July 31, 2023

AWA WrestleRock (4.20.86) review 

AWA WrestleRock (4.20.86) review 


April 20, 1986 


We’re in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. We’re not quite at “AWA’s last stand” territory just yet although the writing is on the wall. Verne Gagne hasn’t moved with the times. The only thing he sees is wrestling is hot and everyone is running big buildings. The Metrodome is enormous. Booking it is frankly insane. The Minnesota Vikings played here in the 80s and the capacity for them was 64,000. It closed in 2013 and was demolished sooner thereafter. To my knowledge, this is the only time the Metrodome was ever used for professional wrestling.  

As you can see, there’s a lot of people in here but mostly in the cheap seats. The ringside area looks empty.  


Host is Rod Trongard, going solo sadly. Rod is a bit like Gorilla Monsoon and I could use a Jesse Ventura guy out here. We have a staggering 16 matches on this show. The attendance was 21,000 for this but they don’t block the seats properly, so all the hard-cam shots look embarrassing. If you lived in Minnesota and rocked up on the day, I reckon they’d have given you a decent seat for free or a minimal charge. This was the day after the Crockett Cup, so the idea was to share talent somewhat. The only real examples I have of this is the AJPW contingent and the Road Warriors, fresh off their Crockett Cup win.  


Brad Rheingans vs. Boris Zhukov 

Why is Brad on all these AWA supershows? He’s so dull. They try and spin this is as USA vs. Evil foreigner contest, but no one cares. Verne probably hadn’t heard of Glasnost. If he had, he probably thought it was something hippies smoked. Brad gets a gutwrench belly to belly for the win. This was tedious and a terrible choice for an opener. 


Little Tokyo & Lord Littlebrook vs. Cowboy Lang & Little Mr. T 

The only over guy is Little Mr. T, who looks like Mr. T because Roddy Piper went and shaved the Haiti Kid’s head. Verne arguably had cornered the midget market by having all of the top midget talents on his shows, but Vince even poached Lord Littlebrook! Haiti Kid is a funny one to me because he only used the Little Mr. T gimmick in AWA. When he was in the WWF, alongside the actual Mr. T, he wrestled as Haiti Kid. The heels accidentally hit each other a lot. Lang beats Littlebrook with a rolling cradle. This was some carnie shit. 


Wahoo McDaniel vs. Colonel DeBeers 

DeBeers is playing a South African, well, racist. The gimmick is pro-Apartheid. “No time for minorities” says Trongard on commentary, describing DeBeers white supremacist gimmick. How did they ever think this was ok? Trongard does a dismal job on commentary, trying to stay neutral. You can say a racist is a bad person, Rod. It’s ok. DeBeers is supposed to be a heat magnet but he’s not. Wahoo is the only one who gets any reactions from the crowd.  

Wahoo throws DeBeers over the top, for no reason, and DeBeers win on DQ. What is that dogshit finish? You’d think it would lead to some form of follow up between the two, but nothing ever happened.  


Buck Zumhofe vs. Tiger Mask II 

Zumhofe screams his promo into the microphone, while holding his ghettoblaster right next to it. It’s all distortion, you can’t hear anything. He looks like an alien wearing human skin as a suit. Fucking nonce. It makes me sad that so many great wrestlers from this era passed away young and Zumhofe is still alive, albeit likely to die in prison. Misawa always seemed to have issues working against Americans. Presumably a communications thing but they do very little. TM2 wins with a front flip press. Maybe he was trying something new? The match was ok, but Zumhofe’s presence renders it unwatchable.  


Barry Windham & Mike Rotundo vs. Fabulous Ones 

The former WWF tag champs are in the house. Rotundo went back to WWF right after this and started tagging with Dan Spivey in a team called the American Express. I’m interested to see how the US Express measure up to the Fabs here. It’s WWF vs. NWA in terms of styles of those two teams. The stadium has filled up quite nicely by this point. They do some fun, innovative stuff. Keirn goes to leapfrog Barry, but he just stops and punches Steve in the face. I like stuff like that. It makes it feel more real. The Fabs work heat on Windham, who’s really good at playing face in peril because he has vulnerability but is also capable of pulling believable big spots out of nothing. Also, he can get the usual flash pins and get over the idea that he can win from underneath. Having a competent heat sequence helps the match immensely. Windham comes back in blind at the end and elbows Lane off the ropes for the pin. This was good, and much better than anything else on the show so far. **½ 


I’m a little worried this is as good as it gets!  


