What-If-Wednesday: Hogan Wins the AWA Title

So here in America, the term "alternative facts" has become popular for....well, reasons I'd rather not get into. 

Let's just say I've drunk a lot in the past 4 weeks. 

Instead let's discuss alternative histories. I've been working my way through Amazon's Man in the High Castle over the last few weeks, and while I can't fully recommend the series, it has got me thinking about other alternative timelines. Of course, I'm not considering such things as "what if the South would have won the Civil War?" or "what if the Cold War would have gone hot?"; instead, I'm thinking about pro wrestling because I have no shame.

(Incidentally, Rick and I started this site because we were interested in writing articles in which we rebooked the Invasion Angle from 2001, so it seems appropriate to return to our roots in a sense.)

So I'm introducing a new shameful feature here at WrestlingShame: What-If-Wednesday. Every other week, I'll take a look back at an infamous or famous wrestling event and try to use my PhD-level thinking skills to plot out an alternative history of the event.

Pictured: me in real life. Seriously. 
With that out of the way, let's start with arguably one of the biggest "what-if's" in wrestling history: what if Hulk Hogan would have been given the AWA championship? 

The Actual Timeline:

I suspect that it's still an interesting bit of trivia for a lot of wrestling fans to discover that Hulk Hogan had a run with the WWF back in the early 1980s that pre-dated his megastar period in the late 80s through early 1990s. After having worked in Memphis and elsewhere in the South, Hogan was brought into New York by Vince McMahon, Sr. and booked as a heel with Classy Freddie Blassie as his manager. Hogan's apex during this time was a match against Andre the Giant in the WWF's "Showdown at Shea" in August of 1980. 

After several tours of Japan (the WWF and NJPW shared talent during this time), Hogan got a role in Rocky III which apparently angered Vince Sr., who did not share Hogan and Vince Jr.'s vision of more entertainment-savy professional wrestling (at least according to Hogan, so take it with a grain of salt. Remember, always believe the opposite of what Hogan says.)

Afterward, Hogan appeared in Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association and quickly became a popular face. Soon, Hogan was feuding with AWA mainstay Nick Bockwinkel, and the two fought for the title at the AWA's Super Sunday in April 1983.

So a popular-up-and-coming face was facing the heel champion at a major event. It seems like the perfect time to place the belt on your future star. I mean Vince McMahon has done that, approximately, 27 times with Roman Reigns!

Well, that's not what happened. Feel free to watch below!

At the conclusion of the match, Hogan pins Bockwinkel and wins the AWA Championship -- but that decision is reversed by AWA President Stanley Blackburn because Hogan tossed Bockwinkel over the top rope (again, why not disqualify Hogan at that moment instead of waiting till the end of the match? Pro wrestling is dumb sometimes). Anyway, after the reversal Hogan loses his mind. The crowd in the arena loses its mind. And these are Minnesotans; I mean Canadians think Minnesotans are too polite. Remind me to never insult Minnesotans. Well, again. 

So, why did this happen? Well, there are a lot of possible reasons. Among the theories that I've found online are these: Gagne believed Hogan was more of a bodybuilder than an actual wrestler, that Gagne and Hogan had arguments about merchandising, and that Gagne wouldn't put the title on Hogan until Hulk married one of Gagne's daughters.  Perhaps most likely, this end happened because Gagne relied -- perhaps a bit too much -- on the "reversing the decision" trope throughout his tenure as owner of the AWA and this was something of his default way to address story-lines. 

The Outcome:

In short, a lot of people say this was the beginning of the end for the AWA. Soon after, Hogan -- along with a lot of other members of the AWA -- bolted for the greener financial pastures of the WWF. In an effort to increase their national profile, the AWA entered into an uneasy, cross-promotional arrangement with WCCW, Mid-South Wrestling, and Memphis wrestling that did not pan out. While the company did find talents with Scott Hall, the Rockers, and Curt Henning, those younger wrestlers soon left the company as well, and the AWA was defunct by 1991.

Hogan became the biggest wrestling personality in history under the guidance of Vince McMahon. Also, he starred in some terrible movies.

So What If???:

I have to acknowledge my timeline is not perfect because it depends on a lot of factors, but here we go: despite whatever misgivings Gagne has about Hulk Hogan in 1983, he puts the belt on him and makes him the new face of the AWA. Now, this is a big if because the history of the AWA can basically be boiled down to "Verne Gagne Protects Verne Gagne," but let's presume he sees the light. With Hogan as champion of his territory, wrestlers that would have gone to New York to work with Vince McMahon likely stay -- at least for a few years. While Jesse Ventura may have eventually gone to work with Vince, someone like Bobby Heenan may have stayed in the Upper Midwest. And a Hogan title-run may have garnered a lot more interest from fans in the Twin Cities, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Winnipeg than another championship with Bockwinkel. 

However, the bigger impact would have been felt by the WWF. With no Hogan, would Vince McMahon been as aggressive in attempting to create a national wrestling promotion? *thinks* Well, of course he would have, but I'm not sure he would have been as successful. Who would have been Vince's big babyface to promote? Randy Savage? Look, I love me some Randy Savage, but I don't think Macho Man would have connected to the 1980s zeitgeist as effectively as Hogan did. 

By the way, an alternate history where Randy Savage stars in No Holds Barred is a much better universe to live in, yes?

I am also taking the leap here that Gagne and the AWA reach out to a different media outlet than ESPN for national television exposure during the decade. I think Gagne's interest in ESPN partially stemmed from still believing in the "sport" of wrestling, thus looking for some national credibility that Vince was not. So perhaps following the TBS / NWA model, Gagne aligns with another network -- WGN in Chicago? -- that got national exposure, and he begins to tweak the AWA toward a more entertainment-friendly model.

But these are big if's. A Hogan title-run may have reinvigorated Gagne's territory, but long-term, I'm not sure the AWA would have been able to keep Hogan. Let's face it: Gagne had much bigger problems as a promoter -- reliance on trusted older stars, pushing his son, ignoring the theatrical elements of professional wrestling -- than not putting a title on Hogan. Eventually, Hogan would have been lured to the greener pastures of either the Carolinas or the Northeast, and I have my doubts stars like Vader, Shawn Michaels, Curt Henning, or Scott Hall would have stayed in the frozen climates of the Midwest.

So a Hulk Hogan title-run in the AWA may have been good in the short-term, but eventually he would have left the company. And, in turn, a lot of other wrestlers would have done the same. And the AWA would still go belly-up, been the victim of another WWE-produced documentary that puts over McMahon and company, and have its logo become the template for a stupid John Cena t-shirt. 

Next time, I'll take a look at perhaps the most underrated stable in wrestling history. Get your obnoxious, over-sized 1991 cellular phones ready kids!

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