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By Doug Maynard on 3/14/2008 2:49 PM

AWA Championship Wrestling

on ESPN Classics
March 13, 2008
Doug Maynard
Well, Friday is finally here and thank goodness for that. It's been a stressful week to say the least. Good think we've had Verne Gagne's AWA to save us each and every night with classic mat action from the mid-Eighties. Not quite the glory days of professional wrestling, but still pretty damn good. These are the daily recaps of the best wrestling on TV today - the AWA on ESPN Classics. I watch it every night so you don't have to. But you should. It's good stuff. Really.
Let's get right to the action.
According to the graphics on the screen, these matches were taped on December 7, 1986 at the world-famous Showboat Sports Pavilion in Las Vegas, NV. The men at ringside are calling the action are Rod Trongard and Lord James Blears. The man doing everything else is Larry Nelson. And me, I'm the out-of-work, but still smiling cause I got it covered, host with the most, Doug M. (or as I was called last night, "mean-ass!").
Let's get right to the action.

Alexi Smirnoff & Yuri Gordyenko vs. Spike Jones & Sonny Rogers

Let me start off by saying that I like Smirnoff. He doesn't say much. Just lots of grunting and looking mean. And that works for him. But Gordyenko is just about the worst "Russian" I have ever seen. And I've met Nikita Koloff before so that's saying something. Maybe it's the grinning all the time. Maybe it's the bad fake Russian accent mixed with his native Canadian accent? But he stinks pretty badly. But that being said, I still wouldn't want to meet these guys in a back alley. They'd whip my butt! They're bad "Russians", but I've no doubt that they're still two major real-life tough guys. Are either of them still involved in wrestling? Alexi would be in his sixties now and I think Gordyenko would be in his fifties. Anyone know?
As for the match, it is what it is. Lots of tagging in and out by the Russians. They work on the arm of Jones a bit. I always thought Spike Jones was a music producer who worked with the Beastie Boys? Or a militant movie director? No, that's Spike Lee. Then who the heck is this guy? He's getting his butt handed to him regardless as Alexi & Gordyenko keep switching and tagging off. Alexi with a suplex, but Jones comes alive and locks in a bear hug. That doesn't last long as Rogers tags in and quickly misses a dropkick attempt on Smirnoff. Alexi with a suplex on Rogers and a tag to Gordyenko. It's time for the "Shades of Tully Blancard" double-hotshot across the top rope and Gordyenko covers Rogers to pick up an easy pin.
Winners: Alexi Smirnoff & Yuri Gordyenko
Larry Nelson talks to the Russians. Gordyenko says that the referee tried to break his leg and cripple him. (In the final moments of the match, the ref did stumble over Gordy's leg while going down to count the pin.) He says that everyone knows why he and Alexi Smirnoff are here. (To get drunk? To eat some Cheese Whiz? Why?) They're number one and everyone else wants to imitate them. Yuri talks again about how the referee tried to hurt him. Gordyenko says that it's America versus the Russians. And the Russians are unbelievable. (Insert your own joke here!) They're here to take on everyone one at a time and to win the AWA Tag Team Titles. They're the greatest in the world. And Alexi chimes in as he channels EMF and says, "Unbelievable". Nelson defends the referee and says that he's sure that no AWA official would try to cripple them as the interview ends.

Pete Sanchez vs. Crusher Jerry Blackwell

Jerry starts off by shoving Sanchez away and then hitting him with a shoulder-block. Sanchez tries for a headlock, but gets taken down by another shoulder. Give it up, Pete. You ain't moving this big guy. Blackwell with a headlock and he rubs Sanchez's face across the top rope. Jerry just pounds and clubs away at Sanchez before laying him out with a beefy clothesline and a headbutt. Dropkick by Crusher Blackwell and the fans go crazy. How does he get that body up that high? This is a big boy!  Jerry hits a power slam and then a Samoan, or should I say, "Stone Mountain" drop to pick up a very easy win.
Winner: Crusher Jerry Blackwell
Blackwell talks about how he tends to get a bit carried away when he does interviews. He was out sick for a while, but now he's well and ready to kick some butt. But he's tired of being the nice guy. Blackwell channels the greatest rock and roll showman of all time, Alice Cooper, and says "no more Mister Nice Guy!" He's been working with his baby brother and it won't be long before he'll be bringing his baby brother to Vegas. I'm trying to remember, but I don't remember ever hearing about an angle where Blackwell had a "baby brother" who wrestled, so this is all new to me. I guess this gives us all something to look forward to in the future (or past as the case may be).

