awa wrestling

Rest in peace, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
[November 1st, 1944 - September 17th, 2017]

Ya listen to me, you’ll go to the top! You don’t listen to me, you’re never heard from again!

He was a pioneer of professional wrestling mouthpieces. He could do it all, from wrestling to managing to commentary to interviews and everything between. He took relatively unknown wrestlers and turned them into legendary fixtures in only a few minutes. He could turn a nation of millions on someone they loved simply by shaking their hand. Although it’s been a long time coming as he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2002, nobody expected the legend to go home, but as of September 17th, 2017, Bobby "The Brain” Heenan was taken from this world.

Although people generally despised Heenan, when the man spoke, the people listened. His one-liners were legendary, and his vouching for anyone meant that said wrestler was someone to keep an eye out for. Bobby Heenan began his career in wrestling in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1961, managing Angelo Poffo (father of Randy Savage and Lanny Poffo). As time went on, Heenan became a fixture that fans loved to hate in the AWA where he began managing Ray “The Crippler” Stevens and the legendary Nick Bockwinkel. During a feud with Dick The Bruiser, Heenan was insulted by The Bruiser and called a “weasel”, a nickname that would stick throughout the rest of his career. In 1975, Heenan managed Bockwinkel to his first AWA World Heavyweight Championship.

After leaving the AWA in 1984, Heenan traveled to New York City where he began working for the WWF. It was there that he managed Big John Studd, Ken Patera, Buddy Rose, Paul Orndorff, King Kong Bundy, The Brainbusters, Rick Rude, Harley Race, The Islanders, Hercules, The Barbarian, Mr. Perfect, The Brooklyn Brawler, and of course, Andre The Giant. Heenan led Andre to the ring in what may have been the most famous match of the 1980s at WrestleMania 3, where Andre was bodyslammed by Hulk Hogan.

When a professional wrestler aligned themselves with “The Brain”, their career took off, as the world’s greatest wrestling manager made them a star by talking them up while everyone else fought to get a word in edgewise. It was his career as a manager that made it so easy for “The Brain” to work as a commentator, teaming with Gorilla Monsoon in a beloved duo that fans adored. Heenan also worked as a commentator for WCW from 1994 until 2001.

Bobby had a certain air about him that fans loved to detest. When he stood from his chair at ringside, fans came alive to alert the ref that “The Brain” was about to cheat. When he would hear a smattering of fans chanting ‘Weasel! Weasel!’, Bobby would simply turn his head, and with that, the rest of the fans would join in, chanting against the manager. Bobby’s legacy stands as a personality that fans of all ages will remember forever, both as a manager and as a hero to so many wrestlers, commentators, and managers for years to come. With his family around him, Bobby passed away at the age of 73, and if the way that several wrestlers and wrestling fans are honoring him on social media is any indication, he’ll never, ever be forgotten.

Rest in peace, Bobby Heenan.

2

“There is always the ongoing argument as to who the greatest performer in the history of the business is and there will never be a definitive answer because the question is too subjective. However, for my money, as an in-ring talent, a manager, an interviewer, and a broadcaster NO ONE has done it all BETTER than Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. I can make a valid argument that Bobby Heenan is pro wrestling’s great performer.”
- Jim Ross

The truest tragedy of Luna Vachon
[1962-2010]

I get asked the question every once in a while, “Who are your favorite wrestlers of all-time?” When listing female wrestlers, by some terrible error, I always forget to mention one of the greatest grapplers and characters of all-time, and someone I truly loved and respected: the great Luna Vachon.

As a child, I was terrified of Luna. She had a presence and an aura about her that made her so unappealing to my tiny brain, and even today, I look back at her and wonder how anyone could be so dedicated to being truly vile. I have friends who knew her well, who said that outside the ring, she couldn’t have been a sweeter person. I find that very easy to believe. Unfortunately, despite Luna’s dedication to wrestling and her truly kind demeanor, Luna was laid to rest with several unfortunate demons.

In a shoot interview before her death, Luna claimed that all she wanted was to be the WWF Women’s Champion. It nearly happened, in 1995, as Madusa recently revealed that she had gone to bat for Luna to Vince McMahon himself and said that Luna deserved a run as the champion. McMahon denied the pitch, and Madusa went to Luna as the WWF Women’s Champion with an idea that she would stay down for a 3-count, forcing Luna to become the new champion. While Luna was moved to tears, she was never one to go into business for herself, and talked Madusa out of it. Years later, when Luna was feuding with Sable, the WWF Women’s Championship would resurface, and the plan from the get-go was to make Sable the champion. While this would undoubtedly be great for Sable’s many fans, it bothered Luna strongly, because all she ever wanted to be was a wrestler- THE wrestler. A champion wrestler, but sadly, Luna had to sit on the sidelines while Sable, and later Debra, carried the title.

