By the late 1980â€™s, wrestling promoters were growing terrified. Vince McMahonâ€™s World Wrestling Federation appeared unstoppable as he gobbled up territory after territory and the old territory system was on its deathbed.
For years wrestling promoters had known that McMahon had to be stopped. This led to the 1985 experiment called Pro Wrestling USA. In it, Jim Crockettâ€™s NWA promotion, Verne Gagneâ€™s American Wrestling Association, Jerry Jarrettâ€™s Championship Wrestling Association, Ole Andersonâ€™s Championship Wrestling from Georgia, Fritz Von Erichâ€™s World Class Championship Wrestling, and other smaller NWA promoters joined together. They gained a television slot and planned tours which would feature both NWA and AWA title bouts.
The Pro Wrestling USA experiment would culminate with the first Superclash event, held on September 28, 1985 at Chicagoâ€™s Comiskey Park. The show was headlined by Ric Flair defeating Magnum TA to retain the NWA title and Rick Martel going to a double DQ against Stan Hansen to retain the AWA belt. The show also featured defenses of the AWA tag team titles, the AWA Americaâ€™s title, the NWA six-man titles, the WCCW Texas title, the IWA heavyweight title, the AWA womenâ€™s title, the NWA midgetâ€™s title, and the AWA light heavyweight title.
Cracks soon began to appear. Jerry Jarrett quickly withdrew as the various promoters began arguing. Soon the NWA pulled out of the agreement and the television shows on ESPN were transformed into AWA shows.
Things were even bleaker by 1988. The WWF was booming and Crockett had begun working to unify the NWA under his own control. By this point Crockett had acquired Oleâ€™s CWG, Florida Championship Wrestling, Bob Geigelâ€™s Central States Wrestling, and Bill Wattsâ€™s Universal Wrestling Federation.
The promoters met again. This time Verne Gagne led the charge with the AWA. Jerry Jarrett and Fritz Von Erich also returned, David Woods signed up with the Continental Wrestling Federation, and David McClane joined with Powerful Women of Wrestling.
The CWA had always had a strong affiliation with the AWA. When Jarrett split from Nick Gulasâ€™s NWA Mid America promotion in 1978, he was denied NWA membership at first. Throughout the first ten years of the companyâ€™s existence, despite becoming an NWA affiliate, the CWA continued to recognize both the NWA and AWA world champions, referring to either as simply â€œthe world champion.â€
The reason was simple. It was always difficult to book the NWA world champion for CWA shows, and after Crockett solidified his grasp on the NWA (and its champion) it became impossible. On the other hand, it was much easier to bring the AWA world champion to town. This resulted in the CWA titles being referred to by both NWA and AWA names, depending on which company the CWA was primarily working with at the time.
1986 saw the CWA withdraw from the NWA completely to become an AWA affiliate. The rewards had been great on both sides â€“ the CWA gained access to the AWA world titles (1987 saw Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee capture the AWA world tag team titles, and Lawler defeated Curt Hennig for the heavyweight title in 1988). In addition, both companies began trading talent. The AWA gained access to well-known wrestlers like Lawler and Dundee, and the CWA gained access to young tag teams such as the Nasty Boys and the Midnight Rockers.
Fritz Von Erichâ€™s World Class Wrestling Association was on its last legs. 1986 had been a disastrous year for the company. The year opened with the death of one of the companyâ€™s top heels in Gino Hernandez. Fritz had then elected to withdraw from the NWA due to Crockettâ€™s refusal to put the world title back on son Kerry in February, although the WCWA did soon gain a TV show on ESPN. On June 4 Kerry was injured in a motorcycle accident â€“ an accident that would lead to Kerry having one of his feet amputated. In May backstage arguments between Fritz and booker Ken Mantell had led to Mantellâ€™s departure for Bill Wattsâ€™s UWF. A great deal of World Class talent soon followed.
1987 started out just as badly as the Texas area entered a financial recession, driving attendance for both WCWA and UWF shows down. In April Mike Von Erich committed suicide, causing more of the fans to stop attending partially due to the hefty death toll in the company.
However, by mid-year things appeared to be turning around. The UWF was sold to Crockett, removing the WCWAâ€™s top competition. Chris Adams, who had jumped to the UWF and been picked up in the purchase, suddenly quit the NWA and returned to World Class. Kerry also returned in November from his surgeries. In addition, the WCWA had a working agreement with the CWA to bring some Tennessee stars in.
After the UWF buyout Ken Mantell had started his own wrestling company with former WCWA talent called Wild West Wrestling. By Christmas Mantell had returned to the fold (by buying part of the WCWA) and all of his talent was welcomed back with one exception â€“ the former Lance Von Erich.
By 1988, the company had tried to expand with a failed Von Erichs over America tour and mainstay (and former booker) Gary Hart left the company for good.
