AWA has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve seen the limited amount of stuff from the WWE Classics channel and the stuff that’s been released onto DVD. If you know the right places to look online, there isn’t really much AWA to be had, with the exception of a few big shows here and there. I’ve reviewed some AWA shows from the mid-80s in the past and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen from them. For me, as a fan, it’s fun to see something from the mid-80s for the very first time, not knowing the outcome of anything. It’s as if I’m getting it beamed onto my TV on a 25-30 year delay (wow, the 80s were really that long ago?) As far as this compilation goes, when I first heard about this from fellow blog writer Geo, I became curious. Then, after seeing the match listings, I knew that I had to see this. When this came in the mail last week, I looked over the match listings once again. It was then that I decided there was too much good stuff on here to just keep my opinions to myself and that I had to share my reactions with you the reader. Like me, if most of the AWA is a mystery to you, then hopefully you’ll find this as a guide as what to check out and what to avoid. I hope as we go along, that you will enjoy this long 12-part journey back in time as much as me. Time now to jump into our DeLorian and travel back to the 80s for some AWA.
1. Lord Alfred Hayes vs. Bobby Heenan (1/13/80) – 5
2. Greg Gagne vs. Super Destroyer Mark II (5/1/80) – 4
3. Verne Gagne vs. Nick Bockwinkel (7/18/80) – 7
Ok, so kicking off our journey is a match between … two managers? Yep. Now, many may see this on paper and scoff but it a rather fun way to begin the journey. Both guys are more known to old WWF fans as announcers but you’ve really got to see this for Hayes’ forearms. They’re probably the meanest forearms this side of a drunken pub brawl. This was a showcase of Heenan’s bumping and selling and it was great. Damn, the chair shot Heenan doled out after the match was ill! Next match was joined about five minutes in and I liked the armwork by Destroyer. Hmmm, he sort of reminds me of a young Slaughter. Wait, yep, it’s Slaughter for sure. I can tell by the big bump he took over the top turnbuckle. Gagne seemed bland, like he’d rather be working 9 to 5 in an office somewhere instead of fighting for his life. However, on the contrary, his comeback was actually pretty fiery and he took a nice bump in the corner. Most of the match didn’t seem to click though. Verne and Bockwinkel was a clinic between two dudes who embody the AWA. One preconception would be that they would be just rolling around trading headlocks but that was not the case. Yes, there were holds and matwork but the holds weren’t kept on the perfect amount of time, long enough to due damage but not long enough to lose viewers interest. The pace worked very well as they would have a build to a nice bit of big activity and then simmer down right into working another body part. Mat work by both guys was really good but one big issue was that Gagne seemed rather rigid and bland. Guess it runs in the family.
4. Greg Gagne & Super Destroyer Mark II vs. Nick Bockwinkel & Bobby Heenan (10/3/80) – 4
5. Big John Studd & Jerry Blackwell vs. High Flyers (Greg Gagne & Jim Brunzell) (2/20/81) - 7
6. East-West Connection (Jesse Ventura & Adrian Adonis) vs. High Flyers (3/1/81) – 5
I’ll be honest here, these matches with Super Destroyer haven’t been all that great. Destroyer seemed to be pretty new to everything, like a puppy growing into his paws. Match seemed like it drug on forever. Gagne seemed really bland and was about as stonefaced as one of the Easter Island monuments. Heenan continued to impress with his wild bumping. Next match was just amazing! Blackwell, a big dude who’s probably an easy 450, attempted a huge standing dropkick. That’s pretty damn impressive. Blackwell was heavily pimped on the official podcast, so here’s hoping that he can show me something as I progress through this set. Studd came in, pissed as if someone had just stolen his new copy of Jimmy Buffet’s “Coconut Telegraph” album, and whipped ass on Gagne. Funny, never thought of Studd as a parrothead. Brunzell gets the hot tag and comes in gives Studd a fucking ATOMIC DROP but Studd responds with a sick front judo slam. Final segment boiled down to a street fight with all four guys throwing down. Gagne looked surprisingly motivated to beat ass. You MUST see this match! I’ve seen a limited amount of Ventura matches and haven’t been impressed. Wasn’t too high on this for the first ten minutes or so but after that, damn, this has been good with a hot crowd and some good back and forth. Adonis was the standout, busting Brunzell straight in the mouth with a dropkick and later on doing a crazy flip over the ropes that resulted in him doing the old Andre spot with his arms locked in the ropes. Gagne did a pretty awesome reversal of Ventura’s body lock by springing off the ropes and bridging into a pin. Sort of hard to explain but for a comparison watch the finish of the Bret Hart/Steve Austin match from the ’96 Survivor Series and you’ll get the general idea.
7. Nick Bockwinkel vs. Pat O'Connor (3/22/81) – 4
8. East-West Connection vs. High Flyers (Cage Match) (3/22/81) – 5
9. Nick Bockwinkel vs. Jim Brunzell (6/11/81) – 5
The only thing I remember Pat O’Connor for is the wacky tag team tournament named after him at Starrcade 1990. The match itself was joined in progress and there was only about five minutes presented. Even though O’Connor looked ancient he still threw some mean rights that rocked Bock. Some decent work here by Bock on defense but nothing to get overly excited about. Cage match was pretty brutal and I think the only guy in the cage who wasn’t bleeding was the referee. The heels did some pretty theatrical selling and Ventura took a big bump into the cage and fell backwards like he smashed into a brick wall a la Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci in Home Alone. Adonis doing a wild dive off the cage earned a bonus point but the action itself was better in the previous bout. Brunzell has been a pretty good surprise thus far on this set and the singles match with Bockwinkel was a nice, solid bout. Some great trickery by Bockwinkle stepping through the ropes, allowing Brunzell to loosen up the hold and then Bock just drops repetitive shots of Brunzell’s knee. The thing I like about Bockwinkel is that on promos he’s well-spoken, neat, and clean but in the ring don’t let up or he’ll beat the shit out of you. Referee was slow on counting. Not sure who was slower, him or Bronco Lubich. Some shitty looking dropkicks by Brunzell stood out at the end.
