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AWA 1989: A Financial Savior Is (Badly) Needed

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Long time no posting!


Due to the unforeseen pandemic, I lost my ability to post my AWA diary for several months.


I'm looking to have this back up and running within the next few weeks on at least a semi-regular basis.


If you've forgotten where we were in the diary or are a new reader, please click on the link below to see where we stand right now:



Edited by piperrulz
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<p><em><span style="color:#FF0000;">First order of official business!</span></em></p><p><em><span style="color:#FF0000;"> </span></em></p><p><em><span style="color:#FF0000;">

I'm bringing it back!</span></em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong><span style="color:#000080;">AWA VIDEO OF THE WEEK:</span></strong></p><p> </p><p>

From 1981: Nick Bockwinkel vs. Tito Santana (Good ending!)</p><p> </p><p>


</p><div class="ipsEmbeddedVideo"><div><iframe width="200" height="150" src="https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/baNfK_NSb_E?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="" title="Nick Bockwinkel vs Tito Santana (03/01/1981)"></iframe></div></div><p> </p><p>

<strong>ENJOY!</strong> <img alt=":)" data-src="//content.invisioncic.com/g322608/emoticons/smile.png.142cfa0a1cd2925c0463c1d00f499df2.png" src="<___base_url___>/applications/core/interface/js/spacer.png" /></p>

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  • 2 weeks later...

<p><span style="font-size:14px;"><strong>SPRING 1989</strong></span></p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"> </span></p><p><span style="font-size:14px;">

</span><span style="font-size:14px;"><strong><span style="text-decoration:underline;">AWA HEADQUARTERS - ST. LOUIS PARK, MN</span></strong></span></p><p> </p><p>

It was nearing 5pm CST and Verne Gagne was still sitting at his desk after chatting with Jerry Lawler an hour earlier about returning to the AWA in an attempt to revive interest in the sinking promotion. The offices were about to close for the day.</p><p> </p><p>

Verne sat thinking about different financial offers he could make to lure Lawler back when Verne was notified by his secretary that his son Greg, who had left the offices earlier in the day, was on line one.</p><p> </p><p>

Verne picked up the phone.</p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Verne:</strong> <em>Hey, son. What is it?</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Greg:</strong> <em>Dad, I just talked to Al (DeRusha - AWA TV Producer) a few minutes ago and he came up with an interesting idea. </em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Verne:</strong> <em>I talked to Lawler about an hour ago. We had a good conversation. I'm trying to formulate a money offer to bring him back and work that program with Sarge I mentioned to you guys earlier this morning.</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Greg:</strong> <em>This has to do with that, dad. You want Lawler to come back and claim to be the real AWA World Champion since he never actually lost the title.</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Verne:</strong> <em>Right.</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Greg:</strong> <em>Well, Stan Hansen never lost the AWA strap, either.</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Verne:</strong> <em>Go on.</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Greg:</strong> <em>Al's idea is to try and bring back Hansen and throw him into the mix and you'd have all three men laying a claim to being the real AWA Champ.</em></p><p> </p><p>

Verne paused.</p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Greg:</strong> <em>Dad?</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Verne:</strong> <em>I'm thinking. The problem with Hansen is that he left here almost three years ago. The Lawler situation with the belt occurred just a few months ago. I wonder if the fans would be interested in Hansen returning and saying he's the real World Champion after all that time.</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Greg:</strong> <em>Well, he never lost the belt. He still has name value. He's in Hogan's new movie </em><em><em><span style="color:#FF0000;">No Holds Barred</span></em></em><em>. The timing could not be better! Just think about it, dad. It could create a real interesting situation and gets wrestling fans talking about the AWA again.</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Verne:</strong> <em>I dunno...</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Greg:</strong> <em>Sleep on it. Don't make a hasty decision. Three men all laying claim to a World Title. The possibilities of where to take this are endless.</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Verne (sighs):</strong> <em>Well, I'll think about it. But I am not guaranteeing anything.</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Greg:</strong> <em>That's all that can be asked. Al just pitched it to me and I really liked the idea.</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Verne:</strong> <em>OK. I'll talk with you about it tomorrow.</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Greg:</strong> <em>Alright, dad. Bye.</em></p><p> </p><p>

<strong>Verne:</strong> <em>Bye, son.</em></p><p> </p><p>

Verne hung up the phone. His secretary called over the intercom to tell Verne she was leaving for the day. Verne wished her safe travel home.</p><p> </p><p>

A potential new, unexpected and intriguing saga had emerged involving the AWA World Title. </p><p> </p><p>

Which way would Verne go now?</p><p> </p><p>

<strong><span style="font-size:14px;">TO BE CONTINUED...</span></strong></p>

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It had been 10 minutes since Verne Gagne talked with son Greg about TV producer Al DeRusha's idea to bring back Stan Hansen and create a three-way claim to being the real AWA World Champion.


