He was, without a doubt, one of the most influential men in the history of professional wrestling. As a performer, as a promoter and as a goodwill ambassador, his prominence within the sport has become legendary.
Real Name: Verne Gagne
Stats: 5′ 11″ 215 lbs.
Born: May 10, 1923
By Steve Slagle
Verne Gagne has been called the “Bruno Sammartino of the Midwest”, however that analogy doesn’t even come close to doing this all-time legend of the squared circle justice. Although it is true that Gagne was to the American Wrestling Association what Bruno was to the WWWF, the “no frills” Gagne carved his own, unique niche’ in the sport and is truly a legend of wrestling.
Gagne was a talented, accomplished amateur wrestler, and he won numerous championships in high school and college. So talented on the mat was Gagne that he even competed in the Olympic games. After stepping into the pro ranks as an Olympic hero, success soon followed the young and talented Gagne from the amateurs to the pros, as he quickly became a top attraction throughout Middle America in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
On Sept. 3, 1953 Gagne was awarded the NWA’s Chicago/Minneapolis version of the US Title. After a year as champion, he was defeated by Wilber Snyder. He would again wear the US belt though, by defeating Dick the Bruiser in Chicago on April 12, 1958. He held the US Championship until August 16, 1960, when he vacated the title after being awarded the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. Pat O’ Conner was named the inaugural AWA champ, but when he failed to meet Gagne within 90 days, the new organization stripped O`Conner of the title and awarded it to Gagne.
Verne Gagne was a simple, yet complex wrestler. His understated demeanor and soft speaking voice was accompanied by a vast knowledge of maneuvers, counter maneuvers, ring psychology, and the science of pro wrestling. He was, quite simply, a wrestler’s wrestler. Never one for theatrics or glitz, Gagne simply put his trunks on, laced up his boots, and gave every bit of his considerable efforts during each and every match. He was also quite a celebrity, his fame preceded him everywhere he went and had many famous friends. Gagne was indeed, a true wrestling superstar throughout his prime as AWA champion.
And speaking of the AWA World Championship, Gagne is the only man ever to win (the once very prestigious) American Wrestling Association championship 10 times. He held the AWA championship for a record 7 consecutive years between 1968-1975. Gagne is credited by some as being a 13-time World Champion, citing other versions of the World Title Gagne held during his career.
He had legendary feuds with the biggest names and toughest men of his era…Dick The Bruiser, Mad Dog Vachon, Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson, Fritz Von Erich, The Crusher, Harley Race, “Superstar” Billy Graham, Larry “The Axe” Hennig, Stan Hansen, Mr. Saito, Ernie Ladd, Nick Bockwinkle and literally dozens more. Verne Gagne was truly a prime example of the consummate “fighting champion.”
Verne Gagne won his final American Wrestling Association World Championship before 20,000 rabid AWA fans at Commisky Park in Chicago, IL. on July 18, 1980 by defeating his hated longtime nemesis Nick Bockwinkle. He held the title for nearly a year before retiring with the championship he held for well over 10 cumulative years.
In many ways, Verne Gagne was the A.W.A., through his many years as champion, ambassador of the American Wrestling Association, and when away from the camera, owner/operator of the AWA. Gagne also trained many of the greatest technical stars in wrestling…truly a testament to his knowledge of the importance of wrestling fundamentals. The Ring Chronicle salutes AWA kingpin Verne Gagne — master of style, simplicity and sciencem — by inducting him into the TRC Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame…