While watching the AWA documentary last Thursday, it really amazed me how influential this defunct wrestling promotion was in the wrestling business is today. There were lots of wrestlers there that really became the wrestlers that people came to love and even wrestlers that I know and cheer on today. Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and even Shawn Michaels got their start there and it would have been interesting to see what kind of superstars the AWA could come up with if they had been around longer and not lost their premiere status. I don’t think it was the fact that Hulk Hogan left that started the AWA’s downfall but it did contribute. Though had they been as big or as tempting as the WWF and actually made greater efforts to guarantee that their wrestlers would stay, they might have provided earlier competition during the national expansion of wrestling.
It seems ironic to me that the AWA fell to the wayside because of Verne Gagne’s stubbornness to keep up with the trends of wrestling during the 1980’s. The AWA seemed to have really innovated in the way people connect with the wrestlers and was able to produce wrestlers that really were going to be the standard form of wrestlers meaning charismatic characters versus the old style of purely technical wrestlers. It seems that the AWA is the classic example that we have been reading about: a territorial promotion that rose to popularity but refused to take the next step to reach the big time. Verne Gagne refused to push the favorite wrestlers of the people and instead put what he considered real athletes at the top. Instead of putting someone like Hulk Hogan at the top, he wanted to push his son and Curt Hennig. Perhaps Gagne was still in that old mentality from the 1960’s that a real wrestler was one who was tough in and out of the ring and did not appeal to the lowest common denominator. He reminds me of Lou Thesz.
I do think that the WWE Hall of Fame induction was well deserved for Vern Gagne and though we might think that politics are not a part of it, there have been situations where Vince McMahon follows this. The induction of Bret Hart shows this.