Tom "Rocky" Stone vs. Super Ninja (with Larry Zbyszko)

What the...? This is the exact same match they showed last night. And it was so good, I guess they decided to show it again. Blah! Here's the recap of the match from yesterday. I'm going to be lazy here. If AWA can show the exact same thing, so can I.
For those of you wondering, Super Ninja is, in fact the man we would come to know as The Great Muta. This was early in his career before he established his Muta identity and at the time of this match, he was fresh from a stint in World Class Championship Wrestling and was making the rounds and paying his wrestling dues. After lots of early stalling, no doubt a side effect of being around Zbyszko so much, Ninja with a little slap/chop to the side of the head of Rocky Stone. Ninja quickly goes after the arm and uses a hammerlock and a quick chop before slamming Stone to the mat. Stone tries to fight back, but Ninja throws some chops and kicks before clamping a nerve hold on the neck of Rocky Stone. Stone tries to escape and throws some more punches, but Ninja with a big time thrust kick to the chin and then a suplex and bridge to pick up the quick win.
Winner: Super Ninja (with Larry Zbyszko)
Larry Nelson is there to talk to Zbyszko and Ninja. Zbyszko says that they've seen what Super Ninja can do and there is not any American wrestler who can match him. When asked about their association, Larry Z. says that they have common interests. They're both seeking justice. And that brings Larry to the World Championship. Nick Bockwinkle hires thugs for protection and won't give Zbyszko a title shot. The fans start booing and getting riled up and Larry Z. starts to get upset. Larry says that Super Ninja will help him destroy those who get in their way and capture the World Championship.
Word of the Day: Flibbertigibbet - it means a silly, flighty or excessively talkative person. Sounds a lot like Larry Zbyszko, doesn't it? Larry "Flibbertigibbet" Zbyszko. Yeah, someone should write to Larry and suggest that for his new nickname. I wonder how many times would he call that person a "spudhead"? It would be funny to see his reaction. But heck, Larry would probably agree. (And still call 'em a "spudhead" for bringing it up!)

Greg Gagne vs. Tony Leone

The graphics on the TV show his name as "Leoni" while on his trunks, it's spelled "Leone". So who's right? I think that the AWA should have hired someone to spell-check their TV for them. As for this match, it's the same one that they aired on Tuesday night's show. That's two replays in a row. This is so cheesy! But I'll do the recap anyhow. Maybe.
OK, I went and looked at my other recap. It's not the exact same match. But it's pretty close. I guess when they were needing one more match to fill up time, Gagne vs. Leone was their regular stand-by match. We've got five minutes? Get Greg and Leone and put them out there. So I guess I should do the recap after all, right? OK, here goes.
Greg starts off with a slam, but Leone moves into a full-nelson. Greg escapes and goes for a hammerlock, but Leone goes to the ropes for a break. Greg goes back after the arm, but Leone decides to throw some punches. And Greg decides to hit back. Backdrop and slam by Gagne for a two-count. Greg hits a "Shades of Jake Roberts" knee lift and goes after the leg with a stepover-toehold. Greg moves from this into a "Number One Paul Jones In De' House" Indian Deathlock. Leone rips at the eyes to escape and throws a few more punches. Greg, who really reminds me more of an accountant than a wrestler, fights back with some punches and a big dropkick by the former "High Flyer". Another dropkick and Greg climbs to the top for a big knee to pick up the win.
Winner: Greg Gagne
We go to an interview segment with "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka. Well, it's just Larry Nelson at first. Snuka is coming, but first we have to look at a video clip. It's Jimmy Snuka on the top rope and ready to give his opponent the big "Superfly" splash. Col. DeBeers is out and he shoves Snuka from the top rope to the concrete floor. DeBeers is quickly down and plants Snuka with the "facedriver" on the concrete floor. Other wrestlers are quickly there to run DeBeers off, but Snuka is a bloody mess.
And now, here's Snuka. He's wearing the neck collar and is all pumped up and looking all crazy-eyed. He says that DeBeers did something that he never should have done. He almost broke Snuka's neck and if Jimmy's neck hadn't been so think, DeBeers would have gotten the job done. Snuka doesn't need the collar. The neck is fine and the stitches are coming out. Snuka's voice is a little funny (hoarse), but he knows that DeBeers knows what he's talking about. DeBeers hurt Jimmy and Jimmy's had time to think about it. DeBeers tried to end his career. But now things will be different. Snuka will show the world something . All he can think about is DeBeers. And the time runs out in the segment as Snuka rambles on.
Snuka has never been a good talker, but this was one of his better interviews. The emotion and energy was good. He was rambling, but not as bad as I was expecting to hear. Someone like Snuka works better when he had someone else there to do his talking for him and keep the interview segments more focused. WWF realized this when they stuck him with Lou Albano and then Buddy Rogers and the Mid-Atlantic understood it too when they gave him Gene Anderson as a manager. Snuka is better as the quiet, yet slightly sadistic bad-buy. But the fans want to see Jimmy as a face and I guess AWA did too... but this segment was good for what it was and Snuka was better than I expected.
And now we go to Larry Nelson and Curt Hennig. It's time for a segment called "Mat Classics" where they take a look back at some real classic wrestling from days gone by. Kind of like what we're doing now with the AWA shows from the 80's. So I guess it's "Mat Classics" x 2? Anyhow, we're going back to November 23, 1974 for this match.

