The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA
This was such a joyous and at the same time depressing DVD that I have ever watched and like the ECW DVD, it charts the life and death of the company from 1953 to 1991. However, unlike ECW who died due to Paul Heyman being a terrible businessman AWA was victim to many different thing before it finally closed its doors. The main bulk of the DVD is an over two-hour long documentary and watching I was surprised as I had no idea how influential the AWA were and how powerful they were at the time. My knowledge of them was minimal and most of this was from the farcical final years when the company was going out of business. Throughout we get to see how many superstars actually started in the AWA: Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Dusty Rhodes, Bobby Heenan, Eric Bischoff, Gene Okerland, Superstar Billy Graham, Jesse Ventura, Roadwarriors and many more.
One aspect that they focus on is how good Verne was as a trainer, taking the time to train many superstars into what they were today and as Freebird Michael Hayes says 'If you came out of there, people knew you were ready to rock and roll!' More importantly Verne was able to take a good wrestler and turn them into a star by clicking on to what they were like deep down inside. A classic example was 'Mad Dog' Vachon who spent ten years not making any money as a wrestler until Verne found out a very significant fact which was as Greg Gagne puts it 'he was a lunatic'. He then went onto become one of the most popular heels in the business.
Throughout the documentary we get a deeper look into the talent including Nick Bockwinkel, The Crusher, Baron von Raschke amongst others. These are short and to the point, but these are all wonderful at showing how good these (for many) unknown wrestlers were and more importantly, why. I do wish that more had been made of this as I really wanted to know more about the time The Roadwarriors or Dusty Rhodes had spent in the AWA and what they contributed.
The reason they didn't do this is probably because a good portion of the disk concerns the AWA's dealings with Hulk Hogan. When Hogan was fired from the WWWF (I love throughout the DVD when people are forced to call it that and it sounds like they are counting to make sure they have said enough w's) he went on to join the AWA. It was here that Hulkamania was born and Hogan began creating his own T-Shirts to sell, what Hogan didn't know was that when Hogan went to wrestle in Japan, Verne made Hulk Hogan T-Shirts and sold them behind his back, not giving him any money. Hogan left after Verne asked Hogan for a portion of the money he made in Japan and he claims this is the reason he never properly won the championship. Everyone points to Hogan leaving as the beginning of the end of the AWA with Vince McMahon purchasing almost all of Verne's top talent from Greg Valentine to announcer Mean Gene Okerland. McMahon even attempted to purchase the AWA, but was turned down and the company struggled on again.
One interesting thing that's brought up that I never knew was the idea of the Superclash PPVs which tried to unite the remaining territories to combat against McMahon. Unfortunately these failed as egos got in the way and no company wanted their wrestler to lose the match. This all cumulated in Superclash III were AWA Champion Jerry Lawler (actually a Memphis Wrestling
performer) faced off against WCCW's Champion Kerry von Erich. Lawler claims that he was never paid for the event (and still hasn't to this day!) then when Verne gave him a list of dates Lawler simply refused to appear, keeping the title too. This became a familiar occurrence throughout the AWA's life and when Stan Hansen won the title he left for Japan and (as with Hogan) when Verne asked for a portion of his Japan money Hansen didn't return...
though he did return the belt, but not after running it over first!
It's at this point in the DVD that you better have the comfort food and tissues ready as it's just sad to hear about the series of mistakes and miss-opportunities that led to the companies' demise. Verne would create popular stars Curt Hennig (It is actually very sad to see his father Larry 'The Axe' Hennig talking about his son) The Roadwarriors, The Midnight Rockers (odd that Shawn Michaels doesn't comment on the DVD) and even gave future WCW President Eric Bischoff his first big break, but as soon as any of them got a level of success they would be snatched by WWE or WCW.
Interesting part is at the end when everyone is asked 'Why did the AWA end?'
a number of answers are given, ranging from lack of talent, not keeping with the times, stubbornness of Verne, McMahon thinks it 'self destructed under the weight of competition' however, the final nail in the coffin came when Verne was forced to sell his property and could no longer fund the company.
It's everyone's belief that if that hadn't happened AWA would still be around today, though with the huge success of WWE and WCW in the mid-90s and the rising popularity of ECW I doubt the company would have anything to offer anyone, other than as an embryonic Ring of Honour or OVW for the WWE.