Verne was mulling over the idea and then picked up his office phone and dialed the number.


After three rings...


Male Voice: Hello.


Verne: Jerry?


Lawler: Verne?


Verne: It's me.


Lawler: That was fast. I thought I'd be waiting a little longer for your call.


Verne: Jerry, something's come up.


Lawler: What do you mean?


Verne: A new idea was pitched to me...


Lawler: Am I involved in this new idea?


Verne: Of course! It's still along the lines of who's the real AWA World Champion.


Lawler: What is it?


Verne: The idea presented to me was to bring back Stan Hansen and then all three of you stake your claim to being the real World Champion.


Lawler: Sounds interesting. But Stan left on bad terms, didn't he? And that was, when, '86? Lot of time between now and then.


Verne: I know. But I'm gonna call him in the next few days here to gauge his interest in coming back and working limited dates.


Lawler: And my money? What are you thinking along that line?


Verne: I've been thinking about it. Running some numbers around in my head.


Lawler: But you're gonna need extra time to give me the financials because of this new idea for the angle.


Verne: That's right, Jerry. I know...


Lawler: I'm willing to wait a few days, Verne. You contact Hansen and see if it's doable and then get back to me and let me know the money deal you and I are looking at.


Verne: Thanks, Jerry.


Lawler: No problem. Keep me updated.


Verne: OK.


Lawler: Bye, Verne.


Verne: Bye, Jerry.


Verne hung up the phone and turned in his swivel chair and looked out the window in his office. He was in deep thought.


The fate of the AWA may hang in the balance on this one program.


If only Verne can pull it off...



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The day after Verne Gagne talked with Jerry Lawler and son Greg about the possibility of bringing in Stan Hansen to work a program with Jerry Lawler and Sgt. Slaughter to determine who the real AWA World Champion is, Verne sat at his office desk and thought some more about bringing in Hansen.


Verne was thinking about what he would pay Hansen if Hansen agreed to come back; what to pay Lawler to return to work the program; and whom to put over in the program.


For the record:


Lawler was stripped of the AWA World Title not long after winning an AWA/WCCW World Title Unification match against Kerry Von Erich at the Super Clash 3 PPV. Lawler refused to show up for title defenses until Verne paid him the money he was owed for working the PPV match.


In 1986, the night after an AWA special on ESPN from Oakland where Hansen defended the belt against Jerry Blackwell in a bloody battle*, Hansen was stripped of the AWA World Title at the house show in Denver after refusing to drop it to Nick Bockwinkel there.


Hansen was scheduled to go on a tour of All-Japan Pro Wrestling after the show in Denver and was being billed in the Land of the Rising Sun as the defending AWA World Champion. Before Hansen was stripped, he told Verne Gagne that he had to place a call to Shoei ('Giant') Baba, the boss of All-Japan, to see if he could come in minus the belt. When Baba told him he had to show up as the champion, Hansen simply absconded with the belt and went to All-Japan falsely advertised as the AWA World Champion and defended the belt there.


Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! Wrestling before the internet!


Eventually, Verne and Hansen's relationship deteriorated even further with Verne threatening Hansen with legal action if Hansen did not stop falsely billing himself as the AWA World Champ and defending the title. Hansen responded by backing over the big silver belt and mailing it back to Verne with a huge crimp in the middle of it, forcing the AWA to make a new men's strap.


Bad blood boiled over between the two.


Now Verne was about to reach out to Hansen for the first time since that all went down.




(* Hansen's last official AWA World Title defense:

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  • 3 weeks later...





Verne Gagne wondered if he still had Hansen's number on file as he flipped through his Rolodex.


Luckily, Stan's number was still in there.


Verne picked up the phone and dialed the number of the Texas residence of Stan Hansen.


The phone rang twice before someone picked it up.


Male Voice: Hello.


Verne: Stan?


Male Voice: Yes it is. Wait! Is this Verne Gagne?


Verne: Yes, Stan, it's me. How are you doing?


Brief, uneasy silence.


Hansen: I'm doing fine, Verne. Things are going well for me. From what I understand, however, things aren't going real good for the AWA right now.


Verne: That's right. The AWA is struggling. And that's why I've called you.


Hansen: What do you need?


Verne: I'm hoping we can talk about having you come back and work limited dates for the AWA at some point down the road.


Hansen: Come back? You sure? After the way things ended between us the last time?


