COMMENTARY | For decades, the AWA was one of the top three professional wrestling promotions in America. Mainly operating in the Midwest, Verne Gagne had a healthy mix of rugged, villainous heels and scientific babyfaces in the AWA. Although the AWA is no longer in operation, the promotion's World Heavyweight Champions are still recognized today as some of the greatest wrestlers in history.
Take a closer look at where five former AWA Champions are today.
Mad Dog Vachon (1964, '64-'65, '65, '65-'66, '66-'67)
Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel are synonymous with AWA wrestling. But Maurice 'Mad Dog' Vachon actually had five AWA title reigns, one more than Bockwinkel had. Although Vachon had an outstanding amateur wrestling background, he reinvented himself as a scary, vicious heel in the AWA.
Shortly after retiring, Vachon lost a leg in a hit-and-run accident. In fact, the WWE used Vachon and his prosthetic leg in a couple of storylines in his retirement. The WWE inducted Vachon into its hall of fame in 2010. He and his wife now live in Omaha, Nebraska.
Dr. X (1968)
Although masked wrestlers were prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. X was an anomaly in winning a World Heavyweight Championship as one. Dr. X was AWA Champion for two weeks in 1968. He defeated Gagne and then lost the AWA title back to Gagne 14 days later.
Dr. X put the Master's Degree in Education he earned from Syracuse to good use in retirement. He taught physical education in Akron, New York and coached several sports. Today, he is on the Board of Directors of the Cauliflower Alley Club, a fraternal order of pro wrestlers.
Nick Bockwinkel (1975-'80, '81-'82, '82-'84, '86-'87)
Nick Bockwinkel reminded me of Ric Flair in that although he was a heel, he always looked the part of a champion and represented his wrestling promotion well. He and Gagne feuded for a decade, resulting in Bockwinkel's aforementioned four AWA World Heavyweight Championship reigns.
As one of the most recognized and respected figures in wrestling history, Bockwinkel was a valued commodity after retiring. In fact, he served as the on-air WCW commissioner. A resident of Las Vegas, Bockwinkel is a WWE Hall of Famer and he is president of the Cauliflower Alley Club.
Rick Martel (1984-'85)
Although most wrestling fans remember him for his time in the WWE as The Model and as one-half of a very successful tag team with Tony Garea, Martel won his only World Heavyweight Championship in the AWA. In fact, he held the AWA title for well over a year in 1984 and 1985.
Martel retired in 1998 after being injured in WCW. Despite only being 42 years old, he has stayed retired. After briefly working as a WCW trainer and on WCW French production, he returned home to Quebec City to his wife and daughter. Today, he and his family enjoy traveling around the world.
Jerry Lawler (1988-'89)
For most of his wrestling career, Jerry Lawler was a legend in Memphis. Late in 1988, Lawler defeated Curt Hennig to win his first and only AWA World Heavyweight Championship. He was the fourth-to-last AWA Champion and his reign lasted into early 1989 before losing to Larry Zbyszko.
Most wrestling fans know Lawler today as the color commentator of WWE Raw. But he still occasionally wrestles on the independent scene. In fact, he recently wrestled in Dory Funk's !BANG! promotion. Lawler is enshrined in the WWE Hall of Fame and he still resides in Memphis, Tennessee.
Patrick Michael lives in New Orleans and has always been a big fan of pro wrestling. Patrick's favorite wrestling promotion was Mid-South Wrestling back in the 1980s. Patrick's favorite wrestling angle of all-time was the NWO and his favorite wrestler is Roddy Piper. Follow Patrick Michael on Twitter at patmichael84.
More from this contributor
- Sports & Recreation
- Nick Bockwinkel
- Verne Gagne
- Mad Dog Vachon
- World Heavyweight Championship
- Jerry Lawler