Re: 1984: AWA vs. WWF
On a very cold morning in February 1984, American Wrestling Association (AWA) promoter and owner Verne Gagne was sitting and looking out the window of his office at the AWA headquarters in the Sherland Park area in the city of St. Louis Park, MN.
Gagne was not a happy man. He had a somber look on his face as he wondered how it could possibly happen; and happen at such a shocking rate of speed.
On January 23, 1984, Hulk Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik to win the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) World Title at Madison Square Garden. It was a title change that sent shockwaves throughout the wrestling world. It signaled the beginning of a new era in professional wrestling. Hogan, the hottest superstar in all of pro wrestling, was now working for Vince McMahon, Jr. and the WWF. Just a few weeks earlier, Hogan was the hottest superstar in the sport and was working for Verne Gagne and the AWA.
Hulk Hogan first became a star in the wrestling business when he wrestled in the WWF for Vince McMahon, Sr. in 1979-80. It was under Vince, Sr. that Terry Bollea was given the name Hulk Hogan. In the past, he had wrestled under the names Sterling Golden and Terry Boulder. Hogan was a rulebreaker in his first go-round with the WWF and was managed by 'Classy' Freddy Blassie. Hogan's main claim to fame during that first run was a feud with Andre the Giant. Hogan also began wrestling for New Japan Pro Wrestling on occasion as well. Vince Sr. turned Terry 'Hulk Hogan' Bollea into a wrestling star. Hogan was still not quite at the superstar level. But his star was definitely on the rise.
Hulk Hogan arrived in the AWA in 1981. At first, Gagne promoted Hogan as a rulebreaker. But the overwhelmingly positive fan reaction to Hogan left Gagne with no choice but to let Hogan become the fan favorite he obviously was in the eyes of the people.
Hogan started challenging for the AWA World Title in 1982. The belt was held by the aging ring legend Nick Bockwinkel. Bockwinkel, still a top-flight ring technician, was managed by the notorious Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan. It was obvious to everyone that Hogan was the man who was going to dethrone Bockwinkel and become the new AWA World Champion and usher in a wrestling revolution for the AWA. Hogan's star-status was rapidly heading upward into the stratosphere. Hogan then got an assist that no one saw coming. He appeared in the wildly popular film, Rocky 3, as the cocky wrestler Thunderlips. Now, millions of people who had never even heard of Hulk Hogan knew who he was. More Hogan fans were created thanks to his movie appearance.
Hogan had several close calls in title matches against Bockwinkel for the belt in 1982. The fans were salavating to see Hogan crush the arrogant Bockwinkel, and his obnoxious manager Heenan in the process, and have his hand raised in victory and the AWA World Title placed around his waist.
1983 was definitely going to be the year that 'Hulkamania' reigned supreme in the AWA! Or was it...
The year began with Hogan still hot on Bockwinkel's tail in pursuit of the gold. Fans were once again left in agony at Hogan's near misses to capture the belt. But it was surely going to happen on April 24, 1983. The AWA hyped a supercard for that date and called it Super Sunday. This was the day the fans had waited for. After all the close calls and frustrating finishes this was going to be Hogan's crowning moment. The St. Paul Civic Center sold out. There was such a demand for tickets that they also aired the show on closed circuit TV at the St. Paul Auditorium, which sold out as well. The excitement was everywhere in AWA country.
When Hogan came to the ring for his title match with Bockwinkel, he had already supplanted Andre the Giant as wrestling's top superstar. And the fans apparently witnessed their dream come true. Hogan finally pinned Bockwinkel in the middle of the ring. The fans went crazy. Their patience, as well as Hogan's, was finally rewarded.
Or was it...
Hogan had his hand raised and was handed the belt by special ref Lord James Blears. The celebration was going full tilt. Until AWA commish Stanley Blackburn arrived on the scene. Blackburn informed Hogan, Bockwinkel, Heenan and the fans that Hogan had, in fact, been disqualified for dumping Bockwinkel over the top rope just a few minutes before scoring the pin. Hogan was in disbelief. The fans were angry. All that build up for another disappointing end to a Hogan-Bockwinkel bout. The only people in the arena who were happy at the time were the champ and Heenan.
