WORDS BY ROSS PFUND
Ask your grandma about the local wrestling scene and she’ll either tell you all about how she used to watch All-Star Wrestling on Sunday mornings before church—or maybe about the time she took the party bus from Gramma B’s or Tony Jaros in Northeast over to the St. Paul Civic Center to watch her beloved Verne Gagne fight that smarmy a-hole Nick Bockwinkel.
No matter what, though, she’ll be talking about the AWA. Gagne’s American Wrestling Association was synonymous with wrestling in Minnesota for more than three decades, running a taped weekly TV broadcast and live shows throughout the state after its inception in 1960. One of the AWA’s biggest attractions was its World Tag Team Championship, which sprang into existence as soon as Gagne split from the National Wrestling Alliance and continued to be prominently featured until the promotion was shuttered in 1991. We’re guessing the belts themselves are now either in possession of WWE, which bought the AWA’s tape library and other assets in 2003, or potentially somewhere in Greg Gagne’s garage.
Over the course of those 31 years, there were 54 different championship reigns. The first champs were Stan Kowalski and Tiny Mills, a.k.a. Murder Incorporated, a name that goes harder than any tag team name before or since. The final champs? D.J. Peterson and The Trooper, a state patrol-themed competitor known for handing out extrajudicial citations to his opponents. Think Deputy Rob Justice, except with huge traps and a bewilderingly large fanbase.
Some teams won the belts multiple times. Leading the way were Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher (in our book, the best thing to ever come out of Wisconsin), whose five total reigns lasted over three-and-a-half years combined. Other notable teams with multiple title wins included Bockwinkel and “Crippler” Ray Stevens, The Midnight Rockers, and The High Flyers—Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell—who later won the unofficial championship of Wildest Stories Told at the Premiere of the Ric Flair documentary at the Twin Cities Film Fest. They made the organizer so nervous that he promised to buy everyone a drink if we left the theater and went to the lounge across the street. He never showed.
Surprisingly, cherished Minnesota icon and longtime AWA pillar Baron von Raschke won the title just once. His big win came in Green Bay in 1984, where he teamed with The Crusher to defeat The Sheiks, a team composed of Jerry Blackwell and Ken Patera, whose sheiky bonafides are still in question to this day.
The tag titles were also the most prominent championship ever won by Jesse Ventura, unless you consider the governorship a championship title, which we do. Jesse and his partner, Adrian Adonis, won the belts by forfeit in 1980 when one of their opponents was mysteriously unable to make it to the match, but that’s not even the shadiest victory in the history of the AWA tag titles. That honor belongs to Stevens and Pat Patterson, who were handed the titles after Brunzell was allegedly injured in a charity softball game. That’s a cover-up if we’ve ever seen one.