Viewer’s Choice in Canada is offering fans a unique chance to re-visit some old friends in late April.
The two-hour Best Of Classic AWA Wrestling I is a wonderful collection of matches and interviews from the American Wrestling Association. Late superstars like Adrian Adonis, Jerry Blackwell and Andre the Giant are resurrected, along with AWA legends like Nick Bockwinkel, Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, Mad Dog Vachon, and the High Flyers, Jim Brunzell and Greg Gagne.
Verne Gagne was the promoter of the AWA. A former collegiate wrestling star, Gagne’s form of promoting seems very simplistic in today’s era but seeing and hearing the fans of the early ’80s is an eye-opener, reminding one that wrestling was pretty big back then too.
But is wrestling today bigger than it was in the heyday of the AWA, which competed on a national stage with the WWF and the NWA for a brief period?
“I don’t think it’s any bigger,” explained Gagne to SLAM! Wrestling. “There’s only two companies, McMahon’s and Turner’s. So for instance in the Twin Cities here, we ran from Chicago to San Francisco with the AWA, and all of those cities in between the major cities. We were drawing sellout crowds most of the time, 17-18,000, 15,000, whatever the arena held. But we were doing very good business. The thing we didn’t take advantage of a lot was merchandising, which is huge now. We decided to sell some of our programming overseas to a few different countries. But other than that, the crowds and of course, the prices, then are not what they are today. [laughing] So they’re grossing a lot more, whether they’re making any more money, I don’t know. Everything has gone up.”
Aiming to capitalize on the resurgence of pro wrestling, Gagne re-packed a small fraction of his old AWA footage and has found success. The key words in that sentence are “small fraction.”
“We probably have two to four thousand matches,” guessed Gagne, who is now in his mid-70s. “[There are] tons of them we wish we could have had on [tape] and that we don’t. We’ve got a lot of good stuff. We started taping in about ’66, ’67, somewhere in there. So I know I had 110 2-inch tapes with five matches on each tapes. Then I had the 1-inch tapes. We’ve probably got a thousand of those. They’ve got five matches on each tape. Then we’ve got 3/4-inch. I took the stuff from Chicago from the International Amphitheatre and then we taped all those. So there’s a ton of tapes there! The Bruisers, The Crushers, the Gene Kiniskis, the Whipper Watsons, the Mad Dogs.”
With so much footage, the 10-time world champion has to be careful when he sits down to watch the tapes. “When you start doing it, then you get into it. And you waste all your time looking at it,” he said laughing. “So I try to stay away from it so I can get something done”
Reaction has been positive to the AWA collections, which have aired on U.S. pay television already. Fans 25 years and up seem to enjoy the shows, said Gagne.
The first screening on Viewer’s Choice will be Sunday, April 23, from 8-10:30 pm ET. Subsequent airings are on Tuesday, April 25, from 8-10:30 pm ET, and Wednesday, April 26, from midnight-2:30 am ET. It will cost $19.95.
The company has the rights to air more old AWA tapes, and has another three hours ready to go. “If there’s enough of an interest from the fans out there, we’ll be able to air another three hour show right away,” explained Bill Custers, Brand Director for Viewer’s Choice Canada.
For Gagne, it’s a reward for his foresight. He was wrestling back when wrestling was first televised on the Dumont Network, taped out of Chicago’s Amphitheatre. “I kind of thought that eventually one day that we would save our tapes and see what happened down the road — down the road is here,” Gagne concluded.