Finally, we get to see the induction (though oddly not in full, even as an
extra) of Verne into the WWE Hall of Fame. It would be interesting to see if over time they induct more non-WWE people such as Jim Crockett and Fritz von Erich. After this we get to see a montage of all those who worked in AWA and it's almost like a 'who's who' of wrestling! It's amazing that they had this much talent and at its peak included most of the main draws from the 1970s and 80s.
On this disk we are also given lots of extra interviews that didn't fit the DVD. I have no idea why they weren't included in the documentary unless someone thought they weren't so good (why include them at all if that's the case?), however most of this helps supports the main feature and could easily have fit in there
The second disk is very disappointing for a number of reasons. Containing thirteen (unlucky for this set) matches I'd be lying if I said they were all a clear indication as to why the AWA was spectacular. They don't, in fact unlike all other WWE documentaries the matches are quite frankly abysmal both in quality of the footage, but also of the match itself. The earliest match is from 1971 and up until 1980 (4 matches) I can accept the rough quality of the picture and sound, but anything after that (9 matches) is just not on. Even the final match from 1988 looks like it was put together by an amateur and I've seen handheld indy wrestling videos that look better than most of the stuff on here! Some of these matches also seem to begin part way through the match and so we don't get to see the awesome entrance of the Roadwarriors or the flamboyance of Jesse 'The Body' Ventura or Hulk Hogan. The other main reason is that most of the matches mean absolutely nothing to me. If you're going to include a Roadwarriors match, why not include the Roadwarriors' title victory? A few from Superclash 1 or 2? Where are the Freebirds? Dusty Rhodes? Bobbie Heenan? Why make such a fuss over them in the DVD if you're not going to show them? It honestly feels as though these matches were all picked at random from a tombola without any rhyme or reason and the only logical reason behind this must be that WWE didn't have access to this footage, but this sounds absurd when you consider how much they supposedly paid for their video archive.
It's sad that unlike all other WWE DVDs where I have managed to go through match by match, with this one it would be impossible without making you think this is a terrible DVD. It's far from it; instead I shall rate the highlights from the disk as there still are some jewels to be found.
AWA Title ***
Verne Gagne vs. Baron Von Raschke
Verne and the Baron were crazy to watch and despite the quality of the video, this is a great match to watch and a clear indication as to why Verne was respected so much as a performer.
AWA Title - Retirement Match ***
Verne Gagne vs. Nick Bockwinkel
Consider this; this match is ten years after the last one. When you think of that it's amazing Verne could still work this good. However, both show that almost 'refusal to let go' mentality that really should have ushered in some new blood. Saying that, this is almost like a classic Flair bout and great to watch.
AWA Title ***
Hulk Hogan vs. Nick Bockwinkel
A good match that is proof that Hulkamania was born in the AWA. These two work well with each other and the match is very enjoyable. A little generic, at times, but for the time Hogan's style was sheer electric.
Midnight Rockers vs. Buddy Rose & Doug Somers ****
HBK's birthplace. As one half of the Midnight Rockers, these two were clearly one of the true innovators of tag team wrestling. When WWE release (and they will eventually) a DVD focusing on tag team wrestling I can guarantee they will be on there. A great face/heel team match that just works. Possibly one of the few highlights of the last few years of the AWA.
AWA Title ***
Curt Hennig vs. Nick Bockwinkel
Hennig, behind Bret Hart was possibly one of the most technically sound wrestlers I have ever watched. He was able to perform, but also (as Mr Perfect in the WWF) he was able to ooze perfect personality to make me love to hate him. I never thought I'd buy him as a champion, but here against Bockwinkel, he shows that if he had been given the chance he could have been a great champion in the WWF.
The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA is a great DVD, but not one of the best WWE has produced. At times there are too many personal opinions over facts and I'm never sure whether to feel sympathy for Verne for losing his business or scoff at his inability to fix the problems and stumble from one hilariously bad mistake to another. However, I do commend the WWE for allowing Verne and Greg Gagne tell this story rather than an overly biased 'to the victor goes the spoils' history that WWE seem to prefer when they talk of the downfall of ECW and WCW. Overall, the DVD is great for those who want to learn more about the history of the business and how they have shaped what we watch today.
Reviewed by David Simpson on May 2, 2007.
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