up to the handicap match that is listed on the DVD. So we don’t see that match at all. Hogan mentions going to the AWFA. I wonder if that was a Freudian slip? This was a waste of 5 minutes that could’ve been used to show an uncut match somewhere. DUD.
10) Legion of Doom vs. Crusher, Larry Hennig & Curt Hennig (5:33)
This is from January 13th, 1985 and is the 9th JIP match on here. The Legion of Doom actually included Paul Ellering as this is a 6-man tag match. Larry is worked over by the LOD, who I think were playing the heels here. He’s bodyslammed for two. Larry punches back and tags in Curt who is promptly back suplexed and then powerslammed. Animal comes in with three backbreakers in a row and Curt is about dead. A splash gets two. Ellering comes in with some boots to the face but gets rolled up. Hawk breaks up the pin and knee lifts Curt. A shoulderblock to Ellering brings in the Axe and then Crusher, who both destroy Ellering. Crusher hits his spinning punch, drawing the rest of the LOD which then draws the Hennigs. Hennig ducks out of getting tossed and both LOD members are dumped. The Crusher does his punch again and covers Ellering for the pinfall at 5:13. That was an exciting end to a match that was around 15 minutes uncut. Why not show the rest of the match? There was plenty of time left on the DVD. Very exciting match. ***.
11) Midnight Rockers vs. Buddy Rose & Doug Somers (20:21)
This is the Brawl in St. Paul, held on Christmas Day 1986. This is a steel cage match and immediately send Somers & Rose into the cage. This is regular tag rules and once everyone goes to their corner the bell rings. Sherri is screaming at ringside. Rose is already busted open as Michaels knocks Somers down and covers for two. Sherri has placed a string of some sort near the corner of Rose/Somers. Michaels works over Somers with punches and the moveset really doesn’t sway from that. Both Somers and Rose are now busted open, though Rose’s wound seems to have stopped bleeding. Jannetty tries to do the ol’ double noggin knocker but fails and gets bodyslammed as a result. Jannetty responds with a bodyslam of his own and covers, but Somers breaks up that pin. He’s tossed aside but his attention is diverted enough for Rose to cover. Michaels breaks up that pin. Jannetty punches Rose down and covers, twice, and lifts Rose’s head up, twice. That was stupid. Somer’s comes in and is powerslammed for two. Michaels comes in with a flying elbow drop but he too picks up his opponent’s head at two. The Rockers continue with their punishment of Somers/Rose as Sherri screeches at ringside. Michaels gets a headbutt in the groin and is slingshot into the cage. Michaels does a great blade job, immediately getting covered in blood. Michaels is sent into the cage and Rose covers but Jannetty breaks up the pin. A DDT follows and again the pin is broken up. I bet they regret picking their opponents heads now. For some reason we go to a guy wearing a mask of Ronald Reagan. That was weird. Somers suplexes Michaels as some cook from the crowd tosses water onto Sherri Martel. I hope it was water and not something else. Michaels is back dropped into the cage, then crotched on the top rope. Michaels fights back against Somers but is rolled up for two. Michaels comes back with a kneelift and finally makes the tag to Jannetty. The crowd likes that hot tag. Jannetty sends Rose and Somers into the cage then powerslams Somers. Rose breaks up the pin then tries to bail over the top of the cage. Jannetty drags him back to the top of the cage and both guys straddle the tope. Rose falls back down into the cage. Michaels superkicks Somers and that’s followed with a crossbody off the top rope for the pinfall at 17:18. Michaels is sent to the outside allowing Rose and Somers to attack Jannetty and bloody him up but Michaels makes the comeback and clears the ring then cuts a pretty bad promo. This was an intense bloodbath and just having a full-length match on here is awesome. This allowed us to see the match build to its crescendo. The moveset wasn’t great but it was a fierce brawl and well done. ***1/2.
12) Curt Hennig vs. Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA Title (37:29)
This is from SuperClash II, held on May 2nd, 1987. There are a lot of empty seats at the arena. I hope this is as enjoyable as their one-hour draw on ESPN. They feel each other out with arm drags and we even get a clean break out of this. Hennig puts on a side headlock but Bockwinkel breaks by sending him to the ropes. They exchange bodyslams and Henning gets the side headlock right back on. Bockwinkel breaks again and arm drags Hennig but he takes down Bockwinkel and goes back to the side headlock. Bockwinkel is sent to the corner and Hennig charges but Bockwinkel moves out of the way and Hennig takes a bump through the ropes, into the ringpost to the outside. That was a sick bump. Hennig favors his arm and Bockwinkel goes right to work on that arm. That’s some great psychology. Hennig gets a knee to the gut of Bockwinkel but telegraphs a back drop and is punted in the face and covered for two. Hennig works out of an armbar by sheer willpower and works the leg of Bockwinkel now, culminating in a figure-four. Bockwinkel breaks by getting to the ropes and then sends Hennig hard to the corner for two. Hennig sunset flips Bockwinkel for two. A roll-up gets two for Hennig, as does a high cross-body. Hennig hits Bockwinkel with the axe, his father’s move, and covers but Bockwinkel makes the ropes. A piledriver follows for Hennig and that only sets up the standing dropkick for two. Bockwinkel is sent to the corner but clotheslines Hennig on the rebound. A shoulderblock knocks both guys down. Bockwinkel gets up first but walks into a right hand from Hennig, and that’s enough to get the pinfall at 23:33. BUT WAIT! Ray Stevens heads to the ring to say something to the ref and it is revealed that Hennig punched Bockwinkel with a roll of quarters in his hand. This ends with the title getting held up. Ok, it was an okay match, topping out at ***1/2 with some stars deducted for the crappy finish and a slow start, but why include it on a DVD that is supposed to showcase all that was “spectacular” about AWA? Anyway, they also show about three minutes of people arguing and other interviews.