Giant Baba vs. Bob Brown 

Brown is in his late 40s. Considering Baba needs someone mobile to bounce off him, that’s not a good pairing. “Oh, the fans love it” says Trongard as complete silence reigns in the arena. “Professional wrestling’s absolute best” lies Trongard as Baba struggles to stand up. Brown decides to work the nose. Even by Baba’s low standards, this is a fucking shitshow. Baba mercifully ends this with a big boot. Trongard claims he’s SEVEN FOOT FOUR!  


Harley Race vs. Rick Martel 

I can’t remember who it was, but I read someone’s review of this show and they said Martel was being groomed for the AWA title here. He’s actually been AWA champion and lost it to Stan Hansen. Martel would be poached by the WWF before the year was out. Race would be even quicker and would be on WWF TV in a few weeks.  

From a booking perspective, the idea is that Martel had a bad back thanks to Hansen. So, this is him proving he can go with a top guy before getting another title shot at the belt he lost under dubious circumstances. Martel was a bland babyface who was never really over as one until he started tagging with Tito Santana. The crowd is audibly bored here as neither guy has any interest in trying hard. Race has literally signed with the opposition and doesn’t give a fuck. Jesus Christ, this is boring. It only really picks up right at the end as Race takes a huge bump out of the ring. Even after that Race goes back to being lazily inconsistent. They do just about enough in the last third to avoid accusations of dogging it. Even then they still throw in rest holds to kill time, knowing the finish is close. They both spill out of the ring and that’s the inevitable DCO as they don’t want either guy to lose. Race was literally out of the door here so, although Martel would eventually follow suit, they should have just put Martel over. Or had Race job to someone else. In terms of star ratings, this is somewhere around ** and a real disappointment.  


Battle Royal 

This is a ladies’ battle royal. Some of the participants include Debbie Combs, Joyce Grable, Misty Blue Simms, Candi Devine, Sherri Martel and Luna Vachon. Luna is really green. She debuted the previous year.  

Women’s fashion feels like it changes more dramatically than men’s fashion. Between the hair and leotards, this screams 1980s. Candi is the women’s champion, having won it back from Sherri Martel. Sherri would win it back, using this match as a springboard, and keep the title until she left the company in 1987. Luna has a great look with a pink mohawk. She’s taken on board the Japanese approach. Rod calls her “Leona Vachon”. Swing and a miss Rod. “The action is fast and furious” says Rod as they all hug the ropes. Strike two, Rod. They slowly whittle the numbers down. Nobody gives a single shit. Despina Montagas, from Greece, catches the eye and hits a nice little powerbomb. She married Tarzan Goto!  


FINAL FOUR: Sherri, Grable, Combs and Devine. Combs charges Sherri on the ropes and flies out. Rod says it was Candi Devine. DING, DING, DING, DING. Strike three, Rod, you’re outta here! Candi throws Sherri out through the ropes and tosses Grable to claim victory. Sherri sneaks back in and hurls her out for the real win.  

Sherri celebrates like this means something and she wins a cheque for $50,000. Holy shit! That’s some serious cheddar. Sherri throws the microphone down and you can see the frustration on the interviewer’s face. Not cool, Sherri.  


AWA Americas Championship 

Sgt Slaughter (c) vs. Kamala 

This title only exists as a vanity belt for Sarge because Verne won’t put the AWA title on him for the same reason he wouldn’t put the belt on Hogan. It doesn’t matter that he’s the most over guy in the company. As a result, Sarge’s work has suffered because he knows it doesn’t matter what he does, he isn’t getting a push.  

