"The Case for the American Wrestling Association"
by Pat Langer
Wrestling Monthly, October, 1971
The American Wrestling Association is made up of leading promoters
throughout the world. It has members in Europe and Asia as well as in North
America. The AWA World's Heavyweight Champion, Verne Gagne, has defended the
title in Spain and Japan as well as throughout the United States. Such
cities as Madrid, Boston, Amarillo, Chicago, and Los Angeles have seen Gagne put
the title on the line.
The president of the AWA is Mr. Stanley Blackburn who has his
offices in Amarillo, Texas. The leading member promoters are Wally Karbo of
Minneapolis, Joe Dusek of Omaha, Gene Reed of Denver, Bob Luce of
Chicago-Indianapolis, Harvey Solon of Duluth, Don Marxen of
Moline-Davenport, Eddie Williams of St. Paul, Buddy Lee Cliff of Rockford, Ben Sternberg
of Rochester, John Guglyn of Winnipeg, and Duaine Hoberg of
The AWA was originally part of the National
Wrestling Alliance. In fact, Minneapolis promoter Wally Karbo was
associated with the late Tony Stecher in 1948 when the NWA had
its first convention. Stecher hosted the meeting in Minneapolis
and became a charter member of the NWA By 1950, the NWA World's
Heavyweight Champion, Lou
Thesz, was recognized throughout the world.
Then in 1957 the current championship puzzle started. On June 14th of
that year, Edouard Carpentier defeated Lou Thesz in Chicago. The title and
belt were awarded to Carpentier, but the NWA over-ruled the referee and
gave the title back to Thesz because one of the falls was on a
disqualification. However, in this case, many states refused to follow the edict of the
National Wrestling Alliance.
One of these states was Nebraska. They continued to recognize
Carpentier as champion until he lost the title to Verne Gagne in August of 1958.
Carpentier also had recognition from various other states and the fact
is that there were several title versions involved, but all of them are
now merged into one of the three versions that are still left today.
At this point Wally Karbo was still a member of the National Wrestling
Alliance. However, he was a strong supporter of Gagne, and Verne
already held the Nebraska version of the title. Karbo had been working for five
years to arrange a NWA title match for Gagne in Minneapolis. Finally, in
1960, he felt that he needed to take drastic action to force this match. He
called a meeting of all the promoters who agreed with his view that unless
Gagne was given a shot at the NWA title it would be meaningless, because to
have a true world champion, he must defend the title against the very best
challengers. Verne Gagne, at that time, had been ranked among the top
ten contenders for over five years, often in the top position, and yet he
had never had a title shot during that period.
Karbo and his associates formed the American Wrestling Association.
Ironically, the first champion recognized by the AWA was not Gagne, but Pat O'Connor,
who was the current NWA Champion. However, the AWA stipulated
that O'Connor had three months to sign for a title match with Gagne or else
lose recognition. When O'Connor refused to sign for the match and when the
90-day period had elapsed, the AWA took action on it's own and removed
recognition from O'Connor and crowned Gagne the World's Heavyweight
Champion. The National Wrestling Alliance, of course, did not go along with this
title switch and so two champions were the result.
In each case the result has been the same. Gagne may have lost the
title, but in a rematch he regained it. Verne also gained stature by winning
title defenses against Dory Funk Jr., Gene Kiniski, Pat O'Connor, and Lou
Thesz. Needless to say, those matches took place either before or after the
above mentioned held the NWA title during period, but the fact remains
that Gagne successfully defended the AWA title against every one of the
NWA champions during the past decade. Gagne also traveled to NWA cities
such as Atlanta, St. Louis, Detroit, Kansas City, Amarillo, and Honolulu to
wrestle for National Wrestling Alliance promoters while he was AWA
A super bowl type match between Gagne and the NWA champion was
proposed several times, but the match was never signed. The reasons shy are
complex, but probably the chief one is that NWA promoters feel that Gagne
would not keep the rigid schedule the NWA demands and that Gagne would favor
the present AWA promoters with more appearances in that area. However,
history disproves this because when Gagne held the NWA World's Junior
Heavyweight Championship some years back, he was without a doubt the most traveled
champion that division ever saw and defended the NWA World title in
more areas than any other champ in that division's history.
The time factor may have chief importance. One champion can only
defend his title a maximum of around 300 times per year. Two champions mean twice
as many title matches when you add up both NWA and AWA promotions,
so an agreement would have to include the provision that all promoters in
both alliances would have to cut down the number of title matches in each
individual city if they had one champion for both groups. The
promoters individually are reluctant to cut down the number of times they have
the champion per year and the collective result is that super bowl type
eliminations have been blocked by the individual demands made by
promoters from both alliances on the universal champion that would result.
Still there is hope. Wally Karbo, the most powerful AWA promoter,
still maintains his membership in the NWA and follows their edicts in all
aspects of the sport except for heavyweight title recognition.
Although no elimination has been signed, the promoters of the NWA
and of the AWA work in close harmony. The channels are open and who knows
what the future may bring. The AWA has never disputed Dory Funk's lineal
claim to the throne. The whole alliance has been based on the injustice of
not giving Verne Gagne a shot at the NWA title for the past fifteen
years. For Verne Gagne's sake, we must hope that this injustice is corrected
soon. After 22 years of professional wrestling, he no longer has many of his
prime years of professional wrestling ahead of him.
Verne Gagne sincerely believes that he is the very best wrestler
in the world today. His record certainly supports that belief and the true World's
Heavyweight Champion should be the man who is the very best wrestler in the
world today. For the sake of wrestling, the Verne Gagne vs. Dory Funk Jr. match
must be made.