My only memories of the AWA were limited to month-old ESPN programs we would get on TSN (The Sports Network) beginning in 1989 or so.
The promotion had clearly fizzled out by then, consisting mainly of old-timers who felt loyalty to Verne Gagne and newcomers who hadn’t yet caught a break with the WWF or WCW.
I remember one show in particular, where Harley Race had come in to take on then-champion Larry Zybysko, and as Harley walked to the ring, a fan shouted, quite audibly, “Yeah, they took your crown away in the WWF and now you’re nothing!” Yet the AWA never felt the need to edit that stuff out!
This DVD (produced by WWE, natch) attempts to show why the AWA was such a powerful force in wrestling in its heyday. It’s hard to believe, but there was a time where the AWA World Title was higher up on the totem pole than the WWF championship, and that their shows in Minneapolis and St. Paul would be legitimate sellouts.
The story features interviews with people you wouldn’t necessarily expect on a WWE release, namely Verne Gagne, Greg Gagne, Nick Bockwinkel, Jim Brunzell and Baron Von Raschke, as well as WWE’s two DVD go-to guys: Eric Bischoff and Jim Ross. Shockingly, Bischoff isn’t blamed for the downfall of the AWA, though I'll bet they tried hard to pin it on him.
During the AWA’s heyday in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, the promotion was often a hot ticket in Minneapolis as well as contiguous cities. The stars they produced -- either through Gagne’s training camp or simply by wrestling in the promotion – are a long list of major stars, including Hulk Hogan, Curt Hennig, The Road Warriors, Ken Patera, Larry Zybysko, Nick Bockwinkel, Jesse Ventura, Adrian Adonis, Bobby Heenan, Gene Okerlund, The Fabulous Freebirds, Sgt. Slaughter, Shawn Michaels, Marty Jannetty and many more.
As time goes on, though, the AWA faced two major problems: Gagne refused to keep up with the times as the business changed, and (according to WWE, anyways) Vince McMahon kept taking their decent wrestlers.
While Vince eventually says that he didn’t single-handedly kill the AWA, that’s clearly the message he wants you to be left with. That, plus both Gagne men keep bitching about how Vince drove them out of business.
The extras are plentiful: more than a dozen behind-the-scenes stories from Brunzell, Michael Hayes, Greg Gagne, Bischoff and Bockwinkel, plus an entire disc featuring 13 “classic” AWA matches. Only a few of them really held my interest, including a great match between Bockwinkel and Hennig, and The Midnight Rockers against Buddy Rose and Doug Somers.
Many others, though, because of numerous restholds, shoddy camera work and a slower pace, prompted me to press the “skip” button on my remote.
I’ll admit: a lot of my feelings for this disc are marred by the fact that I was never an AWA fan. So it could very well be a “Rise and Fall of ECW” for fans of that era, though it didn’t hit home for me.
If you were a fan of the promotion, though, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t want to check it out.