American Wrestling Association

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The American Wrestling Association was an American wrestling promotion formed in 1960 and initially co-owned by promoter Wally Karbo and wrestler Verne Gagne.


The promotion was established in May 1960 out of the Minneapolis Boxing and Wrestling Club (MBWC), which had been founded by wrestling promoter Tony Stecher in 1933 and was a founding member of the National Wrestling Alliance in 1948. When Stecher died in 1953, control of the promotion passed to his son Dennis Stecher and Karbo, then Dennis sold his stake in the MBWC to Karbo and Gagne in 1959. Gagne, a former two-time NCAA wrestling champion, University of Minnesota football player and former member of the United States Navy's Underwater Demolition Team during World War II, turned pro in 1949 and made his debut in the NWA's Texas territory, then went on to win the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship, two NWA United States Heavyweight Championships and four NWA World Tag Team Championships (recognized by the MBWC).

When Gagne was unable to secure a title shot against then-NWA World Heavyweight Champion Pat O'Connor in 1960, Gagne and Karbo, in preparation to pull the MBWC out of the NWA, declared O'Connor the first AWA World Heavyweight Champion in May that year and ruled that unless O'Connor faced Gagne in a title match within 90 days, Gagne would become the AWA World Champion by default. The title match never took place and Gagne was declared the AWA World Heavyweight Champion on August 16, 1960.

The AWA went on to become the dominant pro wrestling promotion in the Midwest and in the Canadian province of Manitoba between the 1960s and the mid-1980s, while Gagne went on to become the record-holding 10-time AWA World Champion between 1960 and his retirement in 1981. The AWA also expanded its operations westward to San Francisco, Denver, Phoenix and Las Vegas while establishing working agreements with promotions in Houston (Houston Wrestling), Memphis (the Continental Wrestling Association), San Antonio (Southwest Championship Wrestling) and Indianapolis (the World Wrestling Association) in the United States, with Canadian promotion International Wrestling (known in its home province of Quebec as Lutte Internationale) in the mid-1980s, with German promotion the Catch Wrestling Association in the early 1980s and with Japanese promotions International Wrestling Enterprise from 1969 to 1980, All Japan Pro Wrestling from 1980 to 1988 and New Japan Pro Wrestling from 1988 to 1990. It also produced the wrestling program AWA All-Star Wrestling, which was widely syndicated to TV stations across the United States during the AWA's run, as well as syndicated Canadian program AWA Major League Wrestling from 1984 to 1986 and the cable program AWA Championship Wrestling on ESPN between 1985 and 1990.

After Gagne retired from active competition, he began focusing the AWA around veteran wrestler Nick Bockwinkel (who became a four-time AWA World Champion between 1975 and 1987), fellow veterans like André the Giant, Mad Dog Vachon, the Crusher, Baron von Raschke, Ray Stevens, Mr. Saito and Wahoo McDaniel and up-and-comers like Rick Martel, Tito Santana, Curt Hennig, superheavyweight heel Jerry Blackwell, former NCAA champion and Olympian-turned-pro Brad Rheingans and most notably, Hulk Hogan, who joined the AWA in 1981 after leaving the WWF and, on the basis of his appearance in the 1982 Sylvester Stallone movie Rocky III, quickly became the AWA's most popular and top-drawing star and raised the AWA to national prominence as he soon became the top contender to Bockwinkel's AWA World title. Hogan came close to winning the AWA World title from Bockwinkel on several occasions and actually defeated Bockwinkel for the belt in two high-profile matches on April 18, 1982 and April 24, 1983,[1] only to be stripped of the belt after both matches due to technicalities (neither of Hogan's wins are officially recognized in the AWA World Heavyweight title history).

Along with many other wrestling promotions in North America, the AWA was hit hard by the mid-1980s expansion of the WWF by its owner Vince McMahon, who lured away Hogan to become his top star by putting the WWF Heavyweight Championship on him, along with several other AWA stars including announcer Gene Okerlund, heel manager Bobby Heenan and wrestlers Ken Patera, David Schultz, Adrian Adonis and Jesse Ventura. To compensate for those losses, the AWA underwent a rebuilding period during 1984 that saw Rick Martel become AWA World Champion, the arrival of powerhouse tag team the Road Warriors and their quick capture of the AWA World Tag Team title from veterans Baron von Raschke and the Crusher, the face turn of Jerry Blackwell and his subsequent feud with his former manager Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissey, and the formation of Pro Wrestling USA, a promotional co-operative consisting of the AWA, NWA flagship promotion Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) and several other NWA members formed to combat the increasing power of the WWF. During the Pro Wrestling USA venture, the AWA also brought in stars such as Dusty Rhodes, Sgt. Slaughter, Bruiser Brody, Abdullah the Butcher, the Blackjacks, Jerry Lawler, Stan Hansen, the Masked Superstar, King Kong Bundy, Larry Zbyszko, King Tonga, the Mongolian Stomper, the Fabulous Freebirds and former WWF Champion Bob Backlund.

