Throwback Thursday: AWA Championship Wrestling (Feb. 20, 1988), As Seen on WWE Network and Peacock

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This week Throwback Thursday takes an all too rare trip into the (extremely) thin archives of Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association on the WWE Network and Peacock to revisit a classic edition of AWA Championship Wrestling that aired 36 years ago this month!

 

At the start of 1988 Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association (AWA) was struggling to keep pace in the ever-changing, ever-expanding world of professional wrestling.

While some territory promoters, like Bill Watts and Fritz Von Erich, had (to their own detriment) been reluctant to tour outside of their established territory, Verne Gagne was not.

The addition of AWA programming to ESPN in the summer of 1985, combined with their syndication, afforded Gagne the opportunity to tour the AWA well beyond it’s typical boundaries for both TV tapings and big events.

Though Gagne may have been willing to expand and “go national”, Gagne was less than willing to change his key booking philosophies. AWA programming presented itself as real, legitimate competition, where technique and ability was valued over mere personality.

As the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) continued its unprecedented expansion, the rest of the industry struggled to adapt. The boom of 1980s was beginning to fizzle in the spring of ’88, leaving a slew of secondary promoters swimming in red ink.

With business declining and fans disappearing, Verne Gagne met with the Von Erichs (Dallas), Don Owen (Portland, Oregon), and Jerry Jarrett (Memphis) to float a “unified” venture that would allow everyone a share of the larger success.

Of those contacted, only Jerry Jarrett took the bait early on. Jarrett’s top star, Jerry “The King” Lawler, was set to begin a “unification” program with AWA World Champion Curt Hennig, with the winner touring both the Memphis and AWA territories, which would continue to run independent of the other.

Though the Von Erichs would eventually come on board, Jerry Jarrett agreeing to join forces with the AWA marked the beginning of the final, odd leg of the AWA’s incredible history.

On May 9, 1988, Jerry Lawler would dethrone Curt Hennig, unifying the AWA and Memphis World titles. The rest, as the saying goes, would be history.

 

 

The top story in the AWA the week this edition of Championship Wrestling aired was the war between Greg Gagne and Adrian Adonis over Gagne’s International TV title. Other stories included the World Tag Team Champions Midnight Rockers dominance of the tag team division and Curt Hennig’s long reign as AWA World Heavyweight Champion.

Now fire up the WWE Network on Peacock, hit ‘play’, and see how well this edition of AWA Championship Wrestling holds up 36 years later!

Edits are not a concern for this edition of AWA Championship Wrestling on the WWE Network and Peacock. Context, on the other hand, is atrocious. AWA content on the Network and Peacock is woefully lean, highlighting the early, pre-WWF careers of Hulk Hogan and the Midnight Rockers (Shawn Micheals & Marty Jannetty). Though illuminating, the pittance of footage currently available fails to represent the incredibly long and important history of the AWA as a promotion and its vital place in the history of American pro wrestling. What little has been uploaded, though, is available for you to enjoy on the WWE Network and Peacock right now.

 

AWA Championship Wrestling (WATCH)
Date: February 20, 1988 (TAPED: Late January 1988) – Location: Minot Municipal Auditorium, Minot, North Dakota
Attendance: N/A – TV Ratings: N/A
Commentators: Ron Trongard, Donna Gagne, & Ray Stevens – Interviews: Larry Nelson

IN POP CULTURE:
Number One Song: “Seasons Change” (Expose)
Number One Album: Faith (George Michael)
Number One on Television: 1988 Winter Olympics (Tuesday night coverage, NBC)
Number One Film in Theaters: Good Morning Vietnam (Robin Williams & Forest Whitaker)
U.S. President & Vice President: Ronald Reagan & George H.W. Bush

