Another unfortunate departure has fallen on the wrestling world. It has been reported that yesterday, Nick Bockwinkel passed away. In his time, he was a true total package, known for both his technical abilities, and his articulate mic work. The latter he attributed to a pocket dictionary he would study often. While many young fans may not have seen his matches, older fans know quite a bit about his journey through the ropes.
After a knee injury forced off of the football field of the University of Oklahoma, Bockwinkel trained under both his wrestler father, Warren Bockwinkel, and legendary NWA World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz. He would wrestle through the territorial landscape while occasionally appearing on Hollywood Squares, Hawaii Five-O, and The Monkees. It was in 1970, when he would join the American Wrestling Association. It was there where he would form a well-known heel tag team with Ray “The Crippler” Stevens. Managed by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, the duo would hold the AWA World Tag Team Championship three times.
After Stevens turned face, Bockwinkel would set his sights on the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. At 40 years old, Bockwinkel would win the crown from longtime AWA Champion, and the promoter, Verne Gagne. It was the first of four times he would be AWA Champion. In his first reign, he faced a who’s who for wrestling. Everyone from Billy Robinson, to a young Hulk Hogan, to WWWF/WWF Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund, would all challenge Bockwinkel, who’s first reign was ended by Gagne in Gagne’s last full-time match. Before Bockwinkel’s final reign as AWA Champion, he would face NWA Champion Ric Flair at the AWA’s last Winnipeg, Manitoba show in 1986, before that city fell under the World Wrestling Federation’s control.
His final reign with the AWA Championship happened as a result of the controversy with Stan Hansen. As a result of Hansen quitting the AWA, and running the belt over with his truck, #1 contender Bockwinkel was awarded a new belt. He would reign until 1987. At age 52, Bockwinkel lost it to Curt Hennig, after Larry Zybszko handed the challenger a roll of coins when the referee was distracted. Bockwinkel would get a measure of revenge in one of his last full-time matches by defeating Zybszko when he defeated him after hitting him with a roll or coins.
Bockwinkel would wrestle two times after his retirement. First was a 1992 match against Billy Robinson in the Japanese shoot-style (scripted matches designed to look realistic) Union of Wrestling Forces International promotion, and a 1993 match at World Championship Wrestling’s Slamboree against Dory Funk Jr. The rest of his time in wrestling saw him work as a road agent in the WWF, an on-air authority figure in WCW and several independent promotions, and as the president of the Cauliflower Alley Club from 2007, until 2014, when he had to give up the seat due to health reasons. His appearances in the WWF/WWE include occasional commentary, his 2007 induction in the WWE Hall of Fame, and as a part of a Legends Lumberjack match between Christian, and Ted DiBiase Jr.
Nick Bockwinkel was a rare diamond that shined as both a main event wrestler in regional, as well as national, eras. His legacy will not be forgotten any time soon.