"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 A.W.A 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 A.W.A. 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 Fargo-Moorhead.

The A.W.A. 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 N.W.A. had its first convention. Stecher hosted the meeting in Minneapolis and became a charter member of the N.W.A. By 1950, the N.W.A. 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 N.W.A. 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 N.W.A. 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 N.W.A. 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 A.W.A. was not Gagne, but Pat O'Connor, who was the current N.W.A. Champion. However, the A.W.A. 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 A.W.A. 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.

As the years passed, the A.W.A. title received wider and wider recognition. Although Gagne has been the champion for most of the past decade, Bill Miller and Mad Dog Vachon also had the title for periods of over a year, and Wilbur Snyder, Don Leo Jonathan, Fritz Von Erich, The Crusher, and Dick the Bruiser all had brief stints as champion.

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 N.W.A. title during period, but the fact remains that Gagne successfully defended the A.W.A. title against every one of the N.W.A. champions during the past decade. Gagne also traveled to N.W.A. cities such as Atlanta, St. Louis, Detroit, Kansas City, Amarillo, and Honolulu to wrestle for National Wrestling Alliance promoters while he was A.W.A. Champion.

A super bowl type match between Gagne and the N.W.A. champion was proposed several times, but the match was never signed. The reasons shy are complex, but probably the chief one is that N.W.A. promoters feel that Gagne would not keep the rigid schedule the N.W.A. demands and that Gagne would favor the present A.W.A. promoters with more appearances in that area. However, history disproves this because when Gagne held the N.W.A. World's Junior Heavyweight Championship some years back, he was without a doubt the most traveled champion that division ever saw and defended the N.W.A. 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 N.W.A. and A.W.A. 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 A.W.A. promoter, still maintains his membership in the N.W.A. 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 N.W.A. and of the A.W.A. work in close harmony. The channels are open and who knows what the future may bring. The A.W.A. 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 N.W.A. 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.


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