Kamala’s offence is routinely boring, and he pinches the armpit. Rod calls it “axilla” and I learned a new word. Fair play, Rod. Kamala is running the whole ‘dumb savage’ thing where he pins the guy face down and assorted other nonsense. Sarge routinely used a clothesline around here as a finish but the clothesline he hits here is DOGSHIT. It’s SO bad. Sarge switches to the Cobra Clutch but Skandar Akbar jumps in for the DQ. Sarge manages to hit an even shittier clothesline on Kamala to add insult to insult. Easily negative stars. An embarrassment to pro wrestling.  


AWA Tag Team Championship 

Curt Hennig & Scott Hall (c) vs. Long Riders 

This is either just before or just after Scott Irwin found out he had a brain tumour. This is his final match in AWA, and he passed away in 1987. Scott looks horribly discombobulated by a Hall headlock. It’s quite upsetting. He looks completely lost. They must think something is amiss because Scott tags out and takes ages to recover. Hennig is isolated for heat, and they run formula into the ground. You’d think Curt would be a fun guy to run heat on but he doesn’t seem invested in it. Hall is a good hot tag. Hennig, who’s not legal anyway, gets thrown over the top. He comes back in with a missile dropkick to retain. He’s still not legal! This was fine but the earlier tag match was better. 


The champs get mad about being attacked with a loaded boot after the match. They toss the titles down and challenge the Long Riders to a no holds barred match, which would never happen. 


Boxing Match 

Scott LeDoux vs. Larry Zbyszko 

Another worked boxing match? What the fuck 1986? LeDoux has never worked a match, ever. LeDoux has fought the likes of Leon Spinks, Frank Bruno and George Foreman. You’d think he’d be able to pummel Larry in short order. Wrestling is legal in this, which means it’s MMA, baby! The boxer vs. The wrestler! Once again, a young Dana White puts on his thinking cap. We’re still seven years away from the UFC being a thing. How did no wrestling promoter not just fluke their way into doing UFC first?  


Zybszko has a ninja in his corner. That’s Ryuma Go. Ninjas weren’t really popular in pop culture around here. 1986 is a tough year for wrestling as a lot of combat movies took a back seat to comedies and sci-fi. The biggest action movies of 1986 were Top Gun, Platoon, The Fly and Aliens. There’s not much you can steal from that. Military gimmicks were always a thing, but Platoon was bleak. Maybe someone should have become a Colonial Marine? Oh wait, Karate Kid Part II came out in 1986 too, so expect more karate-based gimmicks.  


LeDoux does a decent job of selling in this. He knows what it feels like to get punched in the face and just uses that as motivation. The fact they allow bits of wrestling makes this work, almost, as a contest. It helps that LeDoux is a boxer, not an actor pretending to be a boxer. Larry gets clocked right at the end of R4 and is out. He’s saved by the bell. As R5 starts Larry bails and runs LeDoux into the ring post and that’s a DQ. This wasn’t the mess you’d expect it to be! That’s as high as I’m willing to go with the praise. 


Scott LeDoux would continue doing shots for AWA and we’ll see him again at the Battle by the Bay in June.  


AWA Championship 

Stan Hansen (c) vs. Nick Bockwinkel  

Nick, as a babyface, has a bull whip like Indiana Jones.  

HUUUUUUWWW! Hansen is still behaving himself as AWA champion, but he seems somewhat unhappy due to jet lag. He worked Jumbo in Kobe for this belt yesterday. So, he flew direct to Minneapolis. Worked this match and another for AWA TV and flew right back to Japan. He worked four dates in Japan for AJPW and flew back to Green Bay to defend the AWA title again. Jesus. The travel schedule for some guys in the 80s was insane. Nick is smart enough to know when to cut Stan off and prevent this being 10 minutes of Stan clobbering him. The match is going well until the ref gets bumped on a body slam. They run a few false finishes before Stan backdrops Bockwinkel out of the ring for the DQ. So many bad finishes on this show. This, incidentally, would have been the chance for Verne to get the belt off Hansen before the whole situation imploded. Decent match, which was aided by both guys working rough. The clumsy, uncoordinated attacks made it feel more real. **¾ and maybe more if they booked a finish.  


