Over the years – while WWE continued to thrive as an industry leader for decades – many once successful professional wrestling companies went bankrupt. One such society is the American Wrestling Association, which ran for 31 years, from 1960 to 1991.
At this point, the AWA is about to disappear longer than it exists, and its legacy is increasingly forgotten by modern fans. Rather than keep letting it slip away, let’s take a look at the history of the American Wrestling Association, from its beginnings to its conclusion — and what happened after.
ten Founded by Verne Gagne
The crucial figure behind the American Wrestling Association is Verne Gagne. An impressive athlete with legit skills, Gagne was on the U.S. wrestling squad for the 1948 Summer Olympics as a substitute and briefly played football for the Chicago Bears. In the squared circle, Verne Gagne became a star of the Midwest wrestling scene in the 1950s, but also helped shape the future of the sport as a coach, with notable students such as Ricky Steamboat, The Iron Sheik and even Ric Flair.
9 Breaking up with the NWA
The American Wrestling Association was founded in a split from the National Wrestling Alliance. Gagne wanted a title match with World Champion Pat O’Connor, but the NWA wasn’t biting. In response, Gagne and his business partner Wally Karbo convinced several Midwestern territories to break from the NWA and organized them into the AWA. Upon forming the AWA, the organization awarded the AWA World Heavyweight Championship to Pat O’Connor, giving him 90 days to defend the title against Gagne. When O’Connor and the NWA again failed to bite, the belt went to Gagne.
8 Verne Gagne has held the world heavyweight title ten times
Although technically the second AWA World Heavyweight Champion, Verne Gagne is actually the first to hold the belt and defend it. Over the next 26 years, Verne Gagné would become 10 times world champion, with reigns ranging from 2,625 days to 7 days.
As world champion, Gagne would take on all heels, with notable opponents being legendary Midwestern heel Baron Von Rashke, as well as World Class Championship Wrestling founder Fritz Von Erich.
seven Nick Bockwinkel was the heir to the AWA throne
Verne Gagne’s final reign with the world title would last from July 1980 to May 1981, ending with Gagne’s retirement as a full-time player. Rather than hold a tournament to determine a new champion, the belt was awarded to Nick Bockwinkel, who would essentially become the center of the promotion going forward and a four-time world champion. Previously a babyface in various territories, the technically gifted Bockwinkel debuted for AWA in 1970 and rose to high heel status, with his receipt of the world title in 1981 making him even more hated.
6 Hulk Hogan became a star at AWA
A year after winning the world title, Nick Bockwinkel landed an incredible foil in Hulk Hogan, a former WWE heel wrestler who rose to fame through his role as Thunderlips in the film. rocky 3. In the AWA, he quickly became the best babyface in the business, with his world title challenges against Bockwinkel becoming huge draws. Despite this, Verne Gagne reportedly didn’t want to put the belt on Hogan due to his lack of technical skills, and in kayfabe Hogan was robbed of huge title wins on several occasions.
5 Talent raids suffered by WWE
Before long, Vince McMahon and WWE lured Hulk Hogan away from the American Wrestling Association in 1983 with a best deal that involved Hogan winning the world title. As the 1980s progressed, WWE transitioned from a New York territory to a national promotion and plundered the territories for their top talent. Despite its high notoriety, AWA spent the decade hemorrhaging talent, with notable losses not only to in-ring performers like Jesse Ventura and Curt Hennig, but also manager Bobby Heenan and backstage interviewer Mean Gene. Okerlund.
4 Lasted only one PPV
The 1980s also saw the rise of pay-per-view as a new way to stage big games and make money from larger audiences, with NWA’s Starrcade ’83 being WWE’s first and first WrestleMania in 1985 being considered the great game changer. The American Wrestling Association followed suit in 1988, delivering their only PPV in Super Clash 3.
The only non-WWE, non-NWA/WCW PPV to take place in the 1980s, Super Clash 3 was a multi-promotional affair, with the biggest match being a world title unification match between World Class’s Kerry Von Erich and AWA’s Jerry Lawler.
3 SuperClash 3 was the turning point
In the years following its release, Super Clash 3 was considered the turning point of the American Wrestling Association – in a bad way. Pay-per-view buy rates were low, the event itself was considered a disappointment, and Verne Gagné reportedly bolstered a lot of the talent on their paydays — including Jerry Lawler — which killed the company’s reputation with other wrestlers. On top of that, AWA was on a creative decline, having lost many of its stars to WWE while Gagne insisted on pushing his own son, Greg Gagne.
2 What happened to the AWA
Next Super Clash 3, the American Wrestling Association continued for a few more years, with the final episodes of its weekly television show airing in August 1990 before turning into reruns. In 1991, the promotion officially filed for bankruptcy, signaling the end of the AWA as an active promotion. According to Eric Bischoff, former employee and later WCW boss, much of AWA’s money came from the lakeside property that Verne Gagne owned, which he ended up losing via eminent domain when the local government sought to turn the area into a park.
1 WWE Property
While the promotion was inactive, AWA content was repackaged as pay-per-view compilations and DVDs until around 2003, when WWE purchased the rights to the promotion and its tape library for $3 million. dollars. In 2006, WWE released a documentary, The AWA’s Spectacular Legacy, which traces the history of Verne Gagné and his promotion, with interviews with the various personalities involved, including Gagné himself. Since then, WWE has done much of AWA’s content – including the aforementioned Super Clash 3 – available on the WWE Network and later on the NBC Peacock streaming app.