1983 continued with Hogan still chasing Bockwinkel for the belt and feuding with the likes of David Schultz, Mr. Saito, Jerry Blackwell, Ken Patera and others.
The good news is that Hogan's popularity was still surging even without the belt. In June, Hogan's star got even brighter when he knocked out Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki to win the International Wrestling Grand Prix (IWGP) tournament in Japan. 'Hulkamania' was a raging wildfire by now and wrestling fans gleefully allowed themselves to be consumed by it.
But make no mistake. It was under the tutelage of Verne Gagne that Hogan was able to rise to the top of the mountain. Hulk Hogan was a star when he arrived in the AWA. But it was Verne Gagne who helped lead him to the promised land of superstardom. And an outsider had taken notice and was keeping a very close eye on Hogan and the phenomenon that surrounded him.
In 1983, Vince McMahon, Jr. was plotting his national expansion. And the man he wanted to be the spearhead of that expansion was Hulk Hogan. With Hogan a smoking hot commodity, McMahon saw him as the best choice to be the WWF's standard bearer. McMahon wanted Hogan and he was determined to get him.
One day in '83, Gagne got a phone call. It was from noneother than Vince MacMahon, Jr. Vince wanted to know if Verne would possibly be interested in selling the AWA to him. Gagne was 57 years old. He'd been in the wrestling business since the late 1940's. To say it was his life would be an understatement. Verne Gagne ate, slept and breathed pro wrestling. Even though he had the biggest star in the sport in Hogan and the AWA was arguably the hottest promotion in the world at the time, Gagne gave serious thought to McMahon's proposal. Maybe it was time for the legendary Gagne to step aside and hand over the reins to someone younger and enjoy his later years free from the everyday grind of running a major league wrestling promotion. Gagne agreed to meet with Vince, Jr. and discuss a possible sale.
Vince, Jr. arrived in Minneapolis, MN, and met with Gagne at the AWA headquarters. The thing was, as the meeting unfolded, Vince, Jr. didn't seem to be as interested in buying the company as he was in trying to find out the status of certain wrestlers in the AWA. Of course, Hogan was at the top of the list. The pair met for a while and no deal was consummated. Verne drove Vince, Jr. back to the airport. Verne walked with McMahon into the terminal where Vince was waiting to board a flight back to New York. As McMahon prepared to board the plane, Gagne wanted to know if Vince was interested in buying his company. In a moment that truly can be said to sum up the McMahon personality, just before he entered the rampway to board the plane, he turned to Gagne, cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled: "Verne! I don't negotiate!" Vince then got on the plane and flew back to New York and Gagne was left to wonder just what was going on.
Verne Gagne was about to find out very soon.
In December of '83, Hulk Hogan had vanished from the AWA. He no-showed key house show dates where he was supposed to be the headliner. No one in the AWA could get ahold of him. Finally, Christmas night rolled around and Hogan was supposed to headline a big show at the St. Paul Civic Center. Again, no Hogan. Greg Gagne, Verne's son and one-half of the tag team the High Flyers with Jim Brunzell, was finally able to contact Hogan via phone. Hogan said that he wouldn't be coming back and that he was going to the WWF. This was the news that Greg Gagne dreaded having to tell his proud father. It was obvious that Hogan had secretly met with McMahon and cut a deal to head to New York.
To add insult to injury, 'Dr. D' David Schultz, one of Hogan's main rivals, also bailed on Verne for the WWF as well. And in one more stinging blow, announcer Gene Okerlund, the man who fans considered the pre-eminent voice of the AWA for over a decade, also bolted Minneapolis for the bright lights of New York and the WWF.
Verne Gagne felt betrayed. He made these men stars in their own right. And he played a major role in making Hulk Hogan THE superstar of pro wrestling.
Hulk Hogan started wrestling in the WWF in late 1983. Within a month of his arrival, he was the WWF World Champion, helping kickstar the wrestling revolution for Vince McMahon, Jr. rather than Verne Gagne.
Gagne thought about all this as he sat in his office that bitter cold early February morning in 1984. And it ate him up inside.
Verne Gagne was angry.
And he was about to take to the airwaves and explain to the AWA fans why...
Last edited by slammer44; 05-12-2014 at 08:11 PM.