Verne: I've got a couple of ideas I'm kicking around involving the AWA World Title and I'd like you to come back and be part of the angle.


Hansen: Bob's* the current champ, right?


(* Robert Remus, aka, Sgt. Slaughter.)


Verne: That's right.


But neither you nor Jerry Lawler actually lost the AWA strap. I've been talking with Lawler and he's interested in coming back and working a program with Sarge. Lawler would show up and claimed he never lost the AWA World Title and that he's the real AWA Champ.


Hansen: And then I'd come in claiming to be the real champion since I never actually lost the belt, either.


Verne: That's it, Stan.


Hansen: How would this all work?


Verne: I'm working on it. The key is putting together deals for you and Lawler to work limited dates for us.


Hansen: Well, I'm going to Japan for a 12-week tour starting in mid-May. I'll be back in August.


Verne: I understand that. The timing could not be better.


Stan, you've given me the idea to run with on this.


Hansen: Details?


Verne: I'll lay the financial and program details out for you and Lawler in a few days.


Hansen: I'm always willing to put differences aside if there's possible money to be made.


Verne: Stan, you were the last World Champion I had who drew money. I made a mistake stripping you of the belt back then. Should have let you take it on that tour of Japan with no problems whatever and then let you return here as the champion.


Hansen rolled his eyes. He was used to promoter bullshit speak.


Hansen: If you can put together something viable I'll listen. But if I'm screwed on my pay at any time then I'm out. Am I clear?


Verne gritted his teeth for a second, mouthed the word 'f**k' and then spoke.


Verne: Loud and clear.


Hansen: Get back to me soon. Let's see if we can get a deal done.


Verne: Good. Talk with you then, Stan.


Hansen: Later, Verne.


Verne hung up the phone. He sat and thought for a moment and then grabbed his pen and pad of paper and started writing quickly.


What is the idea Verne has for a program between Sarge, Lawler and Hansen revolving around the AWA gold?


And will it help turn the company's fortunes around???



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It was the day after Verne talked to Stan Hansen...


The AWA boss had managed to cobble together a money plan in an effort to bring back Jerry Lawler to work limited dates in a World Title program with Sgt. Slaughter.


Verne had also laid out a program involving Sarge, Lawler and Hansen to decide who the real AWA World Champion was once and for all.


Verne picked up the phone and dialed Lawler's home number.


After three rings...


Paula Lawler: Lawler residence.


Verne: Paula? Hi. This is Verne Gagne.


Paula: Oh. Hi, Verne. Let me get Jerry.


Verne: Thanks.


Paula put down the phone.


Verne looked over his financials for 'The King' as he waited for Jerry to come to the phone.


Jerry picked up.


Lawler: Hey, Verne.


Verne: Hello. Jerry, I've got a program laid out as well as a money offer for you. I want to present my program idea before we get into money.


Lawler: Shoot.


Verne: I talked with Stan yesterday and he is on board with the idea. He's about to go on a tour of Japan and return to the U.S. in late summer.


Lawler: Are we gonna wait until the fall then?


Verne: No. Here's what we're gonna do.


I'm going to fly you in to the next ESPN tapings in Vegas. Sarge will have a successful title defense against an opponent I have yet to determine. After Sarge dispatches of his opponent, we will have a post-match interview in the ring and, while that's going on, you will come through the crowd with the AWA strap you won at Super Clash and you will confront Sarge over who the real AWA World Champion is.


Lawler: Will the angle get physical?


Verne: On one or two occasions, yes. But I basically want to keep you guys from touching each other before you make the house show rounds. Just whet the appetite of the fans. The house show matches between you and Sarge to determine who the real AWA Champion is will all end in a schmozz* and finally be decided at Super Clash 4.


(* Schmozz - match that ends with no clear winner.)


Lawler: Any idea on where Super Clash will take place?


Verne: I'm looking at three sites: Vegas, Milwaukee and Denver.


Lawler: You're not gonna hold it at the Showboat if you choose Vegas, are you?


Verne: No. I'm looking at the Thomas & Mack Center or Sam Boyd Stadium. But what's wrong with the 'Boat?


Lawler: Verne, the Thomas & Mack and Sam Boyd are big buildings and the AWA is in rough shape right now.


As for the Showboat Sports Pavilion, it just doesn't seem like a place to hold a major show.


Verne: We'd scale down the seating capacity at either building. If we could fill the lower bowl at the Thomas & Mack or the end zone seats at Sam Boyd it would be a major success.


Lawler: I assume the ring would be in the end zone at Sam Boyd?


Verne: Of course. Only one end zone there has seats if I recall.


