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Eric Cohen

AWA on ESPN Classic

By March 6, 2008

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Last week, ESPN Classic stared broadcasting classic episodes of AWA Championship Wrestling. The show airs weeknights from 1:00 - 2:00 AM ET. Unlike the episodes of the Universal Wrestling Federation they were previously showing, this program represents a real part of wrestling history. However, there are many questions you might have about the company and the events that were going on in the wrestling world at the time.

What was the AWA?
The American Wrestling Association was one of the most important wrestling promotions in America. Started in 1960, WWE Hall of Famer Verne Gagne was one of the owners and the first champion of the company. If you would like to know more about the history of the company, the WWE released a DVD about the company in 2006.

How can ESPN broadcast this show?
The WWE owns the rights to the AWA video library. However, the show currently being broadcast on ESPN was produced in association with them and thus they have the right to rebroadcast it on one of their networks.

What time period does this show cover?
This show was on ESPN from 1986 until 1990.
Correction: Since writing this, I have discovered that the show started in 1985.

What was the wrestling landscape like in 1986?
The wrestling world was in upheaval due to the WWE expansion that started a few years earlier. Prior to the WWE expansion, the wrestling world was divided up by geographic area and a gentleman's agreement between promoters to not violate those boundaries. However, between the growth of cable TV and the expansion of other territories to combat Vince McMahon, by 1986 there were five companies that were a part of the national scene.

The Five National Companies in 1986

  • WWF: In 1986, Hulkamania had swept the country. The WWF was the number one wrestling company in the country at the time. There live events were held throughout the country. Their major television programs of the era were shown nationally via syndication plus they had a show on the USA Network. Additionally, their show Saturday Night's Main Event was shown occasionally on NBC. Now known as the WWE, they are the only company from the era to have survived.
  • Jim Crockett Promotions: Jim Crockett was the dominant promoter in the National Wrestling Alliance and in 1986 his company was second only to the WWE. His programming could be seen nationally on WTBS and although they were syndicated nationally, they never reached the same size audience as the WWE. As part of their expansion strategy, they took over the operations of regional NWA territories. By 1988, the company was sold to Ted Turner and eventually became known as World Championship Wrestling.
  • UWF: This is not to be confused with the UWF that ESPN Classic recently showed. This company, was known as Mid-South Wrestling earlier in the year, but renamed themselves the Universal Wrestling Federation. They syndicated their show nationally and raided the talent roster of World Class Championship Wrestling. They did some shows at the Superdome with Jim Crockett Promotions because both organizations were a part of the NWA. However, the oil crises of 1986 wrecked havoc on the company because this impacted the area they did their live events. In 1987, the WWE signed two of their top stars, Ted DiBiase & Jim Duggan. The company was then purchased by Jim Crockett Promotions.
  • AWA: When Vince McMahon started his expansion, he targeted the AWA and signed most of their top stars. Their attempt to align themselves with Jim Crockett in a venture called Pro Wrestling USA failed miserably and saw their best talent of the era, the Road Warriors sign a deal with Crockett. By 1986, the company was in bad shape and their talent roster lagged behind that of the three companies listed above. Their shows featured wrestlers that would go on to do great things but at the time were very green in the ring. A big problem for the company was that whenever one of the wrestlers got good enough, they signed deals with the WWF or with Jim Crockett. This trend kept happening and within a few years they had such a tough time getting people to their shows that they eventually broadcast their show in a pink room that featured no audience.
  • World Class Championship Wrestling: A few years earlier, they were on top of the wrestling world. However, things went very bad very quickly. Everything that could have gone wrong for the company in 1986 did. The oil crisis in 1986 destroyed the local economy in Texas. The UWF raided their talent base. The company seceded from the NWA. One of their top wrestlers died of a drug overdose. However, what is commonly referred to as the Von Erich family curse took center stage in 1986. Mike Von Erich returned to action following an infection he suffered in surgery a year earlier that nearly took his life. However, the near death experience took a toll on him emotionally and physically and he killed himself in 1987. Kerry Von Erich was involved in a motorcycle accident that caused his foot to be amputated. Just like they did with the AWA, the WWE recently released a DVD about the history of the company.