Larry "The Axe" Hennig vs. Boris Bresnikov (with Bobby Heenan)

Nelson and Hennig clarify at the very beginning that Boris is indeed the man that we would come to know a few years later as Nikolai Volkoff. He still looks the same pretty much. I wonder if we should all rise while he sings the Soviet National Anthem?
We join the match in progress. It's Hennig with punches and Boris with some kicks. Boris is going to town on Hennig with kicks and stomps. Larry rips at the eyes and unloads with some knees and kicks of his own. Hennig takes Boris down and jerks at the legs. Boris fights back with some stiff elbow shots. Larry punches away at Boris and chokes him on the ropes before throwing some clubbing blows and dropping an elbow for two. Larry backs Boris across the ropes and delivers a "Shades of Greg Valentine" clubbing forearm smash across the chest. Oww! My chest hurts on that one. Boris comes back with some knees to the gut. Larry with a slam and then he nails Boris with "The Axe" as he comes off the ropes. And then he scores again with his double-fisted shot to the head and chest. Bobby Heenan is up on the ring apron and Larry Hennig clubs "The Brain", bringing him into the ring. He sends Boris flying to the floor and then picks up Heenan and lays him out in the middle of the ring as he nails Bobby with "The Axe".
And the match ends there. I guess that Larry Hennig won by DQ when Bobby Heenan came into the ring, but who knows? I had forgotten that Bobby got his start as a manager in the AWA and I had no idea that he was once the manager of Nikolai Volkoff, albeit under a different name. I'm learning something new every day by watching these shows.
How did that old slogan go? "Reading is Fundamental"? Well, change "Reading " to "wrestling" and you've got it right. "Wrestling Is Fundamental". I'm learning more and more every night. And one day, all this trivial wrestling knowledge will make me rich and famous. And maybe a bit delusional too. But a guy has got to have dreams, right? Right?
And to the final match of the evening.

Curt Hennig vs. Rick Gatner

Curt with the go-behind for an advantage. Gatner goes to the ropes for a break. Gatner with a headlock, but Hennig fires off some forearm shots. Gatner hits a shoulder off the ropes, but goes reeling as Hennig hits a hip-toss that sends Gatner to the floor. Gatner rips at the eyes and rubs Hennig's face across the ropes. Hennig reverses a whip into the ropes and levels Gatner with a kick and some "Shades of Ric Flair" chops. Woooooo! Gatner with some punches and kicks and another rip at the eyes. Curt with a kick and a "Wrestling II" knee-lift. Curt scores with his daddy's move, "The Axe" and goes to the top rope. Dropkick off the top by Hennig, followed by a big elbow. Curt covers and gets the pin.
Winner: Curt Hennig
Larry Nelson talks to Curt Hennig. Hennig says that 1986 is winding down and it's been kind of a disappointing year, but it's really helped his career. He and Scott Hall won the tag titles, but were ripped off by Rose & Summers. Hennig mentions the Battle Royal Series and how Larry Zbyszko likes to play politics and how Bockwinkle just pushes him aside and over-looks him. Curt talks about how he's been working out and that Bockwinkle, or whoever is champion, had better be ready for him.
And that's the show for today. Lots of brutal squash wrestling, but done with a style and edge that doesn't exist today. Seeing the "Mat Classic" with Larry Hennig, Nikolai Volkoff and Bobby Heenan just made my night.
And while I'm thinking of it, Bobby Heenan is still recovering from jaw replacement surgery. Keep the guy in your prayers and thoughts. He was a great manager, a fantastic commentator and just a true icon to the world of wrestling. Best wishes to "The Brain" for a speedy and full recovery.
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I'm Doug and with that, I'm out of here. One more recap late will be coming up tomorrow and then I'm taking the weekend off. I deserve it. Have a great day and always be a fan.