AWA 1989: A Financial Savior Is (Badly) Needed
It's 1989 and the AWA is in a complete shambles.
It's hard to believe that just four short years ago this promotion was still one of pro wrestling's Big 3 in North America (along with the WWF and NWA).
Now the promotion is on life support and in dire need of a serious short-term or long-term cash infusion just to stay afloat for the forseeable future.
Attendance at live shows has dwindled downward so sharply in most cases that several house shows a month are having to be cancelled or moved to the local high school or community center.
AWA programming is now almost unwatchable. ESPN, the promotion's cable network carrier, has become indifferent to AWA shows to the point that they put the newest shows on whenever they feel like and don't bother to inform the viewing audience or those in the AWA.
The syndicated AWA program (All-Star Wrestling) is now on only a fraction of the stations it was just a few short years ago.
Recently, Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, Tully Blanchard and Don Muraco all appeared in the promotion. But these four men, all major stars who could have helped breath new life into the AWA, stopped in only briefly before heading elsewhere.
Verne Gagne is at a crossroads. What does he do?
1) Try to bring on a money man (or woman) to get much-needed cash and try to lure some big name talent to the promotion in an effort to make it a major respectable promotion once again?
2) Sell the promotion outright to an interested party (if there is one) and let new blood run the whole show.
3) Just shut the promotion down for good.
Verne, his son Greg and Verne's closest associate for decades, Wally Karbo, have different opinions on what should be done.
But the final decision lies with one man...and that's Verne Gagne.
Verne's known to be very stubborn and set in his ways when it comes to the business. What will he decide to do?
The answer could leave many long-time promoters, wrestlers and fans stunned.
Verne was the creator of the AWA. Could he be a captain who goes down with his ship???
We shall see...
Verne Gagne and son Greg were sitting in the den of Verne's upscale home in the affluent Minneapolis suburb of Lake Minnetonka.
They had just finished eating dinner with members of the family on a cold early spring evening and the two had gone into the den to watch some TV and talk about the future of the AWA.
The once legendary, vibrant promotion was now tanking at an alarming rate.
Verne: Son, I keep racking my brain to see if I can come up with any ideas to turn our fortunes around. But I can't think of anything; can't think of something that would spark a serious rebound in business. What are your thoughts? Any ideas on what we could to right the ship?
Greg: You know my thoughts on the matter, dad.
Verne: I know. I know what you want to do. You think we should sell the promotion.
Greg: That's right. There might be someone out there who would buy it.
Verne took a drink of his iced tea.
Verne: Can't you be a team player with your old man here, Greg? I mean, I built the AWA from the ground up. I put a lot of hard work into making the AWA the success it was.
Greg: Was, dad. It 'was' a success. Now it's a promotion in freefall.
We have virtually no big name talent left. The fans are leaving in droves. We draw crowds of barely around a thousand at the St. Paul Civic Center these days. The WWF and NWA are kicking our tails around the block and then some.
We don't have the money, dad.
Verne: Maybe we could look at trying to bring on a money man. A cash infusion would help...
Greg: It would help.
But we don't just need money. We need people who can bring fresh ideas to the table so we can thrive once again. And that starts at the top.
Dad, you know I love you. Your vision launched the AWA and made it what it once was....
Verne: And can be again.
Greg: The promotion needs new blood who is in tune with where this business is headed now and in the future.
Verne: Are you saying my ideas are outdated?
Greg: As hard as it is for me to say, dad, you have not done a good job keeping up with the times...
With that, Verne got up and walked out of the room. Greg could hear his father walking upstairs and then heard a loud SLAM! as Verne angrily shut his bedroom door.
Greg sat alone in the den. A look of worry plastered on his face. He took a gulp of his tea and wondered where all this was headed.
Last edited by piperrulz : 08-26-2019 at 10:10 PM.
Hope he wakes up, too, before it's too late...
(1) The crowds were demanding that Hulk Hogan get the title; one of the reasons that Verne didn't want to do it, IIRC, is because Hogan wanted a share of the Hogan-related merchandise profits (say what you will about the Hulkster but, here, he was right, IMO). In addition, Verne also wanted some of Hogan's Japan money (which he had no right to ask for, IMO); at least Vince, Jr. realized what he had in Hogan and pushed him to the stars, resulting in wrestling as we know it today...