Why should I watch this show?
Sadly, the period of time this show covers is the fall of the company. However, there were some good things about the show. You get to see the development of wrestlers like Shawn Michaels, Marty Jannetty, Curt Hennig, and Scott Hall. Once these men leave, you will get to see the company align themselves with the USWA (a combination of the Memphis promotion and the WCCW). However, one of the nice things about the show is that they would occasionally show matches from their glorious past. Unlike the UWF show that was recently broadcast on ESPN Classic, this show will occasionally provide you with some great matches.

Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images


March 7, 2008 at 1:43 pm
(1) Mark Stephens says:

I really look forward to your wrestling newsletter each week. Today’s was especially good. Although I enjoy today’s wrestling (WWE, TNA)I love to remember yesteryear, the glory years if you will, of wrestling.

If you ever do an interview with Mr. Wrestling 2 that will be my all time favorite newsletter since he’s my all time favorite wrestler!

I love to learn about the history of wrestling and this teaching was excellent. I am looking forward to watching these AWA classics later.

March 7, 2008 at 4:34 pm
(2) Conn MacKintosh says:

In addition to seeing guys like Hall, Michaels, and Janetty, for those of us who live in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois, it’s also a treat to see a glimpse of the early days of some of the wrestlers who are still active in the local area. Recently appearing were Frankie DeFalco – who promotes Brew City Wrestling in Milwaukee, along with Jake “The Milk Man” Milliman and Tom “Rocky” Stone, who still appear on local shows from time to time. Not to mention getting a visual representation of what these guys mean when they talk about an old school matchup.

March 7, 2008 at 4:42 pm
(3) Arlene says:

I hve been watching the episodes and the matches have been really good.
I never got to see it as a kid so watching it now makes me happy.

March 10, 2008 at 3:48 pm
(4) devin slorah says:

It’s amazing the difference between today’s wrestling and that of 20 years ago. I’m watching these matches and waiting for the big powerful, or high flying moves we’ve become used to in the last 10 years. It’s still cool to see some of these future stars getting their beginning. I didn’t even recognize Scott Hall until they said his name.

March 30, 2008 at 1:38 am
(5) Mike Dago says:

I remember AWA on ESPN as early as spring 1984. They had Road Warriors,Freebirds,Sgt. Slaughter,Rick Martel,Long Riders,Bockwinkle & Stevens and others. Why dont they show those shows?

April 13, 2008 at 4:43 am
(6) Linda says:

Rose was a Ring General according to all the interviews I have read or heard, by both Shawn and Marty, along with Curt Hennig.
Shawn was quoted in his book, that Rose ran the whole program for the year they worked with each other on AWA Classic Wrestling.
Rose was a tremendos all around athlete.

July 6, 2008 at 10:10 pm
(7) Fritz says:

This old school show with the AWA is great! But I wish ESPN
would take on the Super Station shows from the 80′s those
were the ones I would stop whatever I was doing to watch..
close-up wrestling action and great theatre!

March 14, 2009 at 12:41 am
(8) Brian G says:

Why is no one commenting on the fact that AWA regular Larry Zemesko is clearly Tom Hanks with a wig? He wasn’t a megastar in ’85-’86, so it’s possible he was using the alias to earn some extra dough.

July 18, 2009 at 4:18 pm
(9) Glen says:

Nice to see some real wrestlers instead of the steroid muscle bound freaks that appear on the WWE. It was more believable and more fun.

August 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm
(10) Glenn says:

Fortunately my family and I lived in Las Vegas being stationed at Nellis AFB and use to attend the monthly AWA shows at the Showboat, we were at every match fron 85 until my tour at Nellis ended in late 89. We use to arrive early so we could meet wrestlers down in the casino area. I remember meeting Jimmy Garvin, Road Warrior Animal, The Midnight Rockers, Curt Henning,Sgt Slaughter and many others. It’s to bad Vince McWWF was stealing all the AWA’s talent. We saw the AWA go from packed houses at the Showboat to maybe five hundred people nearing it’s end. Needless to say, they were good time’s I’ll always remember!!!

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