THE SPECIALISTS Nostalgia Review: AWA Battle By the Bay: Blackwell vs. Hansen; Bockwinkel vs. Nord; Rockers & Hennig vs. Rose/Somers/Smirnoff
Jun 30, 2008 - 12:41:59 PM
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By: Brian Hoops, Nostalgia Specialist
This week’s look back at wrestling nostalgia takes us all the way back to the American Wrestling Association’s special card, titled “Battle By the Bay”. The show was held on June 28, 1986 in Oakland, California and shown on ESPN. Founded in 1960, the AWA was one of the largest and most widely respected independent wrestling promotions during the days of territorial wrestling. The AWA was founded and co-owned by Wally Karbo and Verne Gagne and focused on wrestling as a sport, not as entertainment. Like other wrestling territories, the AWA suffered in the mid-1980’s from the WWF raiding the top talent of territorial promotions. However the AWA didn’t fold or succumb to the WWF, instead the AWA tried to compete with the WWF and the NWA and secured a national television agreement with ESPN in late 1985. The WWF and the NWA were ahead of the AWA in terms of national television as the WWF was already airing programs on the USA network and the NWA was aired nationally on TBS, so the move to ESPN gave the AWA national exposure that it badly needed to compete with the NWA and the WWF. However by 1986, the AWA was falling far behind both the WWF and the NWA in terms of revenue. The WWF was the first group to broadcast a PPV event and house show attendance was incredible for the WWF in 1986, good for the NWA and decent for the AWA. For comparison purposes; the WWF held “The Big Event” in August 1986 which drew 64,100 people; the NWA held the 1986 Great American Bash tour in July 1986 drew at least 15,000 each night of the tour; and the AWA was running a Wrestlerock tour in the summer of 1986. In the homebase of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Wrestlerock event drew 22,000 for the April 1986 show; however this AWA event drew only 1,500 people. By the time this card took place, the AWA talent depth had been severely depleted and Wally Karbo sold out his share of the AWA to Verne Gagne. The AWA would close its doors in 1991.
The show was shown live on ESPN. The show opened with Larry Nelson outside the arena interviewing AWA figurehead President, Stanley Blackburn. They were surrounded by a large crowd of fans which was a nice way to open the show. They then went to commercial break. During the break, a commercial aired hyping the next AWA wrestling show on ESPN and they announced some of the matches which was another nice touch.
The announce team is the underrated Ron Trongaurd doing play by play with Lord James Blears doing color commentary.
1. Earthquake Ferris defeated Ali Kahn in 6:01. Kahn was the newest member of Shiek Adnan El-Kaissey’s army. Ferris got a nice crowd reaction as he was billed from being from nearby San Francisco. You know, Earthquake=San Francisco. Kahn and the Earthquake were both huge men, legitimately over 300 pounds and as you can imagine, not the best of workers. Within 3 minutes, Kahn went to a nerve hold. Ferris wasn’t very good at selling, but knew very little offensive moves, so Kahn mostly punched Ferris. Ferris hit a powerbody slam out of no where for the pin. Dud of a match.
After a commercial break, which aired an upcoming night of roller derby action and AWA wrestling, Larry Nelson interviewed the area promoter Leo Nomellini and the area matchmaker Ray Stevens.
2. For the AWA Women’s World Title; Sheri Martel defeated the Champion, Candi Devine in 8:41 to win the AWA Women’s Championship. They had a very good match going early and then the action spilled onto the floor. Sherri took two body slams on the concrete floor. Back in the ring, Devine took control until Martel had Devine in the corner with the ref. Devine moved and Martel hit the ref with a flying leg scissors and took him down to the mat. Devine rolled up Martel with a small package but Martel kicked out at two. As Devine was arguing with the ref, Martel rolled up Devine from behind and grabbed the ropes to win the match. This would be Martel’s third and last title reign. Martel would leave the AWA for the WWF in December 1987 and vacate the title. Devine would win the title again in 1989 and be the last AWA women’s champion.
Back from another commercial, Larry Nelson interviewed a woman he only called Donna. This was Verne Gagne’s daughter Donna, who I believed would marry Larry Zbyszko. Back from another commercial, Larry Nelson then previewed upcoming live AWA events.
3. Jimmy Snuka defeated Jay York in 8:55. Snuka was a WWF legend who was brought in as a replacement for Jerry Blackwell at the Wrestlerock event in April 1986. First three minutes of the match saw Snuka in a reverse chinlock hold, which brought out boring chants from the fans. At the four minute mark, York applied a body scissors also. Near the seven minute mark, Snuka made the ropes for a break. York immediately took Snuka back to the mat. The match mercifully ended when Snuka came off the top rope with a cross body block. A waste of time.