Last edited by Lord Byron : 08-26-2019 at 11:03 PM.
It's just after 7am on a crisp, cold early spring morning and Greg Gagne is sitting in a booth at a St. Paul Denny's sipping his coffee.
A man walks into the restaurant. Greg sees him and waves him over.
The man removes his gloves while walking to the table. He takes off his heavy coat and places it on the seat next to him as he slides into the booth across the table from Greg.
The man's name is Al Derusha. He's the producer of all AWA TV programming.
Greg: Morning, Al. Thanks for coming.
Al: What's this about, Greg? You made it sound awful urgent on the phone last night. Couldn't we just talk at the office?
Greg: That wouldn't be a good idea right now since dad will be there.
The waitress walks over to the table.
Waitress: Morning, gents. What can I get you?
Greg: I'll have the Grand Slam with my eggs over easy.
Waitress: And you, sir?
Greg: Breakfast is on me, Al.
Al: I'll have the same but with my eggs scrambled.
Waitress starts to walk away.
Al: Oh! And a large orange juice.
Waitress stops, writes it down and then walks off.
Greg: Last night, dad and I had a strong disagreement about what should be done with the promotion.
Greg: Yep. I made the mistake of telling dad the truth and telling him that his ideas regarding our business were outdated and he got up and left the room and I never saw him again last night. Waited in his den for two hours and he never came back down so I finally went home.
Haven't talked with him since.
Al: I'm sure you brought up selling the promotion again, lock, stock and barrel.
Greg: I did. We need new blood running the show. They need to be younger and more in tune with the way this business is moving now. It's not 1979 anymore.
Al (sighs): I know, Greg. You don't need to tell me.
The waitress brings Al his OJ.
Al: Thank you.
The waitress nods and heads off.
Greg: So you agree with me and think we should sell?
Al takes a sip of his juice.
Al: Greg, your dad took a chance on me when he hired me as a referee. He then took a bigger risk when he and members of the production crew showed me the ropes behind the camera and he made me the producer of his television. I'm very loyal to Verne, you know.
Greg: I know that. And don't think I don't appreciate it. But there comes time for change and we need it soon or there will be nothing left of the AWA but memories.
Al: Verne's mentioned trying to find a financial benefactor to give the promotion much needed capital.
Greg: He seems to think that's all we need. But it's not. We need fresh ideas brought to the table. Ideas that will make the fans sit up and take notice and start watching the AWA on TV and coming out by the thousands to our house shows again. Dad's set in his ways and he ain't gonna change and things are dying because of his mindset.
The waitress brought the pair their breakfast.
Greg: Thank you.
Waitress: You're welcome. Will there be anything else, gents?
Greg politely waved her off.
Greg: That's all.
Al dived into his breakfast before the waitress was gone from the table.
Greg sipped his coffee and then started eating his breakfast.
The two stopped talking for a few minutes to chow down.
Greg: How is it?
Al (looking up over his glasses): It's Denny's.
Greg: I get it.
After eating some more, Al spoke.
Al: I tend to lean in your direction on this matter, Greg. Bringing in a money man would help procure talent and may even improve some of our production values. But with the same tired old thinking comes the same tired ideas no matter who's on your roster.
I believe Verne is tired. He's gone as far as he can. He's poured his heart and soul into the AWA. But there comes a time to step down or at least step back and let some new people have a crack at running things. We're at that point now. You're just wasting money without new ideas that are more...well...now.
Greg wiped off his mouth and took a quick drink of coffee.
Greg: I'm glad to know someone's on my side on this. This is why I wanted to have this meeting several miles away from the office. If dad were around, we might both be afraid to talk openly like this to one another about this matter.
Al finished his last bites of food.
Al: I'm headed to the office. You coming now?
Greg: I'll be in later this morning.
Al slid out of the booth and stood up and grabbed his jacket. As he put it on, Greg finished off his meal and was slowly finishing off his cup of coffee.
Al waved to Greg and started to turn and walk away but then stopped and turned back around. Al put his hands on the table and leaned in to say something to Greg.
Al (softly): Let's just keep this between you and me for now, huh? We'll discuss this more at a later time.