CHAMPIONS AT THE TIME:
AWA World Heavyweight Champion: Curt Hennig (May 2, 1987, AWA SuperClash II, from Nick Bockwinkel)
AWA World Women’s Champion: Madusa Miceli (December 27, 1987, AWA Championship Wrestling, defeating Candi Devine to win the vacant World Women’s title; the Women’s title was vacated after then-World Women’s Champion Sherri Martel quit the AWA to join the WWF)
AWA World Light Heavyweight Champion: Mike Graham (December 13, 1988, Chicago, Illinois; unfortunately records for this portion of the Light Heavyweight title’s history are scarce; no information available at this time indicates how, nor whom, Graham defeated to win the vacant Light Heavyweight title; the title was vacated after Buck Zumhofe was convicted of sexual assault)
AWA International Television Champion: Greg Gagne (December 27, 1987, AWA Championship Wrestling, defeating Adrian Adonis in the finals of a tournament to become the inaugural Champion; records are incomplete for this period of time, with no information presently available regarding the length or nature of the tournament or if, in fact, there ever was a tournament)
AWA World Tag Team Champions: The Midnight Rockers (Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty) (December 27, 1987, AWA Championship Wrestling, from the Midnight Express (Dennis Condrey & Randy Rose); the Midnight Express had actually won the title bout with the Midnight Rockers on December 27, 1988, before a pay dispute between Verne Gagne and Dennis Condrey led Condrey to leave the AWA in late January 1988; in response the AWA stripped the Midnight Express of the the belts on January 24, 1988, and awarded them to the Rockers, whom AWA President Stanley Blackburn said had actually won the December 27, 1987, match upon review, with the Rockers reign retroactively starting on December 27, 1987; at this time, noting the odd independence of Memphis to the AWA, the World Tag titles were vacant in Memphis after a disputed finish to a February 15, 1988, bout between the Midnight Rockers and the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express (Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson); the Midnight Express would win the rematch with the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express on February 22, 1988, to regain the titles in Memphis; the vacancy and the Midnight Express regaining the titles would never be recognized by the AWA)

 

Following the standard AWA Championship Wrestling open we head inside the AWA studios where Larry Nelson welcomes us to the show.

Larry hypes this week’s main event, an AWA World Heavyweight title bout between World Champion Curt Hennig and “Mr. Magnificent” Kevin Kelly (the future “Nailz”). Nelson discusses how “wearing” Curt Hennig’s schedule has been, theorizing that this title defense against a young, “mean”, and “hungry” Kevin Kelly could spell “the end” for Curt Hennig’s World title run.

Nelson runs down the rest of the card, including a replay of last week’s main event (in case anyone missed it) and hypes a salute to this week’s “fan of the week” before tossing to the ring for this week’s opening contest.

 

—Singles Match (1:33)
Ricky Rice vs. “Ace” Bob Orton

Bob Orton tries to impose his will on Ricky Rice from the get-go but Rice refuses to be manhandled. Rice manages to stifle and frustrate Orton throughout much of this brief encounter.

In the end, after Rice drives Orton over the top rope with a dropkick, Orton loses his cool. Orton knees Rice in the gut and hurls Rice to the floor before Orton dives off the top rope with a double axe handle to Rice on the floor for the automatic DQ at 2:42.

WINNER is Ricky Rice (Disqualification, 2:42)

 

As the bell rings Bob Orton continues the assault on Rice. Back in the ring Orton hits the superplex for a mock cover. Orton puts the boots to Rice and tosses the referees from the ring before landing a crushing piledriver on Rice.

Orton celebrates his handiwork as a pair of wrestlers come to Rice’s aid. Orton waylays one of the arriving wrestlers before fleeing from the ring to a chorus of boos from the fans.

As Rice is helped to his feet and out of the ring Ron Trongard tosses to a replay of the post-match piledriver before we head to the first Peacock ad-break of the hour.

 

Coming out of the break we return to the AWA studios where Larry Nelson puts a cap on the Orton/Rice story before setting up and tossing to footage of last week’s Adrian Adonis/Greg Gagne International TV title bout which, Nelson reminds us, Bob Orton played a major role in.

 

—AWA International Television Championship – JIP (8:05)
“Adorable” Adrian Adonis w/Bob Orton vs. Greg Gagne(c)

We join this footage at the finish as Gagne escapes Adonis’ sleeper hold and sends Adrian into the corner, a la Ray Stevens. Gagne makes a furious comeback, trapping Adonis in his own sleeper hold.

Adonis escapes the hold by whipping Gagne through the ropes to the floor where Bob Orton is waiting to pepper Orton with punches. Adrian heads to the floor as Orton argues with the referee and looks poised to post Gagne when Gagne reverses it, sending Adrian into the post instead.

The referee, in the ring, just so happens to see Gagne post Adonis and disqualifies Gagne, giving Adrian the win but not the TV title belt.

WINNER is (Disqualification, 1:20, JIP time )

 

Following the match Adonis stays at ringside, expecting to be handed the TV title. The referee returns the strap to Gagne while declaring Adonis the winner, angering an exhausted Gagne.

Orton, in the ring, argues with the referee before stealing the TV title belt and giving it to Adonis, who flees from the arena with Orton.

