Combining rock and roll and wrestling helped Vince McMahon launch the WWF during the 80s into the global brand it is today. It is a formula that has been replicated by other organisations since, including WCW. Today, Brian looks at the attempts by the American Wrestling Association to do likewise.
Famed American Wrestling Association (AWA) wrestler/promoter Verne Gagne had a reputation during the 1980’s of being a stubborn promoter who refused to adapt to the ever changing landscape of professional wrestling. He often chose athletes over charismatic performers. His loyalties stayed with pro wrestlers who were way past their prime and because of his stubbornness business in the AWA began to wane.
His son Greg Gagne knew that the AWA had to adapt to the times if it had a chance to compete with the surging World Wrestling Federation and the ever present National Wrestling Alliance. Greg Gagne believed the roster needed to get younger and appeal more to the younger fan base. With WrestleMania becoming a huge success and the promotion’s flagship show and with Jim Crockett promotions Starrcade becoming their big show, Gagne wanted a show to call his own. That is when WrestleRock was born!
What exactly was WrestleRock? What was its purpose? Did it succeed or fail? WrestleRock was the AWA’s attempt (one of a few) to be comparable to the big shows like Wrestlemania and Starrcade. It was also an attempt to show fans that the AWA was now hip and fresh. To Accomplish this goal, Verne felt he needed to stack the card from top to bottom with as much talent as possible. The venue chosen was the very spacious Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in his backyard of Minneapolis, Minnesota, a stadium that could seat up to 60,000 people.
15 matches in total were booked for WrestleRock with names like the Road Warriors, Freebirds, Harley Race, Stan Hansen, Nick Bockwinkle, Sgt. Slaughter, Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka and the Midnight Rockers. The AWA also brought in talent from All Japan wrestling namely Giant Baba and Tiger Mask (Mitsuhara Misawa) To cap off the night, Verne Gagne wanted a big musical act to hold a concert after the show. His first choice was allegedly Willie Nelson but he declined, so Waylon Jennings was booked.
Seeing as the AWA had a television deal with ESPN, the AWA would be able to promote the show nationally. Granted, ESPN was not the juggernaut it is today back in 1986, but with its help and perhaps the help of a Waylon Jennings concert afterwards, the AWA was able to seat over 22,000 fans in the Metrodome. A rather large crowd with all things considered, but seeing how the Metrodome could seat over 60,000, the empty seats were quite noticeable.
To further prove to wrestling fans that this was a new AWA, a music video was produced called the WrestleRock Rumble. The video was filmed and produced in Las Vegas, Nevada and had AWA stars like Ken Resnick, Nick Bockwinkle, Larry Zbyszko, Jerry Blackwell and others rap to a cheesy song. It was a blatant rip off of the Superbowl Shuffle done by the Chicago Bears one year prior.
The show itself took place on April 20th, 1986 and had in my opinion the very underrated Rod Trongard doing play by play and the ultra talented Gary Michael Cappetta doing the ring announcements. ‘Killer’ Ken Resnick did all the pre-match interviews although they seemed rather odd considering they were not done backstage, but in the middle of the Metrodome. Odd because instead of a sound proof area backstage, the noisy Metrodome caused some of the interviews to have too much background noise like vendors selling merchandise etc.
The card, while stacked with over 15 matches, was simply too much and caused the show to drag on for way too long. Many fans seemed bored and listless by the very end. While getting over 22,000 fans to attend WrestleRock, by the time Verne Gagne paid the talent, the television crew and various other people involved in the show, the end result was pretty much a financial loss for Verne and the AWA.
Many experts say that this was really the beginning of the end for the AWA. The promotion never fully recovered from their financial losses from WrestleRock although they did attempt to get back on track with SuperClash III a couple of years later. That in itself is another story.