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Monday, April 27, 2015

Verne Gagne. 1926-2015

Photo Credit: WWE

This will be certainly a strange thing to read from us, but after hearing about the passing of former wrestler, promoter, and trainer Verne Gagne, While we will not act like we were his biggest supporter, many of our Twitter followers will tell you we often connected his booking of the American Wrestling Association with Vince McMahon's current booking of WWE, we will at least show the proper respect for a fairly complex individual.

A former college wrestling champion, Gagne went into the professional version in 1949. Thanks to TV's golden age, he was one of may that became national superstars. The technician became one of the highest paid attractions in wrestling at that point. Gagne would become NWA Jr. Heavyweight Champion, but as it is now, politics in wrestling then kept him from holding an undisputed version of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Because of this, he and promoter Wally Karbo would break off and form the AWA. In the process, he would go on to hold the AWA World Heavyweight Championship 10 times. Unlike today, where everyone knows the behind the scenes workings and would shout for him to drop the belt to someone, Gagne ruled in a time where few knew the inner workings. Both this, and fans admiration for him and his collegiate achievements, made him the popular star of his company. He even starred in a 1974 film called The Wrestler As a wrestler, he remained active full-time until the early 1980s. He would continue to wrestle in special attractions until the mid-way point of the decade. As a trainer, Gagne would many to become legends. The list includes those like the Iron Sheik, Ric Flair, and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat.

Though Gagne had success for many years in the AWA, it would be the changing times of the 1980s that would prove to be destructive for his promotion. The stubborn refusal to move forward with more flamboyant stars like Hulk Hogan, whom Gagne worked with to help Hogan become the loud charismatic talker, would be damaging given the World Wrestling Federation would hitch itself to Hogan's star. While the AWA still had a surprisingly great roster of wrestlers, including Rick Martel, The Road Warriors, Curt Hennig, Scott Hall, and Shawn Michaels, as well as a show on ESPN, The WWF would bring many of those stars over for big money. While many fans think tuning into Destination America on Fridays is sad, imagine if WCW's end dragged on longer than 1999-2001, and had drawn Impact-level attendance. It was that bad. 1991 saw the AWA close with little attention.

Over 15 years later, WWE's focus on highlighting and respecting the past would see the AWA get the sendoff it's legacy at least afforded it. First would come Gagne's induction into WWE's Hall of Fame in April, 2006. The man inducting him would be his son, fellow wrestler Greg Gagne. Later that year, the DVD set The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA would tell an interesting, albeit slightly skewed, look at the one-time wrestling juggernaut. It was at least the respect the legend deserved.

Gagne's later years were spent out of the public eye due to Alzheimer's Disease. An incident in 2009 resulted in the death of a fellow patient at a nursing facility. The families of all parties involved understood that both men, as a result of declining health, mean't there was no intent to cause the fatal injury.

The loss of Verne Gagne sadly closes a chapter in wrestling history that sent ripples beyond it. Every time a fan "Woo"s after a chop, every time a wrestler cites Shawn Michaels as an influence, every time Hogan says "Well you know something Brother", you can see, hear, and even feel something that has that connection to the AWA. Because of this, Gagne may be gone, but forgotten will be something he will never be.

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