We then cut back to the AWA studios where Larry Nelson informs us that Gagne’s Television title belt was take away from Adonis by “the promoters” and returned to Gagne.

Nelson gives a quick plug for the AWA World title main event to come before tossing to the next Peacock ad-break.

 

—AWA World Tag Team Championship (12:11)
Mike Smith & Mark Wagner vs. The Midnight Rockers (Marty Jannetty & Shawn Micheals)(c)

This World Tag Team title bout match is a squash, with Michaels and Jannetty beating the bejabbers out of Wagner before the much larger Mike Smith tags in.

Despite Mike Smith’s size the Rockers easily control the action. Soon enough Wagner tags back in but the end is nigh. After a double boot the Rockers land the double DDT on Wagner for the 1-2-3 at 2:33.

WINNERS and STILL AWA World Tag Team Champions, The Midnight Rockers (Marty Jannetty & Shawn Micheals) (Pin, 2:33)

 

After the match Smith & Wagner take the long walk home as we see a replay of the double kick/double DDT finish. We then head back to Larry Nelson in the AWA studios for an interview with World Tag Team Champion Shawn Micheals.

After noting how long it’s been since either he or Jannetty have been able to speak to the fans on TV, Shawn Michaels runs down the list of teams gunning for the Rockers and their World Tag Team titles.

The Midnight Rockers have been the World Tag Team Champions twice, Michaels says, and have only been beaten once in the last two years. That makes the Midnight Rockers a pretty good team with an impressive record, Michaels says.

So anybody who’s looking for the Rockers knows where to find them, Micheals says, and that’s at the top of the heap in the AWA Tag Team division. Michaels then runs down the Rockers upcoming challenges and schedule, challenging any team in wrestling.

“The Midnight Rockers aren’t a couple of kids anymore,” Michaels says. “What they are is World Tag Team Champions!”

 

Micheals takes off and Larry Nelson tries to wrap the interview when Soldat Ustinov crashes the set. Soldat shouts about Michaels claiming that Ustinov doesn’t have a partner (something Michaels never actually said) when Soldat has Adnan Al-Kaissie by his side.

Ustinov shouts about he and Adnan being the number one contenders for the AWA World Tag Team titles when Larry Nelson abruptly calls an end to the segment, sending us to the next Peacock ad-break.

 

—Singles Match (18:19)
Daryl Olson vs. Soldat Ustinov w/Adnan Al-Kaissie

This one is another squash match. Though Olson has his few (fleeting) moments the match is all Ustinov. Ustinov pounds on Olson, tossing Olson around the ring, before cinching in the Canadian backbreaker for the submission win at 1:54.

WINNER is Soldat Ustinov w/Adnan Al-Kaissie (Submission, 1:54)

 

Following the match the Russians celebrate their win before Ustinov & Al-Kaissie put the boots to Olson. As the pair depart and Olson makes his way from the ring we see a replay of the Canadian backbreaker finish and head to the next Peacock ad-break.

 

—Singles Match (23:20)
Jim Thomas vs. “Chief” Wahoo McDaniel

This is, as one may suspect, yet another squash match. Wahoo has the edge early on, driving Thomas to the floor. Back in the ring Thomas looks to make nice with Wahoo before slapping Wahoo in the mouth and fleeing, again, to the floor.

Once Wahoo gets Thomas back in the ring, though, it’s all over. Wahoo backs Thomas into the ropes and delivers a number of stiff chops before sending Thomas into the ropes for the final, cracking tomahawk chop for the pinfall at 2:41.

WINNER is “Chief” Wahoo McDaniel (Pin, 2:41)

 

Following the match Wahoo celebrates his win as Thomas catches his breath. After a slow-motion replay of the tomahawk chop finish we head to the next Peacock ad-break.

After the break, in the AWA studios, Larry Nelson hypes the forthcoming Hennig/Kelly World title bout before bringing in AWA World Women’s Champion Madusa Miceli and “Mr. Magnificent” Kevin Kelly himself for a pre-match interview.

After a twirl for the camera, Madusa says that there is no doubt in her mind that her man, “Mr. Magnificent”, will dethrone Curt Hennig to win the AWA World Heavyweight title.

Kevin Kelly says it’s “about time” he got a World title shot, seeing as he’s been “beatin’ people up” for over a year. There’s no place for Hennig to hide, Kelly says. Kelly has been training and is in the “best shape” of his life.

Kelly, he says, has been thinking about Curt Hennig “day and night”, that he can’t sleep. All “Magnificent” can think about is Hennig and the AWA World Heavyweight title.

Later today, Kevin Kelly says, we’re going to see him dethrone Curt Hennig and go on to take all of the World title defenses that Hennig would have had because ’88 is Kelly’s year. Madusa will reign as the Women’s World Champion while “Mr. Magnificent” rules as the World Heavyweight Champion.

Kelly says fans are going to see the match of their lives tonight as he breathlessly rants about having everything he needs. As Kelly rants Larry Nelson jumps in to call time, which does nothing but enrage “Mr. Magnificent”. As Kelly shouts we jump to our next Peacock ad-break.

 

—AWA World Heavyweight Championship (28:04)
“Mr. Magnificent” Kevin Kelly w/AWA World Women’s Champion Madusa Miceli vs. Curt Hennig(c)

The fans are far more interested in Madusa Miceli at ringside than they are the match in question, at least in the opening moments. After a handshake Kevin Kelly begins to impose his will on Hennig.

The fans are solidly behind Kevin Kelly & Madusa as Kelly gets the better of a game Curt Hennig to start. Hennig, on the floor, slows down the pace, frustrating Kelly. Back in the ring Kelly goes after Hennig’s knee, sending Hennig to the floor yet again.

Soon enough Hennig turns the table, going after Kelly’s knee, including wrapping Kelly’ knee around the ring post. Hennig eventually cinches in an inverted Indian death lock that gets broken when the referee catches Hennig using the ropes.

The two trade shots in the center of the ring, with Kelly getting the better of Hennig. Kelly hits the big running powerslam but Hennig kicks out. Kelly lifts Hennig for a second slam but Hennig grabs hold of the top rope.

When the referee kicks Hennig’s hands off the top rope Hennig falls back on top of Kelly to score the flash three-count at 10:32 to retain the AWA World Heavyweight Championship.

WINNER and STILL AWA World Heavyweight Champion, Curt Hennig (Pin, 10:32)

 

After the match an irate Kevin Kelly goes after Hennig, tossing Hennig over the top rope to the floor. The referee goes to Hennig but Kelly tosses Hennig back into the ring before posing with the AWA World title belt.

Kelly drops the title on Hennig, telling Hennig “next time”. Kelly poses in the ring as Hennig stumbles, looking like the defeated man, to the back.

Madusa and Kelly continue to pose as we head to our final Peacock ad-break.

 

Coming out of the break we again return to the AWA studios where Larry Nelson brings in former U.S. & World Tag Team Champion Red Bastien (whose ref bump is the stuff of legend) to get Bastien’s thoughts on Curt Hennig.

Red Bastien notes the wrestling family Hennig comes from and says that Hennig will be a “force to be reckoned with” and will not be dethroned easily.

Though Bastien is in fine shape he says he would not get in the ring with Hennig. Training today is far different than his day, Red says, and that the athletes of today are better than yesteryear.

Nelson pushes back on that idea, listing a slew of AWA greats. Bastien sticks to his guns, however, noting the nutritional programs and the new ways of training. The wrestlers of today, Bastien says, are “bigger”, “stronger”, and “faster”; “what do you want?”

Nelson says he wants Bastien & Pepper Gomez to challenge the Midnight Rockers for the AWA World Tag Team titles, that’s what Nelson wants. Bastien admits, with a smile, that he had a hot team with Gomez, but will leave it in Gomez’s hands about challenging the Champions.

Nelson shakes Bastien’s hand and wraps the interview before this week’s edition of Championship Wrestling comes to an abrupt end.

 

Final Thoughts

This is a fine, fast-paced, exciting edition of AWA Championship Wrestling, which Throwback readers know isn’t always the case.

The action and promos are all great, especially the show-closing Red Bastien interview, but the World title match (despite its sloppy nature) is the match of the hour.

So if you’re looking for some great old-school rasslin’ and promos, this hour of AWA Championship Wrestling is just what the doctor ordered.

If you haven’t seen it, or even if it’s been a minute, you won’t regret going out of your way to seek this show out on the WWE Network on Peacock! Who knows, you may end up liking it, and that’s never a bad thing!

Already subscribed to the WWE Network on Peacock? Then you can relive this classic edition of AWA Championship Wrestling right now or experience it for the very first time! As always, let us know what you think in the comments section below!

For pre-WNN editions of Throwback Thursday, click here!

 

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