The Furious Flashbacks: AWA Super Sunday (4.24.83) review
April 24, 1983
I’ve never seen any AWA shows. I’ve seen bits and pieces on tapes. Usually, the Rockers, Ricky Martel and Hogan getting screwed out of the belt. Well, I thought I’d rectify that. This is AWA Super Sunday. We’re in St Paul, Minnesota. Your commentator is Rod Trongard. Various elements of the AWA will appear familiar to anyone who watched WWF in the mid 80s because Vince stole most of the talent. Ventura, Heenan, Patera, Martel, Brunzell, Wendi Richter, Gene Okerlund and especially Hulk Hogan. Vince acquired WWF from his aging father in 1982 and the result is the war between McMahon and the old territory system, which raged throughout the 1980s.
The AWA had been a hugely successful promotion right up to this show right here, that we’re watching. This was Hogan’s final shot at Nick Bockwinkel and he got screwed several times beforehand so the crowd are, perhaps rightly, expecting the big babyface title win. There are around 20,000 in attendance and the show was shown on closed circuit television. Strap yourself in for the beginning (of the end) of the AWA.
Rocky Stone vs. Brad Rheingans
Rheingans was high school chums with Eric Bischoff. He was an Olympic wrestler, and missed out on a second Olympics, in 1980, due to the USA’s boycott of the Moscow games. As a pro he has a lot of peppy babyface energy. Stone is a pale, slightly hairy, boring jobber. I’m reminded, a few minutes in, that wrestling was sensationally boring in the early 80s. Rheingans getting all fired up is interesting to watch. He’s playing to the back row. Rheingans finishes with a gutwrench suplex. This was very dull.
Each participant is interviewed in the ring afterwards, which does give it a ‘sports’ vibe.
Steve Regal vs. Buck Zumhofe
Regal is “Mr Electricity” and not the one you’re thinking of. Zumhofe has a rock n’ roll gimmick and brings a ghettoblaster to the ring with him, which sort of counts as entrance music. Even by wrestling standards Zumhofe is a piece of shit. How bad reader? Raping kids and sexually abusing his teenage daughter bad. That’s how bad. In 2014 he got 25 years for sexual assault charges. He’s not dead, at time of writing, but hopefully he’s miserable and will be dead soon. I didn’t watch the match but Zumhofe won with some shit looking version of the Vaderbomb dubbed a “flying bodyslam” by comms. Of course he was signed by WWF three times. That was AFTER he’d been jailed in 1986 for abusing a minor.
John Tolos vs. Jerry Lawler
Tolos debuted in 1952 and is best known, by modern fans, for being Mr Perfect’s manager in the early 90s. Lawler’s career is laid out in a match here. He runs his mouth a bit, gets beaten up the entire match and leaves with a win. My favourite Jerry Lawler spot is his punch. It looks great. You can get a long way in the business with a great looking punch. Lawler is working babyface here. Tolos punches him near the ropes and the King yeets himself over the top for the DQ. A cheap win for Lawler! Tolos looked so old and the finish stunk. Good selling by Lawler though.
Oh wait, the match continues! Apparently, the referee agreed with me that Lawler threw himself over the rope. Lawler proceeds to punch Tolos relentlessly and the ref lets that go too. Tolos is next to try it on as he runs himself into two turnbuckles without any contact. Tolos comes off the second rope, misses and gets beaten with the piledriver. What a bizarre match this was.
NWA World Women’s Tag Team Championship
Joyce Grable & Wendi Richter (c) vs. Judy Martin & Velvet McIntyre
Grable is the older hand in here, having debuted in the 60s. The rest of them debuted in the late 70s. All of them jumped to WWF during the 80s and Judy actually spent 7 years with Titan. Wendi the victim of an infamous screwjob in the WWF when she was shoot pinned in a match by Fabulous Moolah in a mask. Richter had apparently gotten “too big for her boots” or something along those lines. Vince claims she wouldn’t sign a new contract. Anyway, back to the match, and it’s good. The pacing is way better and the tags allow the action to stay at that level. Wendi takes some killer bumps too. It’s a sloppy match but it beats the shit out of the lazy rest holds in the earlier bouts. The women clearly thought they had to work harder to get noticed. It’s interesting to note that in spite of the pacing the crowd are unresponsive until they do comedy spots. Velvet gets killed with a powerbomb and despite Judy trying to fuck up the pin that’ll do it. This was good but not ‘notebook’ recommendations good. The first actual fun match on the show.
Wahoo McDaniel vs. Ed Boulder
Wahoo is over 20 years into his career. “Dizzy” Ed Boulder is a young, and stupid, Ed Leslie. Better known to rubes as Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake. He was never a good worker but he’s 4 years in here and a body guy.
Look at this guy? No wonder McMahon signed him. He’s a walking advertisement for ICOPRO. Predictably he was in the WWF the following year. Being Hogan’s stooge was helpful. He is ripped here though. I can’t get over that physique. He’s about 26, looks unreal but can’t work for shit. His foot work and his selling are all over the place.
Jerry Lawler joins commentary to clear up the DQ from earlier, claiming the referee made the right decision. Wahoo is having a laugh in this one. He tries the Flair corner bump and lands on his head. Boulder continues to fascinate me. If you squint at him, he looks like a young Triple H. Wahoo finishes with the Tomahawk Chop. I’m pretty sure Ed tried to kick out.