Nick Bockwinkel cuts an eloquent promo about the championship committee having seen this and surely booking a rematch. He’s all calm about it. Bockwinkel was a smart guy and solid promo.


Cage Match 

King Kong Brody & The Barbarian vs. Jimmy Snuka & Greg Gagne 

Snuka is replacing an injured Jerry Blackwell. In a cage match? He’s coming off the top, boys! If the faces win, Verne gets ten minutes in the cage with Sheik Adnan Al-Kassie.  

Snuka just joined AWA and is a decent pick up for Gagne as he’s well known and left the WWF as a top guy. As with Sgt Slaughter, Verne didn’t understand how to make money with him though and he’d end up in a lengthy feud with Colonel DeBeers and he’s only in a top match here to try and get Greg Gagne over. Brody has a name change because Verne doesn’t want people getting confused with Dick the Bruiser. Greg, the pencil necked geek, in the focal point of the match and watching him beat up Brody is so sad. Nepotism 1 Talent 0.  


Brody vs. Snuka is a decent match up. Brody willing to take Snuka’s big moves and heavy chops. Snuka, despite clear crowd blood lust, refuses to blade or come off the top of the cage. The Barbarian, by the way, is not the Barbarian but rather John Nord. Brody accidentally dropkicks Nord and Snuka pins him for the win. This was ok. Too much Greg Gagne though.  


Cage Match 

Verne Gagne vs. Adnan Al-Kassie 

So, now Verne gets ten minutes with the Sheik in a blood feud match up. This is Verne’s last ever televised match. He wrestled a few more house shows after this but that’s it. I’m sure he’d have carried on if the AWA kept going. Having to throw himself onto a show to get the punters in. How old is Verne here? He’s five years off drawing a pension! The blood feud does see the Sheik bleed, but Verne wins with a roll up in under four minutes. Revenge! Haha.  

“I haven’t seen anything like that before” says Rod Trongard. Yes, I’ve also never seen a blood feud cage match end that quickly. It’s remarkable stuff. I’d like to point out I didn’t want to get a 10+ minute match from Verne here. If anything, it would have been nice if this was over in 30 seconds or so.  


Cage Match 

Fabulous Freebirds vs. Road Warriors 

This stems from a Pro Wrestling USA match where Buddy Roberts worked over the Roadies’ manager Paul Ellering. The Road Warriors are still hot about it so it’s time to beat up the other Freebirds in a cage. I say “Freebirds”. It’s Hayes and Jimmy Garvin. Hayes gets busted open early and bumps around like mad. Hawk sells more than usual for Jimmy Garvin. Why? Of all the guys to sell for, it’s Gorgeous Jimmy. The most midcard comedy guy imaginable. Hayes pulls out a chain but accidentally hits Garvin and the Roadies win. Amazing that Verne would choose to put a team that’s already left his company in the main event and then put them over. Astonishing. Like Vince booking Nash & Hall to win on their last night in the company.  No, on a show after they’d already won the WCW tag titles. 


The 411: 

We’re closing in on the end of the AWA and all of it’s issues are laid bare for all to see here. The card is this enormous, sprawling beast. Loaded with every gimmick you can think of, as Verne desperately tried to get rubes to buy tickets. Midget tag match, women’s battle royal, multiple cage matches and a weird boxing-wrestling-karate hybrid match for Scott LeDoux.  


Some of the finishes here were unbelievable. Booking Harley Race to draw with Rick Martel, even though Harley had one foot out of the door. Booking Slaughter to not win clean over Kamala. Kamala? Who cares about Kamala taking a job? The boxing match going to a DQ. The title match went to a DQ. This is supposed to be a big show! How hard is it to give the people what they want? The trouble is; Verne thinks the people want to see him winning against Sheik Adnan Al-Kassie and that’s the happy ending. Oh, and of course Greg Gagne won. The inability to read an audience was staggering. It’s no wonder this company died and given how hard it is to get through these shows, I’ll be glad when it’s gone!  

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