On Your Mark: The AWF Experiment

Brian Damage

http://www.wrestlecrap.com/

(Image courtesy of http://www.wrestlecrap.com)

Money Mark// noun// Definition: Someone who invests money into a promotion or starts a promotion to rub shoulders with pro wrestlers.

There have been quite a few “money marks” in the business of pro wrestling since the dawn of time. Some would even go as far as to say that Dixie Carter of TNA is a classic example of one. If a photo was needed to illustrate the definition however, then you may see a picture of Paul Alperstein next to it.

Who was Paul Alperstein? He was a very successful Chicago business man who in 1994, led a group of investors to start a brand new wrestling organization….the AWF. No, it didn’t stand for “Another Wrestling Failure” or was short for AWFul….although both would be quite fitting. It stood for American Wrestling Federation and they were going to revolutionize professional wrestling.

It was going to use a round system similar to European rules. Three 4 minute rounds….if a wrestler didn’t decisively win in the allotted rounds, two judges and the referee would decide who the winner was. Also, throwing an opponent over the top rope was an automatic disqualification. Jim Brunzell (WWE’s Killer Bees and AWA fame) was hired as the on screen AWF commissioner.  In reality though, Tito Santana and Sgt. Slaughter were given control of the actual booking.

There was a litany of major stars competing on the AWF roster like Santana, Slaughter, Tommy Rich, Greg Valentine, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Mr. Hughes, Koko B. Ware, Hercules, Tony Atlas, The Warlord and Nails. Certainly a who’s who of superstars from the 80’s being pushed hard into the mid 90’s. If you ever have the privilege to watch an episode or two…the real stars weren’t the wrestlers…but the “fans” in attendance.

Ah yes…the AWF fans…the real entertainment on the show. Why you ask? They were paid to be there. Alperstein paid Screen Actors Guild members to sit ringside and react to certain wrestlers and moments during the show. To cut costs…not all the fans were plants….legend has it…Alperstein offered free food to the homeless. All they had to do was fill up the studios where they were taping. If the crowd wasn’t loud enough, canned cheers and boos were added during the editing process.

The other little nugget from the AWF was the TV deal they had. This was a solid year before the Monday Night Wars took off and ECW was still gaining steam. Wrestling wasn’t exactly a hot commodity it would later turn out to be. Word has it, that Paul Alperstein paid the TV stations around the country to air his wrestling show much like an infomercial.

The hope was that enough fans would latch on to the program and they could start running house shows and have a pay per view to make up the money spent. It didn’t exactly turn out that way as the wrestlers were older…the format was clunky and before long the money dried up.

For all the innovations Alperstein and the AWF tried to incorporate…like the turnbuckle cam…the rounds system…the strict rules….choosing the seeding in the AWF title tournament by picking names out of a hat…the AWF was broke. More importantly, the AWF’s money mark Paul Alperstein was tapped out financially.

SPOILER ALERT…Tito “The Booker” Santana won the AWF tournament to be crowned the first ever AWF heavyweight champion.

After all the money spent on talent, TV syndication, equipment, venue and even fans….the AWF was done…or was it? In 2010, Mick Karch (Former announcer for the 90’s version of AWF) bought the naming rights to the promotion. They moved their operations from Chicago to Minnesota and instead of national syndication…are airing on the CW in the Twin Cities. Tito Santana, Greg Valentine and Jim Powers have been replaced by younger talent named The Black Stallion, Pete Huge and Arick Cannon. The AWF lives on! As the old Sarge would say….YOU’RE DISMISSED MAGGOT!

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One thought on “On Your Mark: The AWF Experiment

  1. Wow…didn’t know the “fans” were planted there. The wrestling wasn’t bad but….somewhere I have recordings of these matches.

    Like

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