Although three episodes is a small sample size, the pattern for Tales from the Territories is looking like the Star Trek odd-number movie curse. After a so-so premiere episode, the show returned with a strong re-telling of the Andy Kaufman saga. This week, a new group of roundtable participants walk us through some stories of the AWA and — they’re fine, but not riveting. There’s nothing too dramatic or revealing told by Greg Gagne, Madusa, Diamond Dallas Page, Jim Brunzell, or Ken Patera as they select a few yarns to highlight their time in Verne Gagne‘s company. If you’re up for pretending to be at a banquet or fan event and listening to some oft-told stories, then pull up a chair and enjoy.
The AWA was created, as described in the show, with one singular goal: to present wrestling as a sport. All of the people around the table share their stories of landing work for Verne — though Madusa opens by looking at Greg and saying that “You did not have to try out.” Greg brought in Brunzell after football had fizzled out; Page talks about his sucky three match career and his transformation into a manager, sending a tape to the AWA and being called in; Madusa was working the independents when Wahoo McDaniel called her in; and Patera had been sponsored by Verne to go to the 72 Olympic Games for weightlifting.
They spend a little time describing Verne’s tough-as-nails camps: a half-mile run, then running the ropes, then bumps — all in a unheated barn. Without a lot of money to go around, Verne used a rickety, cheap airplane for travel, nicknamed Suicide One. Greg tells a story about Mad Dog Vachon taking a drink and some uppers – at which point Brunzell jumps in and says this is his story. It was Jim that gave Vachon a couple of uppers (dexedrine spansules) – not meaning for him to take both. Vachon’s charged up, and keeps drinking and taking drugs all night until he’s on the plane and opening the door mid-flight, causing violent movements on the already anxious plane ride.
The pilots make an emergency landing, giving time for the wrestlers to tie Vachon down in his seat, and they take off again. Brunzell says he lost his “pharmacy” privileges that night, and never rode Suicide One again.
Next, Madusa recalls that the reason she was brought in was to work with Sherri Martel, by which she was honoured. She shares a simple road trip story of following Martel, who’s driving with Buddy Rose and Doug Somers, with Sherri tossing milkshakes and Blizzards from Dairy Queen out the sunroof back at Madusa’s vehicle. No real harm done by this event. A story about Bobby Heenan follows, with Brunzell calling Bobby the greatest all-around talent in that time. Everyone there was always most impressed by the heat he could produce, and they tell of a match in Chicago between Verne and Nick Bockwinkel where someone in the crowd fired off a pistol — fans got hit, but not Bobby.
Greg continues, hesitantly, with a story from Winnipeg featuring Adrian Adonis and Bobby, with Heenan making a portable toilet out of a garbage bag for Adonis for use on the road. Gagne tells with great fervour how Vachon, for some reason, stuck his head into the bag and breathed it in, saying “that’s how you get used to it.” Gross. The companion piece to the premiere episode’s story about Randy Savage in the Waffle House has Ken Patera at a McDonald’s, banging on the drive-through window ordering burgers. The worker recognizes Patera, but tells him they’re closed and are filming a commercial before turning him away. Ken says another kid, upset about being fired, throws a rock through the window and takes off.
Everyone plays coy as they call bull on Patera’s version, insisting that he must have thrown the rock/boulder (it changed size a couple of time through the telling). Patera sticks to his story, finishing with the police tracking him to his hotel room. He’s maced, so is Masa Saito who’s sharing the room. Patera and Saito are beaten down until they fight back hard, and Patera gets the giggles talking about being sentenced to two years.
The final tale of the evening has Dick the Bruiser developing a tag team based on the Hell’s Angels with Frank and Jack Dillinger. In Milwaukee, the team is invited to a biker bar after a show but are attacked, as the biker gang did not take kindly to their representation in the ring. Jack escaped, but Frank was shot in both legs. That was the end of the Chain Gang and the end of Frank Dillinger’s wrestling career.
The end of the AWA is spelled out by the-then WWF’s success and the loss of stars like Hulk Hogan, but all at the table look back fondly on the opportunities given to them by Verne Gagne and the AWA. That brings this very straightforward episode to a conclusion — one which felt more meant for the wrestlers to get together and chat than it was for engaging the audience. We’ll see what episode four brings, and whether it’s more Star Trek IV (good) or Star Trek V (bad).
Slam Wrestling’s Tales from the Territories story archive
Nov. 16, 2020: Joyce Paustian’s AWA Photos: 1978-1987
More stories from the AWA in Slam Wrestling’s archives