AWA TV Tag Team Classics
TV Tag Team Classics
Like Jim Cornette,I remember risking life and limb to adjust
the TV roof antenna to improve reception from a distant
station just to watch wrestling. In our case, nirvana originated
in Pembina, North Dakota. The biggest influence on every
wrestler, from Chris Pepper to Playboy Doug McColl to Chi
Chi Cruz,that came out of Manitoba from 1967 to 1985 was
the weekly AWA TV show broadcast on a weak indy station
that later became the cornerstone of Izzy Asper's Global
In a 3,and then 6 channel universe, it was easy for the
AWA to stand out. There was rarely competition in general
terms on TV to begin with. The choice for a 10 year old
kid was easy. The Crusher or Rory Calhoun's Death Valley
Days? Mad Dog Vachon or Kinsman Jackpot Bingo? Superstar
Graham or Garner Ted Armstrong?
The old tapes were done in a small TV studio, with legendary
announcers Marty O'Neill and later Rodger Kent on the mic.
I will dedicate a future column to the performances of these
and other commentators, and their influence on me when I
broke in doing play by play. Basically, when they spoke,
it was gospel, repeated over and over on the playground
on Monday morning. Shock and outrage sold tickets.
The AWA had a better class of athletes than any other promotion
of the era, but the TV shows were often horribly boring,
even by the standards of those days. One summer,Verne Gagne
actually ran the same matches 6 straight weeks. After watching
Kim Duk brutalize Peter Lee in a judo jacket match over
and over and over again, even the very plain Vancouver All
Star Wrestling looked entertaining. By autumn, we were dying
for the new tapings to be shown.
Dave Meltzer,in one reminisence, mentioned " the annual
AWA angle". That was the secret of their success. The AWA
didn't have to give away the farm every week. They were
the only game in town. When they did an angle,it had impact.
Here are 5 favorite AWA tag team moments from the 60's and
1) In late 1968 the 2 top heels teamed up to cream 2 hapless
jobbers. In the 2nd fall, all hell broke loose, and as the
jibronis were felled, the name babyfaces came to the rescue.While
Dr.X fended for his life against Cowboy Bill Watts in the
ring, Mad Dog Vachon somehow became entangled in the ropes
and hung, upside down, over the apron, outside the ring,
helpless. There was mayhem all around the ring.
Dutch Savage, in his last AWA angle before going west, calmly
hopped to the floor, picked up a chair, stood before Vachon
and took a baseball swing. Vachon forehead exploded and
spurted like a stuck Algerian pig. Savage then calmly walked
away. It was so gruesome and real, and to this day I believe
it was a hardway shot, that my mother and grandmother fled
the room, horrified at the spectacle. Juice on TV was unheard
of. Us kids loved it.
2) One of the AWA specialties was 2 out of 3 fall bouts.Handsome
Harley Race and Pretty Boy Larry Hennig, who had to drop
the straps when Verne Gagne broke Hennig's leg in Winnipeg,had
re-formed their team in 1969 and faced Rene Goulet and Kenny
Jay. Jay was completely obliterated in the first fall, and
AWA matchmaker Bill Kuusisto allowed Bill Watts to fill
in. Boom, second fall to the babyfaces.
In the third fall,Watts dominated again, when Race resorted
to the favorite foreign object of the day, Brass Knuckles.
Much gore and blood, a DQ, and the resulting fued was the
catalyst to being taken to my first live card, Watts and
Igor vs. Race and Hennig.
3) The injury angle was replayed but much more effectively
in 1970, when an even better drawing blood feud was engineered.
Mad Dog and Butcher Vachon were in the midst of an amazing
2 year run on top, and faced a very good little babyface,
Bruce Kirk (I think he was from Vancouver), and his special
partner, the legendary Eduardo Carpentier. It was one fall
apiece,the babyfaces on the verge of a major upset, when
the ref took a rare bump outside.
While Carpentier tried to roust the ref, Kirk was being
slaughtered in the ring. Carpentier hit the ring and made
a strong comeback, but was outgunned. The studio audience
was in an uproar, as Carpentier had a Gagne-like status.