But back to the program between you and Sarge. I haven't made up my mind who would go over yet. But, after the match, we would have Hansen show up and attack the winner setting up a new title unification program.


Lawler: Sounds good if we can make it work.


Verne: It has to work, Jerry. This is what could make or break the AWA.


I'm betting the house on this.


Lawler: Can we talk money now?


Verne: Sure.


Lawler: Before you tell me your offer, Verne, I was hoping I could lay a deal on the table that I came up with.


Verne: Sure.


Verne's stomach tightened as he awaited Lawler's offer.


Lawler: I want $8,000 guaranteed up front. I need that financial assurance. Plus, I want a minimum of $500 or 8% of the gate, whichever is higher, for house shows. For TV's, I 5% of the house for the ESPN tapings in Vegas and $300 for the syndicated tapings.


Verne gritted his teeth and was clearly not happy.


Lawler: Your offer, Verne?


Verne: You caught me off-guard there, Jerry. Especially with the guarantee. We're gonna need to negotiate here.


Lawler: I'm open. Let's get this done.


Verne: Give me a minute.


Silence as Verne scrambled to come up with a new idea that was feasible but Lawler wouldn't turn down.


After a couple of minutes...


Lawler: Verne?


Verne: Still working on it.


After a couple more minutes...


Verne: Here's my counter: $5,000 guaranteed up front. I'll stick with the $500 dollar minimum for house shows but I'll counter with 5% of the gate if it's higher. I'll counter with 3% of the Vegas tapings gates and stick with your request of $300 dollars for syndication TVs.


Lawler: Let me see here.


So, 5% if it's higher than the minimum on the house shows and 3% of the house at the Vegas TV's?


Verne: That's right.




Lawler: OK.


I'll counter with 6% percent of the gate for the house shows and 4% of the gate for Vegas tapings or any other AWA-sanctioned show that I appear on on ESPN that's not a special event like Super Clash.


Verne: Can we discuss a Super Clash 4 money deal in a few weeks?


Lawler: I'm open to that.


Verne: As for the current deal, you'll take the $5 grand up front guarantee?


Lawler: Yes.


Verne: Just wanted clarity on that.


I'll go with 6% on the houses but I'm going to hold the line at 3% for the Vegas or other ESPN-related tapings that are not special events.


Have we got a deal?


Lawler pondered the deal for a moment.


Verne: It's a fair deal, Jerry.


Brief pause.


Lawler: I'll accept on one condition.


Verne: What's that?


Lawler: I have your word that I can break the deal at any time if a payment is missed.


Verne paused and was clearly not happy with this turn of events.


Verne (reluctance in his voice): Deal.


Lawler: Great!


Verne: I'll get back to you with more details soon.


Lawler: OK, Verne. Talk with you then.


Verne: Take care, King.


Verne hung up the phone. He was happy a deal got done, but he was also concerned. It all boiled down to money. And the AWA was in extremely tight financial straights at the moment.


It's a big gamble. But a roll of the dice was necessary. Verne just hoped he wouldn't roll a snake eyes.



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Verne Gagne had completed his deal with Jerry Lawler.


He told son Greg, #2 man Wally Karbo and TV producer Al DeRusha about the deal he cut with Lawler. All three thought Verne gave away too much and pointed out that Verne would also be footing the bill for Lawler's air travel and hotel rooms at TVs. Verne realized all this but felt it was a risk he had to take.


Now, he was going to contact Stan Hansen the next day and try to work out a deal with him to bring him in for the AWA World Title program.


Greg, Wally and Al wondered what kind of deal Verne had in mind for Hansen and Verne told them he was still working on it.


Verne said he would contact Hansen the next day.


The next day arrived...


Verne picked up the phone and called Hansen's home in Texas.


After four rings.


Male voice: Hello.


Verne: Stan? This is Verne.


Hansen: Hello, Verne. You ready to work out a deal?


Verne: I am.


Hansen: Let's hear what you've got lined up for me?


Verne: Well, as things stand right now, Super Clash 4 will take place in October at a site still to be determined.


Hansen: I'm listening.

Verne: The main on that show will be Sarge vs. Lawler to determine who the real AWA Champion is. After that match, you will show up and violently attack the winner and that sets the stage for one more title unification program. Like with Sarge and Lawler, you will worked limited house show dates with the winner of Lawler-Sarge in title unification matches that will end with no winner. Might even work in some tag matches in certain cities so fans don't burn out on unification bouts.


Hansen: Any idea on when the blow-off match will be?


Verne: I'm looking at Christmas night at the St. Paul Civic Center.