Verne Gagne was also facing disaster. The AWA had become a handy place for both the NWA and WWF to raid young talent. Gagne had attempted to build stars with Scott Hall, Leon White, the Midnight Rockers, the Nasty Boys, and Madusa Miceli. Hall would soon sign with the NWA. Leon White left in 1987 for Japan, where he was transformed into the monstrous Vader. 1988 saw the Nasty Boys head to Florida before signing with first WCW and then the WWF. The Rockers signed with the WWF in 1988 as well.
Problems were also brewing with world champion Curt Hennig. By early 1988 the WWF signed Hennig (who would soon become known as Mr. Perfect), forcing Gagne to put the world title on CWA star Jerry Lawler after negative fan responses to reversed decisions that teased putting the belt on Verneâ€™s son Greg â€“ the most likely recipient in the AWAâ€™s depleted roster.
David Woods was new to the wrestling scene. The Fuller family had owned Continental Championship Wrestling (under various names) for decades. Ron Fuller had limited the company to the Gulf Coast area until 1985, when he returned to the Knoxville territory and changed the companyâ€™s name to CCW from Southeastern Championship Wrestling. Woods purchased the company, changed the name to the Continental Wrestling Federation, and gained a television slot on the Financial News Network.
David McLaneâ€™s POWW was the second of what would become a long line of womenâ€™s wrestling promotions. His first attempt was Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling in 1986. He soon sold GLOW and headed to Indianapolis, where he founded POWW. Finding talent was no problem as many of the GLOW wrestlers, unhappy with new managementâ€™s pay cuts, jumped to POWW.
All the promotions would work together to get set for Superclash III. The show would be broadcast on pay-per-view (the AWAâ€™s first) on December 13, 1998 from Chicago.
The card looked like this:
Chavo Guerrero/ Mando Guerrero/ Hector Guerrero (WCWA) vs. Cactus Jack/ Rock n Roll RPMs (CWA)
WCWA Light Heavyweight title
Jeff Jarrett Â© vs. Eric Embry
Jimmy Valiant vs. Wayne Bloom (AWA)
WCWA Texas Heavyweight title
Iceman King Parsons Â© vs. Brickhouse Brown
Badd Company/ Madusa Miceli vs. Top Guns/ Wendi Richter (AWA)
AWA International Television title
Ron Garvin vs. Greg Gagne
POWW Lingerie Battle Royal
Competitors were Bambi, Brandi Mae, Laurie Lynn, Luna Vachon, Malibu, Nina, Pali the Syrian Terrorist, Peggy Lee Leather, and Pocohontas.
Boot Camp Match (AWA)
Sgt. Slaughter vs. Col. DeBeers
WCWA World Tag Team titles
Samoan Swat Team Â© vs. Michael Hayes/ Steve Cox
Indian Strap match (AWA)
Manny Fernandez vs. Wahoo McDaniel
Title Unification match
AWA World Heavyweight champion Jerry Lawler vs. WCWA World Heavyweight champion Kerry Von Erich
Rock n Roll Express vs. the Stud Stable (CWF)
Itâ€™s notable that of the 12 matches on the show, 6 featured AWA wrestlers. The show may have been a cooperative effort, but it was clear that the AWA would be in the spotlight (after all, the show was presented under the AWA banner).
The execution of the show was lacking. The results of the card follow complete with Scott Keithâ€™s star rating for each match.
Chavo Guerrero/ Mando Guerrero/ Hector Guerrero over Cactus Jack/ Rock n Roll RPMs – 2 1/2 stars
(Chavo pinned Tommy Lane)
WCWA Light Heavyweight title
Eric Embry over Jeff Jarrett by pinfall â€“ 2 Â½ stars
Jimmy Valiant over Wayne Bloom by pinfall – Dud
WCWA Texas Heavyweight title
Iceman King Parsons Â© over Brickhouse Brown by pinfall â€“ 2 Â½ stars
Top Guns/ Wendi Richter over Badd Company/ Madusa Miceli â€“ Â½ star
(Richter pinned Madusa)
AWA International Television title
Greg Gagne over Ron Garvin by countout to win the vacant title â€“ Â½ star
POWW Lingerie Battle Royal – Dud
Winner was Pali the Syrian Terrorist.
Boot Camp Match
Sgt. Slaughter over Col. DeBeers by submission – Dud
WCWA World Tag Team titles
Samoan Swat Team Â© over Michael Hayes/ Steve Cox â€“ 3 stars
(Samu pinned Michael Hayes)
Indian Strap match
Wahoo McDaniel over Manny Fernandez â€“ 1 star
Title Unification match
Jerry Lawler over Kerry Von Erich by ref stoppage to award both belts to Lawler. â€“ 3 Â¾ stars
Rock n Roll Express vs. Stud Stable went to a double DQ. â€“ Â½ star
The match quality was obviously not the best. Add to that the fact that the crowd completely turned on the POWW battle royal and Greg Gagneâ€™s title win, and you had a recipe for disaster when the main event resulted in the ref stopping the match due to Kerryâ€™s blood loss while he had Lawler locked in the iron claw.
Things got even worse when the nearly UIC Pavilion was nearly deserted. The Pavilion has a nearly 7,000 seat capacity, but when the floor seats are added the capacity gets closer to 10,000. Wrestling had been successful in the building before, as well. The prior November WCW had promoted Starrcade 87 in this location and had drawn 8,000. Superclash had a reported attendance of 1,672.
The buy rate was a disaster. Starrcade 87 had done a 3.3. Starrcade 1988, headlined by Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger, had done a 1.8. The WWFâ€™s Survivor Series, with Randy Savage/ Hulk Hogan/ Hercules/ Koko B. Ware/ Hillbilly Jim vs. Akeem/ Big Boss Man/ Ted DiBiase/ Haku/ Red Rooster as the main event did a 2.8.
Superclash did a .5.
With financial disaster looming, Verne Gagne began pulling things together. He reportedly began distributing different numbers to the other promotions (all of which would indicate different payouts from the AWA). It didnâ€™t take long for the other promotions to figure out what was going on.
The CWA was the first to react. The CWA severed all ties with the AWA and Lawler, still the champion, kept the actual title belt. The belt was renamed the USWA Unified World title and the CWA (soon renamed the USWA) used it as their primary belt for the remainder of the promotionâ€™s life.
POWW soon collapsed as well. The company shut down operations in 1990.
The CWF fared no better. David Woods had appointed Eddie Gilbert and Paul Heyman as the head bookers. Woods soon found himself battling Gilbert and Heyman even as the promotion was building a tour called the Road to Birmingham, where Eddie Gilbert would have reportedly won the CWF title. Gilbert and Heyman left the company, and it shut down operations in December of 1989.
Fritz Von Erich was desperate. The WCWA had desperately needed the Superclash money to remain solvent, and the payout was not coming. With no other options, the majority of the WCWA was sold to the CWA.
Under booker Eric Embry, the WCWA (now known as USWA Dallas) began turning itself around (although relying heavily on CWA talent). In 1989 the company actually became profitable again. However, problems loomed on the horizon.
While Embryâ€™s edgy booking was bringing in fans, it was not winning over television executives. In addition, Kerry and Kevin Von Erich were in a dispute with Jarrett over the payouts they were receiving.
In September of 1990 Jarrett sold the company back to Kerry and Kevin. However, the situation was now worse than ever for World Class. Thanks in large part to Embryâ€™s edgy angles (including incidents where a female valet was superkicked by a male wrestler and stretchered out and one where Embry himself vomited in the ring following an attack with a baseball bat) local station KTVT had dropped the television show. With no television and a limited roster, the Von Erichs tried to start things going again but it was too late. World Class closed its doors for good in November of 1990. After its closure, the USWA began running the traditional home of World Class, the Sportatorium, once again.
The AWA fared no better. With Superclash a failure and the bridges between the other promotions burned, Gagne found himself in a position where he didnâ€™t even have a world champion or a title belt. A new belt was quickly commissioned and Larry Zbyszko (Gagneâ€™s son-in-law) returned to the AWA from the NWA and won the title in February of 1989. Larry would hold the belt for almost the entire remaining tenure of the AWA.
In October of 1989, the AWA debuted the infamous Team Challenge Series. This divided the roster into three teams, all of whom would compete in various gimmick matches to earn points. The winners would receive a check for one million dollars.
The Team Challenge Series was a colossal failure. In addition, Gagne had been financing the AWA with loans on a piece of lakefront property he owned. The property was taken under imminent domain, and Gagneâ€™s chief source of financial income was gone. Jerry Jarrett contacted Gagne about a purchase of the AWA and a deal seemed close until Gagne insisted that Jarrett push Greg as a top contender. Jarrett refused and the AWA shut down in August of 1990.
If there was a winner coming out of Superclash, it was doubtless the CWA. The CWA came out of the situation with a majority ownership in World Class and a newly-crowned world heavyweight champion.
Jarrett soon renamed the territory the United States Wrestling Association, or USWA. With territories in Memphis and Dallas, Jarrett planned to have the majority of his television broadcasts emanate from the Sportatorium. This caused problems with the longtime home of the CWA, channel 5 in Memphis. They demanded a live studio show as they had always had. In response Memphis continued to run the traditional studio show while the syndicated shows placed USWA announcer Michael St. John in an editing room where he played as if both the Memphis and Dallas shows were going on simultaneously and the show would jump to whichever satellite feed was needed.
After the World Class pullout, the USWA continued to run Memphis. They returned to Dallas for a short while after World Class shut down, but were soon evicted as the Global Wrestling Federation started running the Sportatorium.
The USWA continued to operate until 1997, when it was shut down due to a convoluted legal situation which still has not been completely resolved to this day.
Tags: awa, Jerry Lawler, Kerry Von Erich, Verne Gagne