13) Jerry Lawler vs. Kerry Von Erich in an AWA/WCCW Unification Match (26:30)
==Taken from my “WWE: Greatest Wrestling Stars of the 80’s” DVD Review==
This is a championship unification match that took place at AWA’s SuperClash III on 12/13/88. Lawler was the AWA champ and Von Erich was the WCCW champ. Kerry vows to beat Lawler from one end of Chicago to another. Kerry’s arm gets split wide open right away (due to a razor he had hidden and it is suggested he did it before the match even started). The announcers talk about Lawler and Von Erich defeating Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Ric Flair, namedropping stars from other promotions. They stall a bit with Kerry getting the early advantage with a pair of clotheslines. Roll-up gets two for Kerry. Kerry wants a test of strength, which he wins. Discus punch for Kerry gets two. Kerry is bothered by that arm, and immediately the match is handicapped by it. Kerry is sent to the outside, but comes back to the apron. Lawler catches him but Kerry punches him and tries to vault in for a splash, but hits Lawler’s knees. Lawler piledrives Kerry, who no sells and discus punches Lawler for two. Snapmare for Kerry and he tries for the Iron Claw, but can’t get it. Ref gets bumped and Kerry piledrives Lawler. The ref finally makes it to count and Kerry only gets a two. Kerry sends Lawler outside, and Kerry tries for a discus punch which Lawler ducks and Kerry’s fist hits the ringpost. Lawler goes back in and uses some brass knuckles, and Kerry is busted wide open. He probably hit an artery. Lawler pounds away at that open head wound. Lawler jumps off the second rope and puts the Iron Claw into the gut of Lawler. Lawler won’t give up. Kerry puts the claw onto Lawler’s head and starts dripping blood onto the face of Lawler, which is kind of gross. Lawler’s foot is on the ropes so Kerry has to break the hold, but he goes right back to it and drags Lawler to the center of the ring. The ref is looking at the cut of Kerry. Back on their feet, Lawler is sent to the corner, a blind charge misses and Kerry’s head hit the post. Kerry throws some punches but Lawler again with the brass knucks (from his tights), which the ref can’t find. Lawler with his “piston punches,” and Kerry is getting his wound worked over pretty well. Kerry comes back and Lawler is down on the mat. Kerry puts the Iron Claw back on, and Lawler for all intents and purposes is finished, except of course, this is wrestling. The ref ends the match at 18:44 due to Kerry’s cut and Lawler is declared the winner, and is awarded both belts. This was just a gruesome match, and Kerry is just bleeding like crazy. I really liked this match, despite seeing the finish from a mile away, and for the stalling that occurred. **1/2.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is presented in Fullscreen.
C) Packaging / Liner Notes
This is a double-disc collection so it’s in one DVD case. You get a four-page liner notes, with the extras and the chapter listings. It’s really all you need. One thing that I should note about the cover. The primary stars they show on the cover of the AWA are: Ric Flair, Sgt. Slaughter, Jerry Lawler, The Rockers, Gene Okerlund, Hulk Hogan, Bobby Heenan and Curt Hennig.
D) Easter Eggs
The usual WWE ads start this off: WWE On Demand, WWE Home Video, Roddy Piper’s DVD, The second Hulk Hogan DVD (Ultimate Anthology), and definitely do not try this at home ever at all. Disc One kicked a whole bunch of ass, featuring one of the best features they’ve ever released on disc and makes it a recommendation right off the bat. However, Disc Two was extremely frustrating. I’m was really getting sick of the JIP crap, with 10 out of 13 matches not being shown completely. Did the WWE just not have the uncut footage for some of these matches? For instance, I would’ve loved to have seen the Gagne retirement match in full, as well as the Hogan/Bockwinkel match. Why all the JIP stuff. I know that for TV that’s how it was shown but we couldn’t go all out for this? I would’ve sacrificed a few matches for more of uncut matches, or hell, even spring for a third disc. The ECW DVD was two discs with only about 6-7 matches, but they were uncut and really a wide range of what ECW had to offer. This was 10 JIP matches with three complete matches. And of those three, one was available on another DVD (Von Erich/Lawler), and the other two having matches of the same feud on other WWE discs (HBK and Mr. Perfect DVDs). This was supposed to be the “spectacular legacy of the AWA.” So newer fans may buy this and say, this wasn’t so spectacular at all. Whoever picked these matches out did a TERRIBLE job. It is what it is, I guess, but it is a shame that the best AWA matches are on other DVD’s, most notably the Shawn Michaels ones and the Perfect DVD. I was really pleased with Disc One but that was quickly balanced out by my disappointment with Disc Two. As a result, the catch it on TV (or in Demand if its on) ruling applies here. There’s not enough on Disc Two to make this a truly great collection.
9.0-9.5 Near Perfect, Highly Recommended
8.0-8.5 Really good disc, Recommended
7.0-7.5 Good DVD, Mildly recommended
6.0-6.5 Above Average DVD. Mildest of mild recommendations
5.0-5.5 Decent all around disc, but catch it on TV
4.0-4.5 Great Movie but horrible DVD
3.0-3.5 Horrible movie but great DVD
2.0-2.5 There’s at least some merit to this DVD, but not much.
1.0-1.5 Horrible DVD, don’t even bother
0.0-0.5 Worst DVD ever
34-year-old currently living in Syracuse, New York. Long-time fan of the New York Mets, Chicago Bulls, and Minnesota Vikings. An avid fan of professional wrestling and write reviews/articles on the product. Usually focusing on old-school wrestling.