Kenny Yates, Kenny Jay and the assorted jobbers were similarly
Kirked. Bodies lay everywhere. It was time for... The one,
the only, the man who made Milwaukee famous, The Crusher!
However, what made this unusual was the fact the Crusher
was in street clothes, and smoking his trademark cigar.
The Vachon's were all over him, and tore his suit to shreds.
Then they tried to jam the cigar down his throat. Somehow
Butcher was cast aside, and Mad Dog was down on the mat.
Crusher hauled off and punted Mad Dog in the temple, and
he pumped out blood like a faucet. After the melee, Crusher,
in tatters but with the mangled cigar between his teeth,did
an interview demanding revenge. The next week, Vachon claimed
to have almost died from loss of blood, and said he took
23 stitches in his head. After a tag program with Carpentier
involved, the blow-off came in the cage "too violent for
TV". This feud was the standard by which all AWA blood feuds
were compared, and a 1976 attempt to redo the angle, with
the participants older and the fans wiser, was good but
not as great.
4) Don Muraco was, believe it or not, a major rookie babyface
in 1972, and after some singles matches around the horn
with a couple of Texans, took Wahoo McDaniel as his partner
to face the #2 heel team in the AWA, Dirty Dusty Rhodes
and Dick Murdoch. I cannot speak highly enough about how
charasmatic and aggressive Dusty was as a young heel, and
Murdoch, rest his soul, was the only guy around at 270 lbs
who threw standing dropkicks. They were awesome. Wahoo took
the first fall, and with the ref distracted Murdoch posted
Muraco during the second fall and he was counted out and
carted off. (In those days, the post meant business.)
Wally Karbo, for some reason, refused to allow Wahoo to
take a substitute partner, and although Billy Robinson was
vehemently against it, Wahoo continued alone. What followed
was a textbook story of clever wrestling by Wahoo, being
outgunned, still winning the deciding fall, and a total
and utter destruction of a very bloody Wahoo post-match.
This angle is particularly near and dear to my heart because
22 years later we were trying to book a tag bout and I told
the story to my booking committee with Rough House Rasslin'.
With some modifications, we used the same injured partner
premise to great success on our first show, but with the
Indian, Gene Swan getting hurt and Chi Chi Cruz going it
alone for 2 falls against Suicide Stan Saxon and Brian Jewel.
It worked perfectly and the promoter, Tony Condello, said
he had never seen anything like it at the local level for
5) By 1975 Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell " The High Flyers"
were ready for a big push- well, Greg was ready the day
he was born, but to get him over it took the special talents
of the greatest heel team in AWA history, Nick Bockwinkle
and Ray Stevens, and an unexpected twist.
With Bobby Heenan expertly working the corner, the crowd
heat built until it was time to burst the bubble. Brunzell
was of course posted and injured, and the heels triple teamed
Gagne. As usual, the undercard save was dispatched. When
the massive Larry "The Axe" Hennig hit the ring, everyone
feared an even worse beating. But Hennig tried to pry the
heels off of Greg. Stevens in particular was enraged.
As the heels held Hennig's arms apart and invited Heenan
to take a free shot, The Axe pulled them into each other
and they took an enormous bump, and he got his mitts on
Heenan, who sold for the new babyface like a million bucks.
Hennig's postmatch interview, in which he claimed to hate
the Gagne's but "I have a son that age and I hope someone
would help him" became a classic and set the course for
the rest of Larry's career and set the stage for the eventual
introduction of his son, Curt.
I learned from experience that the old angles, done properly,
push all the right buttons to generate interst and crowd
heat. Even in todays overexposed spotfest climate, the best
angles to book, in my opinion, are the ones that push emotional
buttons, and nothing does that like heels cheating and bullying
babyfaces into a bloody pulp.
In a future column I will compose a similar remembrance
of great AWA singles angles of the era, and eventually move
on to the later 70's and 80's aka the Hogan era. Verne had
no idea what he had with him.
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from the boys:
Ed Moretti says "Relax there kid. Who's calling this match...them or us? They bought the tickets to see us, not the other way around".