10. Adrian Adonis vs. Jim Brunzell (6/28/81) – 4
Matches being joined in progress seems to be norm in a lot of cases and this was no different. Watching this it became clear that this was a tale of two matches. First half featured some good but non-descript mat work from both guys. Adonis surprised me as I figured he would be more apt to brawl, seeing as he was the heel and all. Speaking of brawling, second half was made up of a lot of that. Both guys were throwing some wild haymakers and each got the chance to taste the timekeeper’s table at some point. The problem I had was that a lot of the second half was heavy on the overselling and felt more choreographed that a Three Stooges routine. Honestly, I was getting really bored by the end of this as it felt that the same things were just happening over and over. Punch, goofy sell, rinse, repeat. You get the idea.
11. Jerry Blackwell vs. Billy Robinson (12/3/81) – 4
Just under fifteen minutes in and it’s nothing but exchanging of holds on the mat. Okerlund was so bored on commentary that he started rattling off where he’d covered matches at over the past year. Robinson worked over Blackweel’s legs pretty well with some textbook mat work. Finally there’s some stand-up and Blackwell starts wailing on Robinson with headbutts to the mid-section and a standing dropkick. Robinson’s neckbreaker looked pretty brutal. Blackwell did some nice selling on Robinson’s punches, nothing to really get excited about nd cream your jeans over like some people online, but it looked good and I appluad him for it. For the most part though, both guys just seemed to be going through the motions.
12. Nick Bockwinkel vs. Billy Robinson (12/25/81) – 5
Two great mat workers here so this should be pretty good I hope. Robinson wasn’t messing around like he was in the Blackwell match, he knew he was in for a fight, especially from the wicked uppercut he destroyed Bockwinkel with early in the match. Big turn in the match where Robinson hurt his shoulder on some sort of arm drag type move and Bock zeroed in, mercilessly pounding it like a shark who smells blood. Robinson threw some nice chops and punches towards the end. I was about to say that I liked the finish with Robinson winning by dragging Bockwinkel over the ropes in the sleeper but then it was ruled that Bockwinkel somehow won even though it was never explained how that actually happened. Score would have been better if it hadn’t have had the strange ending.
13. Hulk Hogan, Buck Zumhoffe & Baron Von Raschke vs. Bobby Heenan, Ken Patera & Bobby Duncum (2/28/82) – 4
This is the match I’ve been looking forward to the most because the teams seem really odd and on paper it looked like a fun match. Zumhoffe and Lanny Poffo must have the same tailor because I swear I’ve seen Poffo sport those pale looking tights before. Hogan’s offense looked pretty reckless, just lobbing really dangerous forearms and elbows all over the place. Zumhoffe worked as the face in peril and looked more like science nerd in high school getting beat up for his lunch money by the jocks on the football team. Didn’t really see much from the heel team that stood out. Zumhoffe took a wild bump off the turnbuckle when he got shoved off by Heenan which lead to the pin. Post match brawl with Heenan bleeding buckets was rather fun.
14. Nick Bockwinkel vs. Hulk Hogan (4/18/82) – 6
A real big fight feel with this match. Here is Hogan, the up and coming challenger getting his first major shot at a world title going one-on-one with the crafty champion and AWA stalwart Nick Bockwinkel. One thing I have to mention is that normall I like Lee Marshall’s commentary but here, he just never shut up and called stuff way ahead of time, like Hogan ramming Bockwinkel into the buckles and then even called the three count before it happened. Unlike some of the recent stuff on here, this had more of a brawling aspect to it where there weren’t many rest holds used which meant the pace was fairly fast. So fast, in fact, that before I knew it, it was time for the finish, which was made to look as if Hogan won the title. However, Heean claimed the use of a foreign object allowing the decision to be overturned days later.
15. Jerry Blackwell & Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissie vs. High Flyers (Cage Match) (4/18/82) – 7
As I write this, it’s a week before Christmas and normally that’s a time for peace and joy. In this match though, there was no peace and joy. This had the feel of four shoppers hyped up on Thanksgiving leftovers fighting over the last flat-screen TV at Best Buy on Black Friday. Brunzell’s face was covered in blood and he looked like the victim of a slasher film. Blackwell threw some mean ham hocks for punches. Blackwell took a giant bump into the cage right towards the end that was one of the wildest cage bumps I’ve seen in a long time. Although the match was clipped, I have to score on what I saw and what I saw, I enjoyed the shit out of.
16. Tito Santana & Rick Martel vs. High Flyers (8/29/82) – 4
Strike Force … unite!! Oh, only about six years early on that. Seeing Tito in the AWA is almost as strange as when I saw him pop up recently in CHIKARA. Kinda noticing a pattern here in that a lot of these matches start out using a lot of good albeit non-descript mat work consisting of lots of chinlocks. Randy Orton would sure be proud. Gagne busted out something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, a bridging Indian deathlock. Nice work bro! There were some good nearfalls at the end and Brunzell hit a dropkick that nailed Tito right in the ear. However, nothing really save this from coming across to me as a pretty standard tag match.
Finally, I made it to the end of the first disc and what a ride it was. Took a while but it feels pretty rewarding to have knocked off this part. I’m not really a big fan of early 80’s AWA but there were a few gems here (Studd & Blackwell vs. High Flyers comes to mind) and a lot of stuff, while good, felt pretty bland. Gotta take the good with the bad I guess.