Pro Wrestling USA's most successful event was the supercard SuperClash at Comiskey Park in Chicago on September 28, 1985, which drew 20,347 fans and brought AWA and NWA talent together for a 13-match event highlighted by a double main event of NWA World Champion Ric Flair vs. Magnum TA and AWA World Champion Rick Martel vs. Stan Hansen. Promotional infighting led to Pro Wrestling USA being dissolved soon after, after which the AWA went it alone with a second supercard, WrestleRock '86, which took place at the Metrodome in Minneapolis on April 20, 1986 and drew 23,000 for matches including the main events of Nick Bockwinkel defeating AWA World Champion Stan Hansen by disqualification and the Road Warriors defeating Michael Hayes and Jim Garvin in a steel cage match. Due to the WWF's aggressive expansion and some promotional and business miscues by Gagne, however,[2] the AWA eventually lost momentum in the 1980s wrestling war to the WWF and JCP, and Gagne became sole owner of the AWA after Wally Karbo sold his ownership stake in the company.

The AWA attempted to regroup with a working agreement with the Continental Wrestling Association in Memphis that saw Jerry Lawler, the CWA's top star, win the AWA World title from Curt Hennig on May 9, 1988 in Memphis. Several months later, the AWA's first pay-per-view event, SuperClash III, took place on December 13, 1988 in Chicago, which brought together talent from the AWA, the CWA, the World Class Wrestling Association in Texas and women's promotion the Powerful Women of Wrestling; the PPV event was highlighted by a title unification match between AWA World Champion Lawler and WCWA World Heavyweight Champion Kerry Von Erich, where Lawler defeated Von Erich via match stoppage to retain his AWA title and win Von Erich's WCWA title, but SuperClash III as a whole fared poorly, drawing only 1,672 fans and a low PPV buy rate of 0.5. The second AWA-headed promotional co-operative collapsed in January 1989 after Lawler was stripped of the AWA World title, which was then put on veteran Larry Zbyszko when he won a battle royal for the vacant title on February 7, 1989 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The AWA further declined after the SuperClash III event and eventually became inactive after a final TV taping on August 11, 1990, then declared bankruptcy and ceased operations after two final house shows in Minnesota in May 1991. WWE acquired the AWA's video library and trademarks in 2002 and has shown some AWA matches and events on its WWE Network.

Championships and accomplishments

Championship Final Champion Won From Date Won Location Notes
AWA World Heavyweight Championship Larry Zbyszko (Lawrence Whistler) Mr. Saito (Masanori Saito) April 8, 1990 St. Paul, Minnesota Stripped of the title on December 12, 1990 when Zbyszko left the inactive AWA for World Championship Wrestling
AWA World Tag Team Championship The Trooper (Del Wilkes) & D.J. Peterson (David Peterson) The Destruction Crew (Wayne Bloom & Mike Enos) August 11, 1990 Rochester, Minnesota
AWA World Light Heavyweight Championship Buck Zumhofe (Eugene Zumhofe) Jonnie Stewart August 11, 1990 Rochester, Minnesota This match was to fill the vacant title
AWA World Women's Championship Candi Devine (Candace Rummel) Judy Martin (Judy Hardee) December 6, 1989 Toronto, Ontario This match was to fill the vacant title
AWA United States Heavyweight Championship Pat O'Connor February 1962 N/A Recognized as champion concurrently with his reign as NWA United States Heavyweight Champion
AWA America's Heavyweight Championship Sgt. Slaughter (Robert Remus) Larry Zbyszko June 21, 1985 Chicago, Illinois
AWA International Television Championship Greg Gagne Ron Garvin (Roger Barnes) December 13, 1988 Chicago, Illinois This match was to fill the vacant title
AWA Midwest Heavyweight Championship Stan Pulaski (Eric Pomeroy) Buddy Wolfe (Les Wolff) June 3, 1972 Omaha, Nebraska
AWA Midwest Tag Team Championship Reggie Parks & Stan Pulaski Larry Hennig & Lars Anderson (Larry Heiniemi) January 8, 1972 Omaha, Nebraska
AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship Jerry Lawler Bobby Jaggers (Robert Jeaudoin) November 21, 1987 Memphis, Tennessee
AWA Southern Tag Team Championship The Midnight Rockers (Marty Jannetty & Shawn Michaels) The Rock 'n' Roll RPMs (Mike Davis & Tommy Lane) November 22, 1987 Memphis, Tennessee
AWA British Empire Heavyweight Championship Billy Robinson Super Destroyer Mark II (Robert Remus) October 25, 1979 Winnipeg, Manitoba


  1. Nick Bockwinkel vs. Hulk Hogan - April 24, 1983 at YouTube
  2. The Rise, Fall and Legacy of the AWA