Hansen: That sounds good. I don't go back to work for Baba until January of next year.


Verne: OK. Here's my offer for you, Stan.


$1500 per house show worked plus $300 for TVs plus paid airfare to every show.


Hansen thought about the offer on the table for a moment.


Hansen: I accept the $1500 for house shows. But I want $500 for TVs and I only work the ESPN tapings and not the syndicated ones. We'll discuss money for the Christmas night show later. I also want first-class seats on flights, a rental car and a room at a decent hotel in every town I work.


Verne let out a sigh.


Verne: Let me think about this.


Hansen: Wanna call me back?


Verne: No. Just give me a couple of minutes.


Verne went over Hansen's deal in his mind and came up with a counter.


Verne: I'll do the $500 for the ESPN tapings.


I'm OK with discussing Christmas show pay at a later date.


I'll do the first-class airfare. But hotels outside of Vegas and car rentals are on your dime just like the rest of the boys.


Hansen: Hate to be a prick, Verne, but you have to pick up one of them or I walk.


Verne wanted to go off on Stan but felt he needed him and was in no position to run the guy off at this stage of the game.


Verne: I'll pick up the trans in every city.


Hansen: Has to be a full-size car. I need room.


Verne: It will be. But I am not picking up the insurance on it.


Hansen (laughed): I've got that part covered.


I will see you in October, Verne.


Verne: We'll be in touch before then, Stan. Bye.


Hansen: So long, Verne.


Verne hung up the phone.


Verne (grumbling to himself): Asshole...


Verne angrily flung his pen at the wall.


The stakes just got much higher and losing this gamble would most likely mean the end of the AWA.





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Verne Gagne told son Greg, Wally Karbo and Al DeRusha about the deal he made with Stan Hansen. The three thought that Verne was overextending himself with Hansen just like he had with Lawler. But Verne reassured them that Hansen would only be around sporadically for two months unless he became the AWA Champion whereas Lawler will appear at the next set of Vegas tapings for the ESPN show and make appearances through at least October unless Lawler became the AWA Champ.


Wally, Al and Greg were still apprehensive about the deals considering the dire financial straits the company was in. While they knew you had to spend money to make money, they also knew that if this plan blew up in their faces and a buyer of the promotion was not found in a few months...you could kiss the AWA goodbye.


Verne also received a call at his home from Hansen later that night. Hansen told Verne the same thing Lawler did: if one payment...one...was missed...Hansen was g-o-n-e!


The next day....


Verne showed up at his office and was preparing for the next round of Vegas tapings.


As he worked at his desk, his son Greg came charging into the building and blew past everyone else and went straight into his dad's office and closed the door.


Verne: What is it, son? It must be big for you to come charging in here like this.


Greg: Dad! I just got a call from a contact in San Francisco. This is big! Real big!


Greg paced back and forth in Verne's office.


Verne: What is it? Tell me.


Greg stopped pacing.


Greg: We have a new potential buyer on the line.


Verne: Who?


Greg: Do you know who Bob Lurie is?


Verne: Name doesn't ring a bell.


Greg: He's the owner of the San Francisco Giants. He's interested in getting involved in the wrestling business and heard the AWA is being shopped.


Verne: Really?


Greg: This could be our best chance, dad. He's not crazy like that Shenkarow* guy in Winnipeg. This guy remembers when Roy Shire* used to run the town. Lurie's also a San Fran native.


(* Barry Shenkarow - Then owner of the NHL's Winnipeg Jets. Wanted to buy the AWA and turn it into a cartoon.


* Roy Shire - SF-based promoter.)


Verne: If he liked Shire, he'd certainly know of the AWA since we've gone there for years, there's a good chance he likes a more realistic in-ring product. Hopefully, he's not been WWF'd.


Greg: Are you interested in talking with him?


Verne: Yes. Most definitely.


Greg: I'll let my contact know and he'll pass the message on to someone who works for Lurie.


Verne: Sounds good. See what you can do. Keep me updated.


Greg: Will do.


Greg left the office and closed the door behind him.


Verne now had another piece of business to contend with. And he hoped...this time...he'd found the right man to take over the promotion he built from the ground up.



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JUNE 1989




A week before leaving for Vegas and the TV tapings, Verne Gagne was true to his word and sent Lawler the $5,000 up front guarantee he promised as well as Lawler's plane ticket for Sin City.


AWA boss Verne Gagne arrived in Vegas with son Greg, TV producer Al DeRusha and director Mike Shields the night before the monthly Showboat tapings for ESPN. The group had a production meeting over dinner and a few beers at the Cavalier restaurant on Desert Inn the night they arrived.