Greg nodded in agreement.
Greg: That's a good idea. And let's keep these conversations out of the office for the time being.
Al: I agree. See you around, kid.
Greg: See you, Al.
Al turned and walked out of the restaurant as Greg gestured to the waitress.
Greg: Another cup.
Waitress: Coming right up.
Greg turned and looked out the picture window at the cold St. Paul morning. His mind was on one thing: selling the AWA before it completely sunk into oblivion.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Last edited by piperrulz : 08-28-2019 at 02:44 PM.
Really enjoying this so far. I've been playing a JCP game recently and it's helped me get into that era way more since I was too young at the time and don't know a ton. Definitely interesting learning a bit about a promotion I know almost nothing about.
Some great great wrestlers start debuting around now so the stars of tomorrow are definitely going to be there, it's just a matter of making them.
It had been a week since Verne Gagne got angry at his son Greg for calling his ideas regarding the wrestling business 'outdated'.
The two had barely spoken to one another since, and then only on professional terms at the office.
Verne was sitting alone in his office. He took a long drag off a cigarette and placed it back on the ash tray.
He was in deep thought when the phone rang. Verne picked it up after two rings.
Brief pause as Verne listened to the person on the other end of the phone.
Verne: Let me grab a pen. Go ahead, give me those houses for Bismarck and Fargo.
Verne listened intently as he started to write something down on a piece of paper.
That's all that showed.
Verne started getting depressed as he listened to more from the person on the other end of the phone.
Verne: It's hard to believe those used to be two great towns for us.
Verne listened to the person a little more.
Verne: You got any ideas how to get this thing headed back in the right direction?
Verne (chuckled): Buy the WWF and call it the AWA. I see.
Alright. I'll talk to you later.
Verne listened for a moment.
Verne: OK. Bye.
Verne hung up the phone and sat with his elbows on his desk and placed his hands upon his head. He shook his head 'no' and just sat there like that for a couple of minutes.
Verne then picked up the phone and dialed.
Verne: Wally, could you come to my office right now.
Verne listened to Wally briefly and then hung up the phone.
About a minute later there was a knock on Verne's office door.
Verne: Come in, Wally.
Wally Karbo, Verne's right-hand man since the creation of the AWA in 1960, walked in and sat in a chair across from Verne at his desk.
Verne took one last drag on his cancer stick and then put it out.
Wally: What's going on, chief?
Verne tossed the piece of paper he'd just written on a few minutes ago across the desk to Wally.
Wally looked at if for a brief moment.
Wally (whistles): It's not surprising, Verne. We know the promotion's in bad shape. These numbers only solidify that fact.
Verne: We used to pack the arenas in Bismarck and Fargo. Now look. 488 in Fargo and 216 in Bismarck. What was the main we booked in those two cities again?
Wally scratches his chin.
Wally: It was Larry Zbysko defending the World Title against Ken Patera. Both nights went to a double count out finish.
Verne: Those guys are two big names and it's a good main. Why aren't the fans interested in seeing them clash?
Wally: They may be big names, Verne, but they're not big enough names.
Larry and Ken would not be headlining in today's WWF or NWA. They'd be near the top but not at the top.
They're not looked at as top tier guys anymore in the eyes of the fans so they just aren't buying it. I hate to say that. We need some bigger names if you're going to try and continue.
Verne: Do you think I should put the World Title on Sgt. Slaughter?
Wally: He's your biggest name. But it's hard to tell how much interest he'd spark in terms of ticket sales if he becomes World Champion. Being here in the AWA, it's like he's been somewhat forgotten because of how far we lag behind Vince and Turner*.
Verne: The money's not there to acquire big names. It takes time to train and build up wrestlers so that the fans will invest in them. Wally, what's your take on all this?
Wally: Verne, of all the choices you have at your discretion, I think you should close it down.
Verne: You think so?
Wally: The AWA was your creation. You made it the great success that it was...
Verne: And can be again.
Wally: Turning things around where they stand right now, I'd say that's a long-shot at best.
You've made millions. You've got a great home and family. You and Greg will reconcile because your bond is too strong. The AWA will be your lasting legacy and you will be remembered for all the good things associated with it much more than its demise. Enjoy the rest of your life without this anvil hanging over your head. Shut it down.
