Jesse "The Body" Ventura played key role in decline of Minnesota wrestling [VIDEOS]
|Before he became governor, Jesse "The Body" was a notorious heel. (Arguably he hasn't changed much.)|
In the early 1980s, the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association was arguably the world's number-one wrestling promotion, and two of its biggest stars were Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Hulk Hogan.
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But old-school AWA owner Verne Gagne was reluctant to make Hogan his centerpiece star, and over the span of a few months straddling 1983 and '84, forward-thinking World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon swooped in and signed away most of Gagne's best talent.
Explaining the departure of stars like Hogan and Ventura on-air wasn't an easy task for the AWA, especially as cable TV brought WWF programming into the Twin Cities market.
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"The AWA would come on and try to be an apologist for some guy leaving and come up with some cock and bull story, and the wrestling fans were so sharp they knew, 'No, he's going to WWE and he got a better offer,' Jesse Ventura for example," former AWA announcer and Minneapolis wrestling historian Mick Karch said while being interviewed by Keller a couple weeks ago (listen to the interview here).
You can see some of what Karsh is talking about in this cool video package, which shows both Ventura's last AWA appearance and how promoter Wally Karbo tried to explain his sudden departure during a subsequent show:
As if to rub salt in the wound, Ventura badmouthed Gagne and the AWA during his early WWF appearances.
"When guys like Jesse Ventura left, they're on these WWE promos -- the promos especially for the Minneapolis market -- and they're ripping on Verne Gagne," Karch said. "And people are taking notice of that too."
"Now I don't agree with it -- I think it sucks that they did that," Karch continued. "After all, Jesse made a lot of money working for Verne for that whole duration of time, and now all of a sudden you get a better job and you start ripping on the former boss?"
Ethics aside, the talent exodus and anti-AWA promos on WWF television sent Gagne's promotion into a tailspin it never pulled out of.
"People don't really know what's going on in the inside of wrestling, so if they hear these guys talking about how 'Verne Gagne screwed me over and [the AWA] is the minor league now,' they're going to buy into it," Karch said. "It was pretty disastrous and it was sad to see."
The AWA was dead by 1991. But as has been the case with many of the promotions it drove out of business, the WWE later purchased the AWA's tape library and posted some classic matches to YouTube, including a 1982 Ventura-Hogan encounter before a packed house in St. Paul.
To watch that match, which took place at the peak of the AWA's power, click to page two.