The day of the tapings...


It was a typical hot late spring day in the Nevada desert.


Greg Gagne was sent by Verne to pick up Jerry Lawler at McCarran International Airport. Lawler's plane arrived at 9:15am. Greg took Lawler to the Showboat. Greg let Lawler know that Lawler and Sarge would be meeting with Verne together when Sarge arrived. Said Verne will contact them when the meeting was happening and to stay near the phone. Lawler got checked in, went to his room and took a nap for a couple of hours to deal with the jet lag coming in from the Central Time Zone.


Greg was sent to the airport one more time and picked up AWA World Champion Sgt. Slaughter (Robert Remus) just after 1pm. Greg drove Sarge to the 'Boat and Sarge checked into the hotel and went to his room and got settled.


At about 2:30 that afternoon, Verne called Lawler's room. Lawler answered and Verne told Lawler to come to his fourth floor room.


Lawler caught the elevator up from his third floor digs.


Lawler knocked and Verne let him in. The two men sat down.


Two cans of Coke on ice and a glass awaited The King.


Lawler: You remembered.


Verne: You're one of the few guys in this business who doesn't drink so it was easy to remember.


Verne pointed.


Verne: Got a couple of Bud's for Sarge for when he arrives.


The beer was also on ice and an empty glass waited to be filled with the adult beverage.


Lawler opened one of his cold Cokes and poured it in the glass.


Verne was drinking a Diet Coke.


Lawler: When is Sarge coming?


Verne: Gonna call him in about 15-20 minutes. Gotta maintain kayfabe, ya know.


Lawler: Not really sure how much longer kayfabe is gonna be necessary with the way Vince McMahon is doing business.


Verne: Screw him. As long as I own the AWA kayfabe will remain the rule for the boys. And it will be strictly enforced.


Lawler thought to himself that Verne's old school mindset and stubborness to really change at all with the times were the primary reasons the AWA was rapidly taking on water.


The two made small talk and talked a little business. After about 20 minutes, Verne looked at his watch.


Verne picked up the phone and called Sarge. Sarge made his way down from his sixth floor room.


Sarge got to Verne's door and was about to knock when a jr. high-aged boy came running down the hall.


Kid: Sarge! Sarge!


Sarge, startled, managed to keep from knocking on the door and exposing the business...in front of a 13-year old!


The kid had a pen and piece of paper.


Kid: Can I have your autograph?!


Sarge: Sure.


Sarge signed the kid's piece of paper.


Kid: Thanks, champ! I've been wandering around the hotel all day looking to get wrestler autographs! Do you know where some of the other guys are?!


Sarge: No idea, kid.


Kid: Is this your room?


Sarge: No. A couple of friends are staying in there.


Kid: Can I see who it is?


Sarge: Sorry, buddy. Can't do that. Some things in wrestling have to be kept secret. Don't want the bad guys to know what you're doing.


Kid: Hey! Can you tell me who's in there?


Sarge: I don't know. I...


Kid: Please.


Sarge mulled it over.


Sarge: OK. This is just between you and me. You can't tell anyone.


Kid: You have my word.


The kid looked at Sarge anxiously as a big secret was about to be revealed.


Sarge: Behind this door are...


Sarge paused.


The kid couldn't stand it.


Kid: Don't leave me hangin', Sarge!


Sarge: Behind this door are... Jerry Lawler and Verne Gagne.


Kid: Really?!


Sarge: Yeah.


Kid: Can I meet 'em?!


Sarge: Sorry, kid. Can't do it.


Kid: Why?


Sarge: It would be a violation.


Kid: Violation of what?


Sarge: Kayfabe.


Kid: Kay what?


Sarge: That's all I can say right now, kid. Let's just keep this between us.

Kid: OK. Thanks for the autograph, dude.


Sarge chuckled.


Sarge: You're welcome. Now go on your way.


Kid: What if I don't leave?


Sarge: Then we'll just stand out here and stare at each other and you'll miss the show tonight.


Kid: Oh my gosh! You're right!


Sarge: That kayfabe. She can be a real beast sometimes. Don't wanna mess with the old gal.


Kid: I'll go. Good luck tonight, champ.


Sarge: Thanks, kid.


The kid finally turned and headed back down the hall and hoped to find another wrestler to pester in the hallowed halls of the Showboat Hotel.


Sarge watched as the kid disappeared around the corner.


Sarge finally was able to knock on Verne's door.


Verne opened the door and Sarge stepped in.


Both Verne and Lawler were now standing.


Sarge: Verne. Jerry.


Verne was not happy.


Verne (sternly): Jerry and I were just talking about how seriously you should take kayfabe and you stand out there and say that stuff to that boy.


Lawler busted up laughing.


Sarge: He's just a kid, Verne. Just having a little fun with him.


Verne: What if he finds out what it means?


Now, Lawler was laughing so hard that he had to place his hand on the room table just to keep himself from toppling over.


Verne: It's not funny, King!


Sarge: If he finds out, well, I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.


Verne: I'm fining you for violating kayfabe.


Lawler was now shaking from laughing so hard.


Sarge: How much?


Verne: $200 dollars.


Sarge: Can I pay it off in kayfabe bucks?


Now Lawler was guffawing.


Verne: Haha! You looking to replace Johnny Carson?!


Sarge: Not a bad gig if you can get it. Maybe we could have a Kayfabe Corner segment if I got the job.


Lawler (laughing): I'm having trouble breathing!


Verne: Good. Maybe it will show you not to tamper with kayfabe because it will bite you in the ass.


Lawler plopped back down in his seat, placed one hand over his face and pounded his fist on the table and continued laughing.


Verne: Have a seat, Bob.


Sarge took a seat at the table with laughing Lawler and Verne sat on the edge of his bed.


Sarge saw the beers on ice.


Sarge: Those for me?


Verne: Yep.


Sarge: Thanks.


Budweiser. Great!


Sarge cracked open a cold one and took a healthy swig of the King of Beers.


Sarge: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... Good stuff.


Verne: Let's get down to business, shall we?


Lawler finally composed himself.


Verne: The first order of busi...


Lawler lost his composure and started laughing again. The laughing now spread to Sarge.


Verne was super annoyed.


The AWA boss looked on as the two continued laughing.


Verne just let it go and shook his head.


Finally, after about two minutes of this, the laughter finally died down as Lawler wiped tears from his eyes.


Verne: Kayfabe is really no laughing matter.


Bad move, Verne...


Sarge and Lawler started laughing again.


Verne grew exasperated.


Verne: Please! Let's talk business!


The two finally regained their composure.


Lawler was wiping his eyes with a napkin.


Lawler: Sorry, Verne.


Sarge: Go ahead, boss.


Verne: OK. Jerry, did you bring the AWA belt with you that you have?


Lawler: It's in my travel bag.


Verne: Great.


I know you have the other belt, Sarge.


Sarge nodded in agreement and then took another sip of his beer.


Sarge: Who am I defending the title against tonight?


Verne: On the first taping, we're going to have a match to determine who will face you for the belt pitting Tommy Rich against Tom Zenk.


Since the DeBeers-Zenk angle is heating up, DeBeers is gonna interfere and cost Zenk the match.


You'll face Rich at the second taping and defeat him clean with the Cobra Clutch in a 10 minute match.


After the match there will be a post-match interview with you. Jerry will come into the Sports Pavilion through the main entrance with his AWA belt in tow.


He will make his way to the ring and confront you, Sarge. Lawler will cut a promo and claim to be the real AWA World Champion since he never actually lost the belt.


You'll talk about defeating Zbysko to win the belt and that you are the real AWA Champ.


The two of you will engage in some back-and-forth chatter before Sarge leaves the ring.


Lawler, you'll stay in the ring and talk a little more about the situation with Larry Nelson.


At the third taping, both of you will be brought out for separate interviews. Lawler will do his promo first. Sarge, you will do a promo towards the end of the show. You will not give a clear answer as to whether or not you'll accept Lawler's challenge and tease a possible heel turn.


At the fourth taping, Lawler will wrestle a squash. Lawler will do a post-match interview and, Sarge, you will come to the ring to confront Lawler. You'll each have your version of the AWA Title. You will engage in another heated exchange and this is where it will get physical when Lawler drops you with a belt shot to the side of the head. I haven't decided yet if Sarge will accept the challenge here or wait a week.


Sarge: When will we be working with each other on the house shows?


Verne: I'm aiming to kick things off in mid-July.


It will all culminate with the blow-off match at Super Clash 4.


Lawler: Any idea what city it will be in yet?


Verne: Rob Russen* is working on it. Right now, the Mecca in Milwaukee appears to be the front-runner.


(* Rob Russen was an AWA promoter/mouthpiece.)


Lawler: Anything on where it will air?


Verne: We're supposed to talk with ESPN very soon. Pay-per-view would be the second option and trying to get it on local stations in AWA markets is the third option as things stand right now.


Lawler: That's good. Doing this on cable sounds like more of a sure thing.


Sarge shook his head in agreement.


Sarge: Gotta agree with Jerry on that one.