Verne leaned forward in his chair, placed his elbows on the desk and rubbed his hands together.
Verne: I'm torn. Closing up shop is an option. But I have this nagging thought in the back of my mind that if I don't make one last-ditch effort to see if I can save the company then I'll drive myself crazy wondering what if.
Wally: It's up to you, Verne. But if I were in your shoes I'd remember the great run I had and let it go.
Verne reached over and pulled a cigarette out of the pack, lit it, drew in a long drag off of it and slowly exhaled as he and Wally sat quietly in Mr. AWA's office.
TO BE CONTINUED...
(* NWA was now owned by Turner Broadcasting.)
It had been 12 days since Verne Gagne and his son Greg had their falling out at Verne's home when Greg suggested his father's ideas regarding pro wrestling in 1989 were outdated.
The two had only spoken to each other at the AWA offices and it was only on business-related matters.
One early April morning, Greg pulled into the parking lot of the AWA headquarters. As Greg got his stuff together in his car, Verne pulled into the parking lot. Verne parked his car as Greg started to get out of his.
Verne quickly exited his vehicle and called out to his son.
Greg looked over.
Verne: Can we talk in my office?
Greg nodded in the affirmative.
Greg: Sure. Just give me a minute to put this stuff on my desk.
Verne walked into the offices with Greg several steps behind. Verne made a goodwill gesture by holding the door open for Greg.
Greg: Thanks, dad.
Verne headed to his office and Greg his to put his stuff on his desk.
Greg started to head down the hall but first stopped off in the break room to grab a cup of coffee.
Greg yelled down the hall.
Greg: Hey, dad!
Verne yelled back.
Greg: Want some coffee?!
Verne: Not right now! Thanks, anyway!
Greg made his coffee and briskly walked down the hall and into his dad's office.
Verne: Close the door, would ya?
Greg closed the door and took a seat across from his father at his dad's desk.
Greg: Look. I know we haven't...
Verne waved his hand.
Verne: I'm sorry for getting angry at you that night at home. It's hard to face getting older and things changing so rapidly around you. It just hurt hearing that my own son thought my ideas were outdated.
Greg: I'm sorry for saying it, dad. I'm sorry it ever came out of my mouth. Let's just bury the hatchet, huh?
There was something I wanted to talk about with you.
Greg: What's that?
Verne: I talked with Wally (Karbo) a few days ago and he thinks I should just shut down the company. Have to admit there are times I've wondered if that's the way to go myself.
Verne: But there's also a part of me that would like to try and find an investor to give us a much need cash boost.
As you know, it's hard to let go of something you built. I would love to give it one last try to turn things around.
Greg: Dad, we've had this discussion before.
Verne: You think we should sell the company outright and bring in new people with different ideas.
Greg: That's right.
Verne: So, we have three options on the table and different opinions as to what we should do.
I was thinking that you, Wally and I could have a meeting one day soon and maybe come to a consensus on what ought to be done.
Greg: That sounds good to me, dad. And I would like to bring one more person into this meeting.
Greg: I'll just bring him and let him speak for himself.
Verne: You can't tell your old man who it is?
Greg: I don't feel comfortable doing that.
Verne: It's not that smarmy-ass guy from sales Eric Bischoff, is it?
Greg: I'd rather not say.
Verne: Gosh, Greg. Please tell me it's not that guy.
Greg: Just have to wait and see.
Anyway, I'm glad we could make up and get past our disagreement from a couple of weeks ago.
Verne: Me too, son. Me too.
Greg: I got some work waiting for me on my desk so I'm gonna take care of that right now.
Verne: Talk with you later.
Greg left the office and closed the door behind him.
Verne sat brooding at his desk wondering who this mystery man was Greg was bringing with him to this important meeting.
Verne (shaking his head): There's no way it's Bischoff. It can't be.
TO BE CONTINUED...
It's mid-April and the weather is slowly getting nicer in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
At the AWA headquarters in St. Louis Park, MN, the big meeting between Verne Gagne, his son Greg, Wally Karbo and a fourth unnamed party is just a few days away. The meeting will be about discussing the fate of the promotion.
Verne Gagne is still puzzled why Greg won't tell him who this fourth meeting attendee is.