Luna’s post-WWF career was anything but glorious, as she went through a very rough patch for several years. Luna’s former husband, Gangrel, divorced her in 2006, but the two remained close and Gangrel still recalls Luna with true fondness. In 2009, her house caught fire and destroyed every piece of wrestling memorabilia that Luna had collected through the years. Imagine what her closet and storage boxes must have held. In 2010, Luna was found dead by her mother, surrounded by crushed pills. She had died of a drug overdose. Luna recalled her career as being successful, having gotten the chance to meet children through the Make-A-Wish foundation and to help inspire wrestlers of the future. One of the wrestlers who Luna monitored closely was SmackDown Live superstar Natalya. While absolutely loved and respected by both fans and peers alike, Luna perhaps never knew the influence she had, and to this day, is not yet in the WWE Hall Of Fame.

I saw a lot of Bobby Heenan on TV as a kid. He was Hulk Hogan’s great antagonist during the WWF’s explosive period of popularity in the mid to late 1980s, and I was an enthusiastic little Hulkamaniac. I was way too young to appreciate Heenan’s “heel work” as that; I just knew I didn’t like him, because he was always trying to ruin things for the Hulkster.

I’ve come to appreciate him a lot more as an adult. Now that the Internet allows us access to unfathomable amounts of media, I’ve been able to go back and watch him in the AWA in the 1970s, his greatest years creatively, if not in terms of fame or money. 

They called Bockwinkel “Tricky Nick,” but Heenan was the perfect wrestling personality for the Nixon era. Heenan was the blustering Midwestern loudmouth, the guy in the expensive clothes that look cheap on him, the nobody bragging about how great he is one minute before switching to whining self-pity the next. He was all the anxieties and fears of the Silent Majority, wrapped up in their absurd suburban nightclub posturing, pathetically ordering us to call him “The Brain” when we could all see he was “The Weasel.” He was the sweating, bloviating tryhard who never got invited to the good parties, and who didn’t so much press his face up against the glass of polite society as complain to the doorman about what a bigshot he is. 

Postwar American society was cracking up in those years. The old virtues of hard work and playing by the rules didn’t seem to work anymore. The president, a crook, was chased out of office. Inflation went from 1.6 percent in 1970 to double digits. Cars idled in lines that snaked down streets, waiting for the chance to buy gas. People fled cities by the thousands. 

Verne Gagne, the unsullied hero who was the great foil to Heenan and Bockwinkel in those years, was the personification of that older America, all Boy Scout meetings and Fourth of July picnics and an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Heenan and Bockwinkel were young men who saw through all that, who disdained it as a sucker bet, and who adapted themselves to the morals of the day: they cut corners, they broke rules, they did whatever it took to win, because what else mattered?

Where Bockwinkel was suave and well-spoken, though, Heenan was indignant, a rushing river of incensed words, a gesticulating, emotionally transparent bully. Bockwinkel could have been a college dean, but Heenan was the incarnation of the low-level member of the alumni booster club who gets the team sanctioned by the NCAA. 

Verne, in other words, was what wrestling fans wanted to imagine themselves as, a role that would be taken over by Hulk Hogan in the 1980s, when that idealized self had drastically changed, the humble small-town lawman replaced by the Hollywood blockbuster superhero.

But through it all, Bobby Heenan was the same. He was never anyone’s ideal. He was, instead, what we really were, and what we desperately pretended not to be. No wonder we hated him so much.

There will, I think, never be another person in the world of professional wrestling who can do everything Heenan did as well as he did them. He’s the consensus choice for greatest manager of all time, while his stint as a color commentator - particularly the years he spent alongside long-suffering straight man, Gorilla Monsoon - is probably what he’s best known for today. But Heenan was also a hell of a wrestler who broke into the business when carny stunts like wrestling bears were still a common feature of the landscape. Long after his days as an active in-ring performer were over, Heenan would still take savage bumps for the good guys, when they finally caught him and gave him his comeuppance.

All these years later, I’ve grown largely indifferent to Hulk Hogan, and I can’t sit still through any of his 1980s WWF matches. But I watch lots of Bobby Heenan. How can I look away? He reminds me of who I am.

6

Wrestling Territories before Vince McMahon bought everyone out.  Look at all these.  The tape library will eventually be available on the WWE Network.

The territories were like mobs and unfortunately most of these went down due to a lack of financial forethought, terrible management, and refusal to push younger stars.

Ironically enough, Titan Sports (WWE) wasn’t highly regarded and was considered a small start up.  However, through luck and ruthless business, McMahon managed to reign supreme at the end.

6

I love that the WWE put a spotlight on this list of wrestling legends who were in attendance for Money In The Bank. These six men were among many who created a legacy in the American Wrestling Association (AWA), and between them, have amassed over 65 championships between them between well over 100 reigns!

AWA World Women’s Champion Madusa Miceli
[March 1988]

Despite the championship’s lineage dating back to 1958 and ending in 1991, the AWA World Women’s Championship only accumulated 17 reigns, several of which were multiple title holders. One of those was Madusa Miceli, who on December 27th, 1987, defeated Candi Devine for the championship, which was vacated by Sherri Martel as she had left the AWA for the WWF. Miceli held the championship for nearly a year, but her reign was cut short of such by Wendi Richter in November of 1988.