AWA Christmas Night 1987 (12.25.87)
December 25, 1987
We’re in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the Minneapolis Auditorium. This is a fairly obscure building, only a few years away from being demolished. It’s typical of Verne Gagne to be out of date. The Minneapolis Lakers played here in the 1950s. It has a capacity of around 10,000 but attendance here is a borderline tragic 1,800. The AWA was absolutely dying a death.
Hosts are Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and some guy in a zip up jumper. Glasnost has made its way to AWA! Note all the empty seats in the background. This is absolute bush league bullshit. The guy in the sweater is Rob Hayward who paid $250 to charity to be the guest ring announcer. Rod Trongard is on the call.
Mitch Snow vs. Nick Kiniski
“Jammin” Mitch Snow is barely 20 years old. He worked a few AJPW tours after this but didn’t make it into the 1990s. Kiniski only worked for 5 years before retiring in 1990. Kiniski certainly looks the part and is the son of the legendary Gene Kiniski. The match is very basic but gets worse when the lights go out and you can barely see the ring from the one camera set up.
Professional wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. This is the AWA attempting to take the “worst promotion” award in my 1987 year end awards. They are REALLY going for it here. I’m amazed they put this on the award-winning WWE Network. The finish is some fucked up roll up and Kiniski wins with a handful of tights, after they’ve fumbled about all over each other a couple of times. Like a couple of virgins fumbling around under a duvet.
Alan West vs. Kevin Kelly
Alan West is filling in for an injured DJ Peterson.
Peterson had won the “services” of Madusa Micelli for one month and he’s lent her to West here. She’s wearing Christmas elfish attire and looks pissed off about it. West is another guy who wrestled for a few years, almost exclusively for AWA, and then retired. Kelly is the future Nailz. West has a curly mullet/porn star moustache combo that screams “I want to be Magnum TA”. I can’t get over Kelly. Every time I see him during this AWA run, he looks incredible. Whereas Nailz looked like such a pile of shit they put him in a boiler suit.
Comms remarks on Madusa being passed around like a $5 bill. The AWA, they knew how to treat their women folk. Despite all this PWI gave her the prestigious “rookie of the year” award in 1988, the first woman to win it. Madusa supports Kelly because West put her in this stupid costume. It takes me five minutes of the match, and the vague commentary, to realise West is the BABYFACE here. Nothing says babyface like imprisoning a woman your mate won in a bet to ensure she suffers maximum embarrassment. Comms is quite critical of West, who is green and makes mistakes when he gets fired up. I think they might have botched the finish because West pulls a weird spot where he hits a backbreaker only to re-do the spot and this time Madusa grabs his feet and Kelly falls on top for the pin. This was bad.
Soldat Ustinov vs. Nord the Barbarian
This is one of those matches where if the babyface (Nord, no really) wins he gets the heel’s manager (Sheik Adnan Al-Kassie) alone for five minutes in another match. Ustinov has a Russian gimmick. He’s another big bald lad in a red leotard. That Nikita Koloff gimmick was a popular one in the mid-late 80s. Ustinov works a lot of restholds. The video goes completely at one point, leaving me with a black screen and commentary. Again, I can’t believe they actually uploaded this. Ustinov misses off the ropes and Nord just pins him. This was bad.
Post match, Nord beats up Adnan Al-Kassie a bit before Ustinov jumps back in and they brawl out into the crowd again. All the crowd wanted to see was Adnan getting his ass kicked and they couldn’t even do that.
AWA World Tag Team Championship
Original Midnight Express (c) vs. Midnight Rockers
Ok, lots to explain here. The Rockers left AWA in the summer to join the WWF but after a weekend of working for McMahon, they got fired for partying too hard. Or something. I’ve heard Shawn tell the story that they did nothing, but Shawn is a notorious liar. In their absence the AWA have crowned new tag team champions. Dennis Condrey, who walked out on the NWA (and Cornette and Eaton) without telling them, formed a new tag team with former Midnight Express partner “Ravishing” Randy Rose. You see, the original Midnight Express was Condrey, Rose and Norvell Austin, who had a Freebirds thing going on, and the pairing of Condrey and Eaton only happened when they went to Mid-South. That’s when they got Jim Cornette as a manager. So, Condrey has gone back to his early 80s roots to bring us this pairing. They’re tag champs and managed by one Paul E. Dangerously. Paul Heyman started into the business in 1987, as a manager. He’d previous worked as a photographer at WWF events going back to his early teens. This is a huge match because it’s the Midnight Rockers return to the AWA. Don’t get too used to them being here though, they’d be back in the WWF in the first half of 1988.