Verne quickly sucks down a smoke at his desk and then gets on the intercom and tells his secretary to send Eric Bischoff to his office.
Verne has a look of deep thought on his face as he awaits the arrival of the young Bischoff.
A couple of minutes later there's a knock on Verne's office door.
Verne: Come in.
In walks Eric Bischoff. Bischoff is in a suit and tie. Bischoff is 33 years old, intelligent and highly driven. Verne's heard from people in the office that young Bischoff has some ideas he thinks could help the company.
Verne has no respect for the salesman. Bischoff's never been in the business and how dare he come into the offices of the established AWA, a promotion built by true wrestling minds, and just think he can throw around ideas on how to turn around the fates of the sinking company.
Bischoff opened the door and stepped in.
Eric: You wanted to see me, sir?
Gagne: Come in and have a seat.
Bischoff started to walk towards Verne's desk when Verne stopped him.
Verne: The door. Close the door.
Eric: Oh! Sorry.
Bischoff went over and closed the door and came over and sat down at Verne's desk across from Mr. AWA.
Eric: Sir, am I being let go or something?
Verne: Let go? Hahaha. No, son, you're not being let go. I just wanted to talk to you for a moment.
Bischoff breathed a sigh of relief.
Eric: Thank you. I need this job.
Verne: I'm gonna be blunt.
Eric, have you been invited to a meeting in a few days?
Eric: Uh...no. What meeting?
Verne: So, you haven't been invited to a private meeting?
Eric: I haven't been invited to any meetings. I know we have some occ...
Verne: Greg didn't ask you to come a specific meeting?
Eric: Greg hasn't asked me to come to any meetings.
Verne: You're sure now?
Eric: I can tell you with 100% certainty that I have not been invited to any meetings by your son or anyone else.
Verne: Think real hard. No one has asked you to attend a very important, private meeting in a few days?
Bischoff was nervous.
Eric (stammered): I...I swear to you, as God is my witness, I have not been invited to any private meetings.
Verne leaned forward in his chair and had an intensity in his eyes.
Verne: I hear you've been talking to some of the staff here and telling them some of your ideas on how you think we could save the company.
Eric: I've never said anything about saving the company. But I certainly want it to be around for a long time to come.
I just threw around some ideas that were floating around in my head. Just water cooler talk. Nothing more.
Verne relaxed a bit.
Verne: Well, Eric, everyone wants to be an armchair booker. Take a number and get in line because you're just another one of them.
What's your position here?
Eric: I'm a salesman, sir.
Verne: That's right. A salesman. Your job is to sell ad time and try and get our syndicated program on new stations. That's your job, correct?
Eric: Yes it is.
Verne: Then you stick to what you do best, sales, and we on the wrestling side of things will handle the wrestling. Am I clear?
Eric: Yes, sir.
Verne: Good. Then we'll have no more talk from guys like you about how the wrestling side of things should be run. Understood?
Eric: Loud and clear.
Verne: That's good to hear.
Now, go back and sell, sell, sell the AWA.
Bischoff nodded in the affirmative and got up and quietly exited Verne's office and closed the door behind him.
Verne sat back in his chair and felt satisfied.
Bischoff then suddenly re-opened the door a crack and stuck his head in. Verne wasn't happy.
Verne (agitated): Didn't I tell you to go back and...
Eric: Team Challenge Series.
Verne: The what?
Eric: Team Challenge Series. It's an idea I've come up with, sir. Just give me a few minutes of your time to explain it.
Verne: The Team Chall... No! Not having it! Just go sell!
Verne: No buts! Just go, Eric! Now!
Bischoff quickly closed the door and fled the scene.
Verne laughed and shook his head in disbelief.
Verne: The Team Challenge Series.
Verne: What is a Team Challenge Series?
Verne suddenly went into deep thought.
Verne: Team...Challenge...Series. The concept? Hmmm...
Maybe I should hear more about this idea before making up my mind.
TO BE CONTINUED...
I've decided to add something to my thread and air an occasional AWA classic match just to give people a little taste of what a great promotion it once was.
This first match comes from Houston, TX in 1983.
It's Nick Bockwinkel defending the AWA World Title against Dusty Rhodes: