83 Weeks – AWA
Release Date: November 26, 2018
Running time: 2:12
Recap by: Joe Aguinaldo
On today’s podcast, Conrad and Eric cover the AWA.
Moving to Minneapolis
- Eric moved to Minneapolis when he was 14. At the time he didn’t have any friends and was a bit of a loner
- As a kid, he watched wrestling in Pittsburgh and Detroit. When he moved to Minneapolis he became a fan of the AWA.
- His favorite performers at the time were Ivan Putski (although he doesn’t know why), Crusher, Mad Dog Vachon, Superstar Billy Graham, Wahoo McDaniel, and Dusty Rhodes
Meeting Verne Gagne For The First Time
- Verne Gagne was the patriarch of the AWA. Eric first met Verne at a high school wrestling event in Mound, Minnesota which is where Verne lived.
- Verne was a big supporter of amateur wrestling and regional tournaments and came to the tournament to meet the high school wrestlers.
How Eric Got Into The AWA
- Eric and Sonny Ono had developed a game called ‘Ninja Star Wars’ and produced about 5,000 of them. However, they discovered they couldn’t sell them the way they had planned so Eric looked up Verne Gagne in the phone book, gave him a call ,and got a meeting with him a few days later.
- During a break at work, Eric went home and turned on the TV to watch the AWA on ESPN. He saw a commercial for Suzanne Somers’ thighmaster which was being sold by calling a 1-800 number, placing the order and getting it shipped to the buyer.
- Eric thought he might be able to sell the Ninja Star Wars game using the same method on Verne’s TV show
- When Eric met Verne, he was not aware that many of the territories were in trouble due to Vince’s expansion. The AWA offices were impressive.
- During the meeting, he brought a few of the games with him. Wahoo McDaniel, Ray Stevens and a bunch of office staff were there and he demo’d the game for them. Everyone got a kick out of trying the game and Verne agreed to sell them on his TV.
- Eric would manufacture the games and produce a 30 second commercial. Verne would air the commercial, Eric would do the order fulfillment and they would split the profit 50/50.
- This was Eric’s first foray into the direct sales business. He sold a ton of games but the returns are what ate into his profits. It wasn’t something he anticipated.
Getting Hired By The AWA
- There was a person by the name of Mike Shields who had previously worked for Jerry Jarrett (well, you know). He was like an operations manager but also managed the sales and syndication side of the business.
- Mike recognized Eric as a hustler and a salesperson and needed someone to sell syndication. They offered Eric a job in syndication sales even though Eric didn’t know what syndication was.
- Eric’s focus was taking the AWA show and selling it to local television stations. It wasn’t that hard of a sell in the upper midwest who were familiar with the AWA product.
- Eric says he was 60 to 70% of the time. When he started there were 32 stations carrying the AWA product and 6 months later he had it up to 75 or 80 stations.
- A year later, Mike Shields asked if Eric would like to go to Las Vegas to watch how they did a show.
- This was all new to Eric as he wasn’t involved in producing TV or the creative process. He was excited to see how this worked.
- At this point, Eric didn’t get to see how the TV was laid out or how the creative process worked but he did get to see the production truck and was fascinated by Mike Shield calling the camera shots.
Getting In Front Of The Camera
- Eric never planned on getting a job in the AWA, it just happened. The same is true for him getting on camera.
- Eric always had a sport coat, shirt and tie in his office in case he needed to go on a client call.
- Back then, Verne made 60 to 70% of his revenue from live events around the territory which he would promote on his TV show. Part of promoting the towns was having the talent come to TV and cut promos for the local market.
- During one of the market specific promos, they asked Eric to put on his sport coat and tie and come to the back. The normal stickman (Larry Nelson) had been arrested for a DUI and they wanted Eric to do the interviews with the wrestlers.
- Eric had never done this before and when it was over, he couldn’t wait to take off his tie and go back to his office. He never wanted to set foot in front of the camera again.
- The AWA tried to find another stickman, however, Verne didn’t have many resources. He was borrowing money against his property to keep the AWA afloat which Eric didn’t know. The AWA didn’t have enough money to hire anybody.
- They tried a few other people but ultimately went back to using Eric because they couldn’t afford anyone else and Eric by that point was not horrible. Guys like Sargent Slaughter, Baron Von Raschke and Brad Rheingans would help Eric improve.
- Eric was always fascinated with learning the process of how they put a show together which was a highlight of his time in the AWA
- Eric started in the AWA in 1987 and got pretty friendly with Verne, Wahoo McDaniel and Ray Stevens. He learned about what was going on in the wrestling world.
- The WWE aggressively went after much of the AWA’s talent pool although this happened prior to Eric joining the company.
- It was obvious to Eric the company was in trouble, however, it didn’t affect him directly. He was still getting paid on time however, in the mid to late 1990, his pay checks would be 2, 3, 4 or 5 weeks behind and that’s when he started seeing the handwriting on the wall.
Chroma Key and the AWA Team Challenge
- The AWA tried to use technology to try something different in order to compete with the bigger production budgets of the WCW and WWE.
- The AWA wasn’t drawing people to any of their shows. If you can’t draw a crowd, it makes your TV seem less important especially to the casual fan.
- There wasn’t any talent left. All the top talent that used to draw for the AWA left for the WWF and the new talent there wasn’t drawing a crowd.
- A guy by the name of Bob Syers suggested they try using Chroma key (green screen) to replace the energy of a live arena with something they could create in post production. This was more of an attempted solution to a problem they couldn’t overcome
- The AWA would film the show at an empty TV studio. All the matches would be taped in the studio. The announcers would be in the control room setting up the matches and advancing the story. They would also use pre-taped interviews.
- The talent would make their entrance in a completely enclosed Chroma key green environment and the audience would be keyed in. The talent would be reacting to people who weren’t really there which is what actors do but the wrestlers weren’t actors.
- When Eric watched this back, it looked really bizarre. At the time, Chroma key was fairly new and while it was kind of cool, it didn’t serve the purpose of making the audience feel like the talent was engaging with the audience.
- The cutaways would be a bunch of people at a sports bar cheering (for example). The attempt was to make the viewers feel that the new technology was bringing images of people involved in the show from remote locations (which was really confusing).
- Eric isn’t sure what the talent thought because he didn’t really see or know the talent. From what he remembers, everyone was grateful to have a gig because they were seeing what was happening to the other territories. Additionally, a lot of the talent were young and had not worked on TV. At least with Verne, they were on TV and on ESPN and if nothing else, it was an opportunity for them to be seen by the WWE.
- SuperClash III was in Chicago in 1988. It was a joint card that had wrestlers from WCCW, AWA, CWA and POWW (Powerful Women Of Wrestling). This was Eric’s first PPV and he built the set which was used when they toured the SuperClash show.
- The match most people remember was the Jerry Lawler vs. Kerry Von Erich match to unify the WCCW and AWA titles. Kerry was so messed up before the match, he forgot he had taped a blade to himself, scratched his arm, which caused him to bleed from his arm.
- Because of Eric’s job, he was busy and didn’t hear about this until it was over. On top of that, Eric didn’t know a lot of the regional talent such as Jerry Lawler.
- SuperClash IV was in April 1990 and Eric promoted some towns for the AWA. Eric had cleared a major TV station in Mason City, which could have been a big market for them so Eric asked Verne if he could promote the town. He staged his first event there and had Wahoo McDaniel vs. Manny Fernandez. They had a bloodbath and Eric had never seen anything like it.Additionally, Eric thinks they had drank 2 and a half cases of beer which makes you bleed more profusely. Eric was at ringside looking at Wahoo bleeding like a stuck pig and Wahoo would hold his breath and squeeze which would make him bleed even more. It was a grueling bloodbath of a match. The Midnight Rockers were also on the card. The venue they were at was for stock shows (horse, cows, etc.) which only had livestock showers which were outside of the building. It was also very cold and Eric got a little heat that night
Eric vs. DDP
- Eric didn’t really know DDP when they both in the AWA and didn’t have much of an impression of him other that he talked a lot and was loud which was a pet peeve for Bischoff.
- Eric doesn’t know why Verne used DDP was used as a manager because he didn’t fit the mold of what a manager should be. He was taller than most of the talent which is something Verne didn’t like. Plus he was loud and stole attention from the wrestlers (not intentionally).
- Eric had put together a big sponsorship with a big brewing company and they sponsored a big touch football game that featured ex-NFL players vs. AWA wrestlers. They also got a sponsorship with a local bar and Eric wanted to bring the wrestlers to the bar to help promote the event.
- Everything was going well until Eric noticed DDP being borderline rude to the bar staff. This pissed Eric off and he challenged DDP to a fight outside. However, when they got outside, DDP got into his car and drove off.
- When Eric got back to the hotel, DDP was there with 5 other wrestlers. They started yelling at each other and had to be pulled apart. They got Eric and DDP to go to their rooms.
- When Eric got up the next morning, he realized he hadn’t handled the situation well and went to DDPs room to apologize. DDP agreed they were both idiots and they both shook hands. That was the end of it.
The Forgotten Women’s Match – AWA Team Challenge
- Eric forgot about the women’s match during the Team Challenge Series. It was a bunch of women doing a boxing/wrestling match and he wasn’t sure what they were thinking with this match.
The Best Of The ’80s
- In 1989, the AWA was looking for any way to generate revenue.
- Verne had a massive tape library and Eric thought it would be a cool idea to come up with a home video that was the best of the ’80s showcasing all the talent that had passed through the AWA. He was given permission to produce the tape as long as he could find a buyer
- Eric found a company in Toronto called Famous Players who used to be a theater chain and distribution company.
- He pitched the idea to Famous Players and signed a deal with them.
- Eric says he learned the most about the business while editing those tapes together because he got an opportunity to watch hundreds of hours of tape
Final Thoughts From Eric
- Even though Eric’s paychecks were coming later and later (and finally stopped), Eric stayed loyal to Verne because Verne never lied to Eric (unlike Paul Heyman who would lie to the boys about their paychecks in ECW). Verne was upfront with Eric. Additionally, they were friends and Eric was a loyal person.
- The WWF was advertising an announcer position in 1990. Eric got an interview and asked Verne for permission to go. He wanted to make sure Verne heard it from him.
- Eric didn’t get the job but a few years later he was running their competition.
- The AWA becomes inactive in the fall of 1990. Larry Zbyszko signed with WCW and in his final act, Verne stripped Zbyszko of the AWA title in December of 1990 and in 1991, Gagne officially files for bankruptcy which was the end of the AWA
- Eric was devastated for Verne. What people don’t know is that while Verne was funding the AWA using his property, he was also using it to fund a lawsuit against the state of Minnesota.
- Eric has two kids he is proud of today. Part of the reason they turned out the way they have is because of the experiences they’ve had as a result of Eric being in professional wrestling has made the healthy, well-rounded kids.
- When Eric looks at all the things he’s achieved, it hasn’t been just about his talent or hard work, it’s because of opportunities people have given him even for no reason. His life on the whole wouldn’t be what it is today if Verne hadn’t given Eric a chance to work with him.
Rating – 8.5/10
I was originally not going to listen to this podcast but I’m glad I did. It was an excellent podcast with a lot of great information about the AWA. I was 18 in this time period so i still remember a lot about what Eric was talking about. When he’s not ripping on Dave Meltzer or Wade Keller, Bischoff is funny and very knowledgeable. He’s also well spoken and was able to relay a lot of information concisely (which I’ll admit helps when trying to recap). Overall, lots of great historical information from someone who was there. If you only had time to listen to three podcasts this week, I’d recommend this as one of them.
Joe is a long time wrestling fan from Toronto. He is a co-host on the Pull Apart Podcast with Jeff Rush and Caitlin Lavelle as well as a contributor to www.pwpodcasts.com. One of his life goals is to be a guest host on one of Wade Keller’s post-show podcasts. He doesn’t consider himself any sort of expert, he just likes wrestling. Check him out on Twitter and Instagram @ja113.