4. Nord the Barbarian, defeated Nick Bockwinkel in 12:20. This match would determine the number one contender for the AWA Title. It was also announced that Bockwinkel would be challenging the winner of the Jerry Blackwell/Stan Hansen AWA title match later in the evening the next night in Denver, Colorado. Bockwinkel was working face at this time after being a heel most of his career. Before the match, Nelson interviewed Bockwinkel, giving his match an important feel. Bockwinkel was a three time former AWA World Heavyweight Champion at this time, last holding the belt in 1984. Bockwinkel wrestled Hansen at the April Wrestlerock show, winning by DQ. Nord the Barbarian was managed by Shiek Kassie was pushed as a strong heel, mostly as a tag team wrestler with Bruiser Brody. However, Brody left the AWA after the April Wrestlerock event, so Nord began teaming with Boris Zukoff. Jon Nord would go on to wrestle briefly as the Barbarian in the WWF. Greg Gagne provided color commentary for this match. Nord worked on Bockwinkel’s arm early in the match, but at the 5 minute mark, Bockwinkel pulled Nord’s hair to gain a quick advantage. The Barbarian quickly went back to work on Bockwinkel’s arm. Bockwinkel finally mounted some offense at the 11:00 mark when Bockwinkel nailed a dropkick that knocked Nord out of the ring. When Nord made it back into the ring, Bockwinkel wrapped his finishing hold, the Oriental Sleeper on the Barbarian. Kassie jumped on the ring apron, distracting Bockwinkel. After a couple of blows on Kassie, Bockwinkel turned around and Barbarian hit him with a big boot to the face and pinned Bockwinkel in 12:20. It was about as good of a match as you could expect out of the Barbarian. Bockwinkel was scheduled to win the AWA World Heavyweight Title the next night in Denver, Colorado against Stan Hansen. Bockwinkel was awarded the belt after Hansen walked out prior to the match in Denver rather than drop the belt to Bockwinkel. It would be Bockwinkel’s 4th and last title reign which he would hold until SuperClash II in May, 1987.
Back from a commercial break, Larry Nelson interviewed Larry Zbyszko. His real life brother in law, Greg Gagne, came out to interrupt the interview. They then played a Greg Gagne highlight video set to Van Halen’s “Jump”. Good verbal exchanged between Gagne and Zbyszko followed.
5. In a match for the AWA World Heavyweight Title, Jerry Blackwell defeated champion Stan Hansen by disqualification in 8:48. Back during this time period, when pro wrestling was more dependent on house show business for the majority of its revenue; the world title match would be put on in the middle of the card just before intermission. That way, the promotion could advertise the next championship match and advise patrons to buy their tickets for the next house show at the intermission. The challenger was Jerry Blackwell and the champion was Stan Hansen. Blackwell was arguably the second greatest big man ever to wrestle. Blackwell was an awesome heel for the AWA from 1980 to 1984 and turned face. He endured health problems due to his size, but when healthy he was a great wrestler. Hansen won the title in December 1985 from Rick Martel. Hansen attacked Blackwell before the opening bell and Blackwell and Hansen brawled wildly in the first two minutes. Hansen was bleeding early. Hansen tried to bodyslam the 468 pound Blackwell, but Blackwell fell on Hansen for a near fall. After a ref bump, Blackwell splashed Hansen for a visual pinfall, but no ref to count the pin. As Blackwell was checking on the ref, Hansen took off his boot and used it on Blackwell, opening up his forehead. The referee disqualified Hansen, giving the match but not the title to Blackwell. It was a good, bloody brawl.
6. Marty Jannetty, Shawn Michaels and Curt Hennig defeated the AWA World Tag Team Champions, Buddy Rose and Doug Somers, along with Alexis Smirnoff in 13:36. Rose and Somers defeated Hennig and Scott Hall earlier in the month to win the tag team titles and would go on to have an awesome feud with Jannetty and Michaels over the belts. Michaels and Jannetty, the Midnight Rockers, and Curt Hennig all showed tremendous potential in this match. The team of Rose and Somers in my opinion were very underrated. After the team of the Rockers and Hennig held the early advantage; Rose, Somers and Smirnoff built heat on Hennig. At the 12 minute mark, Hennig made the hot tag to Jannetty. Finish came when Hennig hit the dropkick on Somers and Michaels pressed slammed Jannetty onto Somers and Jannetty covered Somers for the pinfall. Very good match.
Back from commercial, Nelson interviewed Hennig and the Midnight Rockers in mid-ring. Jannetty announced they had a title match the next night in Denver against Rose and Somers. This concluded the live ESPN broadcast. In two house show matches, Col. DeBeers defeated Brad Rheighans and Larry Zbyzsko went to a double count out against Scott LeDoux.
Summary: This was an entertaining show to watch. There was some very good wrestling on the show, however the AWA trailed the WWF in terms of star power and marketability by a large margin in 1986. If you can find this wrestling show, I would highly recommend this event.
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