Verne: Well, that's how this whole thing is gonna kick off. We'll deal with how to handle future syndicated and ESPN TVs when we get there. This is good for right now.


Sarge: Hope this works out for you, Verne.


Lawler: Ditto.


Verne: Me too. In the worst way.


After that, the three sat around for about 30 minutes and made small talk, laughed about the 'kayfabe incident' again (even Verne joined in the laughter now) and downed their beverages.


Lawler was the first to leave the room. He headed to the casino to play a little Black Jack before the night's events.


Verne stayed in his room and laid out more of the television for the next four episodes of the AWA on ESPN.


And Sarge? He left Verne's room 15 minutes after Lawler did.


Gotta protect kayfabe, you know.



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JUNE 1989




AWA honcho Verne Gagne was backstage at the Showboat Sports Pavilion preparing for the evening's marathon tapings for ESPN. He was laying out the match-ups for the taping.


Tom Zenk arrived early, walked through the Sports Pavilion and then into the backstage area where the face dressing room was.


Verne saw Tom.


Verne: Tom. I need to speak to you a minute.


Zenk: Sure. What's up?


Verne: Let's go in here.


Verne opened the door a to small, non-descript room in the back and he and Tom stepped in.


Verne: On our first taping tonight, you're going to be facing Tommy Rich with the winner getting a shot at Sgt. Slaughter for the AWA Title on the second taping.


Zenk: OK. I'm assuming Tommy's going over since he's the heel.


Verne: That's right. But we're gonna use the match to also advance your program with DeBeers. He's going to interfere and screw you out of the win.


Zenk: So what's the finish?


Verne: Still laying it out. But I just wanted to give you the heads up on that. You'll also be doing a promo early in the show to build the match with Rich.


Zenk: Alright. Thanks, boss.


Verne: Thank you, Tom.


The two men walked out of the office.


Later on...


Verne was backstage still working on TVs.


Tommy Rich and Col. DeBeers arrived at the Sports Pavilion together.


The two men approached Verne to see what they were doing on the tapings.


Verne: Need to talk to both of you. Let's step in here.


The three stepped into the non-descript small back room again.


DeBeers: You should have seen it.


Verne: What?


DeBeers: Two guys just chased us through the parking lot and into the hotel.


Verne: Autograph seekers?


Rich: Hardly. They seemed like they wanted to commit serious felonies against us.

DeBeers tipped off security when we walked into the hotel. They were stopped as soon as they walked in the doors.


Verne: Nice to see some marks still taking the business seriously.


DeBeers: Speak for yourself. Wild and crazy fans are one thing. Complete psychos are another.


Verne: Just one of the hazards of the business.


Now, let's get on to tonight's business.


Tommy, tonight you'll be wrestling Tom Zenk with the winner facing Sgt. Slaughter for the AWA Title on the next show.


Keep playing up you're 'I was the NWA World Champion' routine in the in-ring promo you'll cut early in the show.


You will be going over in the match with Zenk thanks to outside help from ol' Ed* here.


Gonna try and keep the match in the 13 to 15 minute range.


At the end of the match we're gonna have a ref bump. Zenk wiil be on the offensive and poised to put Rich away. Tommy, you'll be down in the ring and selling it like you should be easy pickin's for Zenk. Zenk will go over and check on the ref. While that's going on, Ed, you'll come to the ring and pull that coal miner's glove out of one of your pockets and put it on. Zenk turns from checking on the ref, wham!, you blast Zenk with the glove and it's lights out for Zenk. You drop to the floor as Rich slowly comes to his senses. For a little extra heat, pound the ring apron and urge Tommy on.


Tommy makes it over and covers Zenk. Do not hook the leg, Tommy! Ref has recovered enough, crawls over and makes a slow three count. Zenk stays down in the ring and Ed continues to look on from ringside.


Ed, I want you to say something along the lines of: I told you what was coming, Zenk! and then head to the back.


Tommy, you'll slowly make it to your feet and the ref will raise your hand victoriously and you'll stagger/strut around the ring after the win.


Rich: Will my match with Slaughter be a shoot?


Everyone started laughing.


Verne: Don't know how well you'd fare in that one, Mr. Rich.


But since we're in Vegas...I'll put my money on Sarge if it's a shoot.


Rich: So would I, Verne!


More laughter from the three.


The men talked for a few more minutes before the meeting broke up.


About 20 minutes later...


Verne talked with Zenk in the face dressing room and laid out the scenario for him that he'd already run past Rich and DeBeers.


The AWA was about to start a new chapter in the history of the company.


The only question is would it be the last chapter?




(* Col. DeBeers - Real Name: Ed Wiskoski)

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