Jesse Ventura, Ken Patera & Blackjack Lanza vs. Rick Martel, Greg Gagne & Jim Brunzell
Lanza and Gagne are the only two guys Vince didn’t poach from this match. Lanza went to WWF as a road agent when he retired a few years from now and Gagne was Verne’s son. He’s only on the card due to extreme nepotism. Martel hung around longer than the rest and has a great reputation for early-mid 80s work. This match is Bobby Heenan’s guys versus three high flying babyfaces. Blackjack Lanza is fucking brilliant. He just potatoes the hell out of people. I wish he’d sell less but heels had to give back. They do a great bit where Ventura is reaching into the ring for a tag so the faces bounce on the ropes until he falls into the ring. I’ve never seen that spot before! I love this heel unit. Ventura is all show and mouth, Patera is the powerhouse and Lanza just hits people. Greg Gagne and his shitty dropkicks are an unfortunate downside to having the bosses kid in there but otherwise the match is great. They have it all break down towards the end with everyone brawling Rod Trongard misses the finish, which was Patera socking Brunzell with brass knucks and getting a cheap pin amid all the chaos. The babyfaces feel aggrieved and a huge brawl continues after the bell. This was fantastic. I had a riot watching this. ***
Nick Bockwinkel (c) vs. Hulk Hogan
Hogan is riding high off the success of Rocky III (1982) and comes out to “Eye of the Tiger”, unless you’re watching on the Network and then he comes out to piped in generic noise.
Gene Okerlund makes a point of introducing president of the AWA; Stanley Blackburn. Well, I’m sure he won’t allow anything screwy to happen.
If you didn’t live through the 1980s, it’s hard to describe how over Hogan was. Everyone knew who he was, everywhere and before his WWF era global explosion he was mega-over in the AWA. Verne Gagne never put the belt on him because he figured Hogan didn’t need it and there was more money in the chase. I think Vince McMahon may have proved him wrong on that front. Bockwinkel debuted in 1954, just to give you an idea of how outdated his wrestling is compared to Hogan’s 80s verve. Bockwinkel seems to have no interest in having a match and just takes whatever spots Hogan can dream up, which is basically nothing because Hogan was never good at leading a match. Quite why they don’t follow Hogan’s formula, where he just gets beaten up all match, is a curious choice. As is James Blears as referee as he’s glacially slow with his counts. Bockwinkel lets Hogan have a huge percentage of the match, which makes it so much worse. My own theory is that Bockwinkel, and Gagne, while happy to trouser the money Hogan brought in, figured they would sabotage him in the ring so people didn’t want to watch him anymore. Or Hogan just sucked. One or the other. I’m going with sabotage based on this match. At one point Bockwinkel doesn’t even kick out on a near fall, making the referee look like a crook. They work in a shambolic ref bump, which causes instant heat because the crowd can smell the impending bullshit. Bockwinkel goes for a sleeper, Hogan dumps him over the top rope, revives the referee and hits the legdrop for the title. The crowd goes nuts.
Everyone goes home happy right? Nope. Stanley Blackburn overturns it for an over-the-top rope DQ. The fans are mad as hell and start throwing their trash at the ring. If your crowd is chanting “bullshit”, that’s bad, Verne. Hogan, sportsman of the year, beats up Heenan and waffles Bockwinkel with the belt. He stops short of dragging old man Blackburn into the ring and beating the piss out of him too. The match was bad. There’s a lot of Hogan looking lost.
Post script: Hogan was supposed to win the belt here but Verne held him up for merch money. There are obviously two sides to this argument so it’s hard to know the truth. Either way, Verne clearly didn’t want Hogan as champion but had booked himself into a corner. Vince McMahon spotted Hogan’s frustration, offered him the WWF strap to jump ship and a mere eight months later, Hogan would be WWF champion. Blears joins commentary to explain his count and says it’s a three second count. It’s slow you old goat. Incidentally, Verne did the exact same thing (twice) the previous month, which goes further to explain the crowd’s hostility. This was the fifth time he’d had Hogan win and then retroactively DQ him.
Adnan Al-Kassie & Jerry Blackwell vs. Verne Gagne & Mad Dog Vachon
Verne’s idea of ‘sending the crowd home happy’ is to put himself in a main event tag, although he was ‘retired’ at this point. Al-Kassie is better known as General Adnan (WWF). Blackwell is enormous here. He would die aged just 45 after suffering with diabetes, gangrene and gout. Everybody in this thing sucks so they just brawl around to cover for it. Considering we just a BS disqualification in the last match and Verne is out here hitting guys with chairs. The referee has a shocker, trying to enforce the rules but also ignoring every breach of them.
Gagne pins Al-Kassie after knee dropping his arm. I don’t get it. Verne’s whole purpose of taking this match is to beat up Al-Kassie and Blackwell so they can’t challenge for the tag titles (which his son has). The faces throw Blackwell over the top rope afterwards, which Rod Trongard has the temerity to say would have been a DQ if it happened during the match. They hit the heels with chairs in this! After the match Mad Dog Vachon does his best Gumby impression.
Someone pitches their drink at Verne as he’s celebrating, clearly upset about his inability to book a logical card. The main event was shit, obviously, but Verne’s lack of self-awareness is the worst thing about it by far.
This is the first time I’ve watched a whole AWA show and I have to say, it goes a long way to explain why the AWA doesn’t exist anymore. I have seen some excellent AWA matches, usually involving Rick Martel, but Verne was clearly out of touch and the show may have happened in 1983 but it was more like 1973.