Wednesday, July 14, 1999
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
Bischoff re-living AWA's fate
There is a familar saying that goes "Those who do not heed history are doomed to repeat it." Eric Bischoff should listen to these words.
Goldberg sits on the sidelines, trying to renegotiate his contract while Hulk Hogan has returned to WCW again for what will surely be a big push. It seems as though the Bischoff is yet again returning to familar ground in his battle to regain some lost ratings.
For those who do not remember, Verne Gagne ran the American Wrestling Association and was most often its torch bearer: he held the World Title nine times. The AWA was based in the Twin Cities area of the U.S. and, throughout the '60s and '70s, it was quite a successful promotion.
However, the '80s witnessed a steady decline in the AWA's business. It would start the decade as a viable promotion and end it on the brink of extinction. What were the problems that led to this demise, you ask? Quite simply, Verne Gagne would not let go of the past. In fact, in 1982, a critical error in AWA booking would be help to change the course of wrestling history.
The two top stars of the AWA throughout the '70s were Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel. Gagne retired in 1981, and Bockwinkel succeeded him as World Champion (without having to win any sort of tournament or match). Around a year later, a young phenom who wrestled under the name of Hulk Hogan was positioned as a babyface challenger to Bockwinkel's crown. It was around this time when Hogan coined the term "Hulkamania" and shaped what would be the most popular wrestling character of the decade.
On April 18, 1982 in St. Paul, MN, Hogan appeared to have won the World Title from Bockwinkel. The crowd of approximately 20,000 was deafening in their response. However, the booking called for the decision to be reversed. Still, with such a large reaction, it seemed as though it was only a matter of time before Hogan ascended to the throne as the AWA's #1 man. Yet Gagne would not let of the past and stuck with Bockwinkel as the champ. Most likely frustrated with this development and approaching stardom, Hogan would soon part with the AWA. He went on to help the WWF run roughshod over the wrestling competition.
Meanwhile, Gagne stubbornly stuck with the tired acts. He occasionally donned the tights himself in "comeback" bouts to draw crowds. He opted to have Bockwinkel defeat Stan "the Lariat" Hansen, which resulted in Hansen literally no-showing the AWA and leaving with the title belt. New stars like Rick Martel and Scott Hall were right under his nose, but were kept in the distance in favor of Bockwinkel. Wrestlers like Wahoo McDaniel and Baron Von Raschke were kept in the spotlight despite having seen better days.
Finally, in 1987, Bockwinkel lost the belt for the last time to Curt Hennig. The problem was that it was too late to inject any life into his sagging promotion. The WWF had attracted a horde of top talent and was ruling wrestling with an iron fist. The NWA was consolidating its power despite financial hardships and would soon be bought by Ted Turner. And as the AWA headed into its twilight, Gagne hired on a keen and eager Eric Bischoff to work as a broadcaster for his promotion.
Bischoff has now come to a crossroads. On TV and radio programs, Hogan has criticized Goldberg, suggesting that he may be copping a "prima donna" attitude. Rumors indicate that he is disinterested in working with Goldberg. The irony is unavoidable. Hogan has gone from the perennial frontrunner to the tired old act that Bockwinkel was. Bischoff has turned into his mentor, refusing to stray from his familar #1 draw. Goldberg is what Hogan once was: a big star with the potential to be even bigger.
Bischoff should stop listening to the voice of the past, the voice of Verne Gagne, which is saying "stick with Hogan, he's your legend." He needs to listen to the voices of the fans chanting "Goldberg! Goldberg!" That is the where the big money is.
If he ignores those chants like a Minnesota promoter ignored the furious ovation of a young Hulk Hogan, he might find that his job as WCW president will disappear just like a Twin Cities wrestling promotion did in 1991.
Bryce McNeil is from Prime Brook, Nova Scotia and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
He has written for SLAM! Wrestling before, including: