Taking a look at the contributions of Verne Gagne to professional wrestling.
On April 27, one of pro wrestling’s most influential people passed away at the age of 89. While Verne, and the company he create the AWA, often get a bad wrap as the behind the times promoter who let his business die because of his inability to see what was going on around him, He was much more than that. He was a wrestling star and promoter who took things into his own hands and kept his business running for 30 years before the end came. His influence in the wrestling industry had a far reach, much beyond even the life of the promotion he headed up.
As a wrestler, he was a star. Maybe not what fans expect today, but in his day he did well. He was a skilled amateur but also had (for his time) an energetic and high flying offense. He was just as comfortable grinding out a sit-out and go-behind as he was throwing a dropkick and a flying mare. Even when he wasn’t in control of the books, he still was a big name that fans came to see and also won several titles. Even in the twilight of his in-ring life, fans still respected him so much that they would cheer for him, even when his style was no longer en-vogue and considered out of date. You can promote yourself all you want, but if you have nothing to back it up in the ring, fans won’t pay to see you. Verne had it in spades.
As a trainer he has a huge influence that can still be felt today. In the days before developmental systems or many formal wrestling schools, Verne was cranking out wrestlers from his cold, beat up, old barn in the Minnesota winters. Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, The Iron Sheik, Bob Bruggers, American Olympic wrestler Chris Taylor, Ken Patera, Brad Rheingans, Blackjack Lanza, The High Flyers (“Jumpin” Jim Brunzell and Verne’s son Greg), Bob Backlund, Larry and Curt Hennig, and so many others started out banging around that hard ring in those cold months. And even those who weren’t trained directly by Verne found success in working with Verne in the AWA. Shawn Michaels, Marty Jennetty, Van Vader, The Vachons, Adrian Adonis, Jesse Ventura, and others all developed their famous personas within the AWA. Verne’s influence in the industry lived on through all these men even after the AWA closed down.
As a promoter he was old school all the way. He worked with fellow promoters instead of trying to drive them out of business. He took a small time Minnesota leg of the NWA and turned it into its own stand alone promotion, something that is a feat in itself considering the NWA ruled the nation at one time. Sure, he was known as the hard ass to the wrestlers. He was the boss and what he said was what was what. He protected the business, believing in Kayfabe even to his own employees in the company. He kept the company going for 30 years and even in the dying days of the AWA, it took the State of Minnestoa taking his house for him to finally give up the ghost. Even after the AWA stop putting on wrestling shows, he was making money off it’s video library and keeping the TV show going for another year. Something the WWE now does with their WWE network.
In recent times Verne has mostly been kind of known to long time wrestling fans for a lot of the wrong reasons, the old school promoter who just could let go and got left in the dust as a result. He wasn’t perfect, no one is, but he should be remembered on his passing for all the things he did right. He produced 3 generations of wrestling superstars and gave them a place to learn their craft. He was a successful promoter who kept the business going for 3 decades before he finally had to throw in the towel. He was a star, a mentor, and the reason a lot people became fans of the industry.
Thank you, Verne.
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