We are all now well aware of the events that lead to the death of AWA. Bad choices in booking and promoting, the inability to follow the changing times, the need for older mat based only wrestlers being on top, and selfish demands on money all helped to destroy AWA. If one was to look at AWA, they had a big name of stars that were still there in AWA, and had the talent and ability to be huge. We will look at 1988; the last year that AWA had a chance to stay afloat had they made different choices.
The first and most obvious thing to have done was follow what WWF and JCP had been doing, and that is getting the talent into a contract. AWA had a decent talent pool in 1988, but many of them would be taken away due to contract offers from WWF and JCP. They were already bleeding as it was and several 3-5 year contracts would have stopped this. Curt Hennig, The Midnight Rockers, Jerry Lawler, Bob Orton, Adrian Adonis, Wahoo McDanial, The Nasty Boys, Greg Gagne and Badd Company were some of the bigger names in AWA at the time, and only Greg would remain to see 1989. Contracts with these men who were there in 1988, along with those would come into AWA during 1988, would help hold the company together with specific known talent that they could depend on and be able to push through long specific angles. Sgt Slaughter, The Guerrero Brothers, Manny Fernandez, The Top Guns, Col DeBeers, Iron Sheik, The Destruction Crew, Ron Garvin, The RNR Express, and the likes of CWA and USWA all entered AWA in 1988. The talent pool was as big as JCP and WWF and contracts could have held them in place,
The next thing was the use of specific talent. Allowing the young talent to go to waste was just a poor choice all around for AWA. Hennig, the Midnight Rockers, Derrick Dukes & Ricky Rice, Kevin Kelly & Nick Kiniski were all underused. Yes, Hennig and the Rockers held the titles, but they were taken off of them because Verne felt older established talent should hold the titles. Without a title hunt for these men, many of them left for WWF or JCP. Losing Hennig and The Rockers for this reason was several big nails in the coffin of AWA. The older talent could have been used in mid card/upper mid card feuds to build around the younger top talents. Slaughter could have continued his feud with Iron Sheik and used a new AWA guy to build by teaming with Slaughter to go against DeBeers and Sheik. For a starved AWA, The Young Guns, Guerrero Brothers, and the Nasty boys could have been built to main eventers against the likes of Orton and Adonis, DeBeers & Sheik, and some of the other long time vets of AWA. Pushing the younger talent was one of the biggest errors of AWA and could have easily been avoided. The fans loved many of the new stars, and the fans are almost always right, all Verne had to do was listen.
Structure of the joining of AWA, CWA, and WCCW was done completely wrong. All each company wanted was for their star to be on top. They didn’t care about story lines, pleasing the fans, fighting Vince and Crockett, or anything positive as far as the wrestling business goes. If Ego’s had been set aside for the betterment of the business, these 3 companies could have made some major movement in the popularity and made AWA a top contender in the big 3. Kerry Von Eric, Jerry Lawler, and Curt Hennig were the 3 biggest singles stars from each company and this could have been the key to pushing the new “3 way dance” that had been done in small scale starting about 1986 into the national spotlight. Hennig, Lawler, and Von Erich all had the ability to deliver a 3 way match and go for an hour. This is just for the Unified Title alone, and this could have been done in other areas, including the tag team titles being united along with the WCCW Texas, AWA TV, and the CWA Southern titles. The possibilities were limitless just in the title picture alone. In a tine where 4-6 month built up angles were the norm, this could have been stretch a year, allowing Superclash III to be the focal point of the “First” 3 way dance. Building a massive undercard with a tag team boot camp match of Sgt Slaughter and a partner (perhaps Wahoo McDanial due to his ethnic minority that DeBeers played on) against Col DeBeers and Iron Sheik would have been a big draw. Having the Rockers against teams such as Robert Fuller and Jimmy Golden, The Samoan Swat Team, Hector & Chavo, and a few other WCCW and CWA teams in a mini tourney at SC3 to determine new unified tag champions would have also been huge. Have the 3 2ndary champions in a 1 on 1 on 1 match, where you have to tag one guy in perhaps, with the winner becoming the Unified TV champion or something along those lines. The talent was in these companies to build big feuds from top to bottom, including the women, with Madusa, Wendi Richter, and other well known female stars of the time. SC3 could have drawn 15-20K like SC1 did!
The final straw that really killed AWA was expansion. Like JCP’s, when they had big cards they took them to new areas, places that wasn’t a huge draw for AWA. Not having main shows in Texas, Tennessee, or in Minnesota just did them in. While they had a presence in NV, CA, and IL, they simply weren’t as big as they were in the home states of AWA, WCCW, or CWA, and they should have focused on that.
There are also a few minor things AWA did that that hurt them, and they will be talked about here in a final wrap up. I mentioned the misuse of talent, but as important was the misuse of angles. Verne simply couldn’t follow with the times. Dull mat based wrestling and angles based on a guy being a cheater just wasn’t over in the 1980’s. Involving elements that were big in JCP’s or WWF would have helped greatly. Also, there was no merchandising in AWA like we saw from WWF, or even as much as JCP’s used. This was a way to expand on earnings without much expense. Lastly, fights over earnings were huge. Verne not only wanted his earnings for owning and running AWA, but he expected the talent to pay him for them making money through gimmick sales in AWA even if he didn’t help promote or pay for these things to help, and he often wanted 50% of the sales, which is crazy to say the least.
Basically, AWA ended up folding due to greed, misuse of talent and angles, and the inability to grow with the times. AWA, along with CWA and WCCW had the tools to carry on well into the 90’s if done properly, and they had a strangle hold on 3-5 key markets when they all joined. However, when only AWA guys were allowed to be on top, and it was the older AWA guys at that, the fans simply wouldn’t have it. Had AWA, and Verne, simply worked more for the business rather than himself, we may have a different history of pro wrestling. Instead, we only remember AWA being so painful to watch for the last 2-3 years it existed.