For some reason the visuals get a red tinge to them. AWA’s crack production team nailing it again. OMXP show a lot of ass here, regularly being befuddled by the Rockers speed. Rose gets punched in the face a lot, usually after being surprised by a Rocker sneaking up on him. They do a lot of familiar stuff like the partner protects from the turnbuckle/reversal of same spot.
Did you know Paul E got his name from the movie Johnny Dangerously because he looked like Michael Keaton from that film? A reminder that a lot of people looked sexier when they were younger. Hey, myself included! Comms calls AWA the “major league of American wrestling”. Is he talking about the film? Because in that the Indians sucked and achieved greatness completely against the odds.
The match is very cutesy and tends to lean towards house show spots. That’s not to say it’s bad. Just that the Rockers do goofy stuff and when the champs are in charge, it’s usually in rest holds. Shawn does impress by going hard into the ropes on Irish whips, like he’s out of control. He takes a clothesline off one and it looks legitimate. They get up near the time limit and Jannetty gets a roll up on Rose that feels like a finish. Bizarrely Shawn calls for a fucking rowboat with the time limit expiring at 30:00. ***
Adrian Adonis vs. Wahoo McDaniel
Adonis jumped to the AWA earlier in the year after leaving the WWF. He’s mainly slummed it working Baron von Raschke and Tommy Rich. Wahoo has been in AWA all year long, having left Crockett at the end of 1986. Adonis is managed by Paul E, who he gives a little peck on the cheek pre-match. It would be fair to say Adrian didn’t bring his WWF workrate to the AWA.
They lie around in rest holds and Wahoo seems to have stopped giving any kind of a fuck. They work in a shitty ref bump and Adonis waffles Wahoo with Paul E’s cell phone. That’s not the finish. Instead Wahoo kicks out, goes after Paul E, steals his cell phone and hits both Adonis and the ref with it for the DQ. This was dogshit wrestling. Dirt tier.
AWA World Championship
Curt Hennig (c) vs. Greg Gagne
Nick Bockwinkel has, sadly, retired. Which leaves the AWA’s top tier echelons extremely short on talent. Scott Hall has gone to NJPW. Vader is in Germany working for Otto Wanz.
When backed against a wall Verne goes for the old tried and trusted solution; nepotism. Which means his son gets a title shot and he’s out here strapped to Larry “The Axe” Hennig to ensure he doesn’t interfere. The sideshow just creates an excuse for more stalling. Hennig is an insanely good technician, but he should have just taken the WWF’s money and left. This company is dead. I guess he wanted that AWA title run on his resume.
When they do get going, which comes in fits and starts, it’s a pretty decent match. Hennig is game for bumping Greg’s stuff, and it works. They have good chemistry. The issue stems from both of them wanting to slow it down too often. They could have blown the roof off if they’d upped the pace early going and stayed that way, incorporating the fathers on the floor.
They do some limb work to kill time. Hennig works the leg, Gagne the arm. It reminds me of the Hennig-Bockwinkel series, but Gagne’s technique can’t match up to Bock. Hennig is game to sell it, but it takes two to tango. The match picks up when they duke it out. A good old fashioned slugfest suits Greg. He can do that without overthinking it. Whenever he hits a ‘spot’ you can almost hear the cogs whirring and after he lands it he just stops, absorbing what just happened. He’s one of the fakest looking workers I’ve ever had the misfortune to watch, so it’s nice when I find something he can do.
Hennig helps him out, in a way, because he pops back up from stuff like back drops so Greg doesn’t have time to think. His instincts are actually pretty good. When he has time to stop and think, he literally stops. Gagne has this won with a sleeper but Larry Hennig jumps on the apron and socks him in the back of the head. That’s a DQ. **½
Post Match: a big ruckus breaks out and people start running in from the back. Curt slaps Verne Gagne around and did they book that? Verne had retired but you never say never. Hennig would eventually lose the belt to Jerry Lawler, as AWA got increasingly desperate, and Curt jumped to the WWF.
We close the show with some interviews so AWA can prove they can shoot something that doesn’t look like total crap. I respect it.
There’s no escaping how bad AWA is in 1987. The company is just doomed. The walls are closing in. The only talent they have are ones the WWF don’t want. The only reason the Rockers aren’t in the WWF is because they fucked up. The only reason Curt Hennig is still here is because they put the strap on him. They couldn’t even retain people the WWF didn’t want. Jimmy Snuka finished up with the AWA in the summer. Doug Somers quit in the summer. Buddy Rose left. So, who’s left? Wahoo McDaniel. Greg Gagne. Colonel De Beers. They’d eventually pick up guys like Iron Sheik, Don Muraco and Wendi Richter who the WWF no longer had any use for. That’s it. That’s all they can do. It’s almost over at this point. There’s very little left for me to cover. It’s almost a relief. The shows are an abomination. The only one I’m likely to cover before they go out of business is Superclash III.