A mainstay of the Midwestern United States wrestling scene thanks to his prominence in promoting the American Wrestling Association zone, Verne Gagne enjoyed a 37-year career as an in-ring performer and immense respect as a promoter, booker and trainer. Highly decorated and with legitimate wrestling skills, Gagne’s influence on professional wrestling cannot be underestimated.
Due to his major star status in a regional territory in a now defunct promotion that produced stars who became more famous in WWE, however, it’s likely that many modern fans are unaware of the legend’s career and accomplishments. Let’s take a crash course on Verne Gagne and what fans should know about him.
ten amateur background
A multi-sport athlete in high school, Verne Gagne attended the University of Minnesota, where he competed in amateur wrestling competitions and won two NCAA titles during his college career. Coincidentally, the second of those titles would be against Dick Hutton, who himself had become a professional wrestler and NWA World Heavyweight Champion in 1957. United States for the 1948 Olympics, but he was a substitute and did not actually compete.
9 Dropped out of the NFL for wrestling
Verne Gagne didn’t just excel in amateur wrestling – he was also a talented football player, his high school achievements first recruited him to the University of Minnesota. After college, Gagne was actually drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1947, but the team owner didn’t approve of his recruit being a dual-sport athlete and forced him to choose between wrestling and football. At the time, amateur wrestling was actually a more lucrative gig than football, so for Gagne the choice was obvious.
8 Top Star in the 1950s
Deciding to pursue professional wrestling, Verne Gagné made his debut in 1949, wrestling for the National Wrestling Alliance and starting in the Texas territories. In the fall of 1950, Gagne would win the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title – which is still used to this day – holding it for 371 days.
From 1949 to 1955, the now defunct DuMont Television Network prominently broadcast professional wrestling from the Chicago area, making Gagne a fixture for viewers and soon one of the top stars in the industry. era.
seven AWA co-founder
In the early 1950s, Verne Gagne had several matchups with legendary NWA World Champion Lou Thesz, but failed to capture the title. Later in the decade, Gagne would attempt to dethrone Pat O’Connor as World Champion, but backroom politics in the NWA prevented him from even getting a match. In response, Verne Gagne did the next best thing – launched his own promotion. Together with promoter Wally Karbo, Gagne purchased a slew of Minneapolis wrestling territory and the pair co-founded the American Wrestling Alliance, later known as the American Wrestling Association, which would last from 1960 to 1991.
6 The first AWA World Heavyweight Champion (sort of)
In establishing the AWA, the promotion named Pat O’Connor as the first-ever AWA World Heavyweight Champion due to his NWA World Championship title at the time, but issued an ultimatum: defend the title against Verne. Earned within 90 days or be stripped. . O’Connor and the NWA didn’t deign to respond, so when that time ran out, the title went to Gagne. The result is a weird situation where O’Connor is technically the first AWA champion, but Gagne is the first to hold the belt and defend it.
5 Ten-time AWA World Heavyweight Champion
Verne Gagne would retire in 1986, but not before winning the AWA World Heavyweight Championship 10 times, winning the title more often than not by a wide margin, given that second place went to Mad Dog Vachon at five. occasions. During these reigns, Gagne would have fights with many big names of the time, including Fritz Von Erich, Dr. X and Baron Von Rashke. He would also win the AWA World Tag Team Championship four times during his career with different partners including Billy Robinson and the aforementioned Vachon.
4 Future legends formed
In addition to booking, promoting and wrestling in the American Wrestling Association, Verne Gagne also worked as a trainer, teaching in-ring skills to countless pro wrestling prospects who ended up performing in his company. . Many of these trainees would be definitive performers in the business, including Baron Von Raschke and Larry Hennig.
Other Gagne trainees would become legends themselves, including WWE Champion The Iron Sheik, multiple-time World Champion and icon Ric Flair, classic babyface and Intercontinental Champion Ricky Steamboat, and son of Larry Hennig. , Curt Hennig, otherwise known as Mr. Perfect.
3 His son was also a wrestler
Verne Gagné will have four children during his life, one of whom will enter the world of professional wrestling himself. Born in 1948 and trained by his father and Billy Robinson, Greg Gagne made his debut in 1973, finding success alongside future Killer Bee Jim Brunzell as the High Flyers. Generally considered a specialist in the proper babyface tag team, Greg Gagne would eventually be pushed into singles stardom by his father to an extent deemed unbelievable, drawing the ever-dreaded claims of nepotism from many fans.
2 Old school mentality
In booking the AWA, Verne Gagne took an old-school traditionalist approach he pushed wrestlers towards, valuing those with legitimate wrestling skills over brawn or charisma. For Gagne, technical artists like Nick Bockwinkel and later Curt Hennig were his ideal champions against guys like Jesse Ventura or Hulk Hogan. It made sense given Gagne’s amateur background, but with WWE’s rise to pop culture juggernaut in the 1980s, it finally made the American Wrestling Association – and Verne Gagne by association – seem disconnected.
1 Wouldn’t give Hulk Hogan the world title
Of course, the AWA’s booking of the aforementioned Hulk Hogan was a result of Gagne’s traditionalism. Hogan spent 1981-1983 in the AWA after leaving WWE for his choice to star in the film Rocky III, and proved to be a big star in his new home promotion. Despite his popularity, Gagne didn’t think the charismatic wrestler was championship material, so Hogan could never beat Nick Bockwinkel outside of Dusty Finishes. Ultimately, a dispute over merchandise royalties would result in Hogan’s return to WWE, where he would become a pop culture icon.