Ken Resnick on Hulk Hogan Being Conflicted About Jumping from the AWA

Sep 18, 2020 - by Steve Gerweck

Ken Resnick talks about the pro wrestling landscape in 1983, just prior to Hulkamania invading New York.
On the latest edition of Wrestling with History on VOC Nation, Ken Resnick talked about the period in 1983 prior to the WWF recruiting Hulk Hogan and going national. Resnick discussed business mistakes made by Verne Gagne, Hogan giving Gagne an opportunity to match the WWF’s offer, the territory system, and much more. Here are some highlights:

On the health of the AWA’s business in 1983 prior to McMahon’s big push to go national: “Business was great…Business was booming…There was a time, this was probably (19)84 where on a Sunday night the AWA sold out the St Paul Civic Center which was about 18,000 people and then had about another 3,000 to 4,000 next door in the old St Paul Auditorium watching it on a movie style screen…Business was great; they had so many names…This was before Vince had moved into AWA territory; Andre the Giant was there, Otto Wantz from Germany, they had a pretty good relationship with the Giant Baba, guys going back and forth to Japan – Stan Hansen was there. Business was booming. I think that also contributed to the fact that as good as business was, Vern was probably a little slow…if you basically have 80% to 90% of market share and market penetration, you’re not really worried about some outsider that’s trying to come and do business in your town…Business was so good that it allow Vince, as strange as it seems, to come in a little bit under the radar in terms of Vern’s thinking.”

On talent working different territories in 1983: “It was more (that) they would lend their talent to another promotion for maybe one or two rounds of their major cities…(they didn’t really work together) until Pro Wrestling USA came to the forefront in late ‘84 or early ‘85 trying to do something to hopefully stop or slow Vince McMahon’s spread. That’s when they would do joint TVs. The funny thing there, and one of the downfalls of Pro Wrestling USA is that even though they were working together on this television, no promoter wanted their talent to get beat by another territory’s talent on national TV. Pro Wrestling USA was airing on ESPN…Even though they were working together, to this point the owners of the different territories were very territorial.”

On being able to run different angles in different areas: “As good as Pro Wrestling Illustrated was…by the time those magazines hit the newsstand, what they were reporting on was a couple of months old. There wasn’t the instantaneous knowledge… Even in those days, mainstream media really didn’t cover wrestling. If you lived in Chicago and were an AWA fan, all you really saw and knew is what happened in Chicago. You would have no idea what would have took place in Denver, Salt Lake, or Winnipeg.”

On Verne Gagne’s reaction to McMahon’s push to go national: “I remember being in some of the discussions where Vince was kind of going through the country like a blitzkrieg…if you’re facing in business what was essentially a hostile takeover attempt by Vince McMahon or the WWF, the first thing you are taught in any business school is you circle your wagons (and) protect your own business. Being old school and so angered by what Vince was beginning to successfully do, Vern focused in trying to get into Vince’s backyard and let markets like Chicago and Milwaukee be basically second in thought and ripe for takeover.”

On business mistakes Gagne made that ultimately killed the promotion: “Vern sold the Winnipeg market and Winnipeg television to Wally Karbo, Jack Lanza, and Nick Bockwinkel. For a number of reasons, they ended up taking that television and giving that market to Vince. The late Dennis Hilgart, the promoter in Milwaukee, again a lot of it was financial, but he left Vern and he had the contacts and the agreements in Milwaukee and he went with Vince. It was a lot because Vern didn’t quite understand the corporate premise when you’re facing a hostile takeover that you circle the wagons. Vern left a lot of flanks exposed.”

On whether Hulk Hogan considered staying with the AWA: “Hulk did give Vern an opportunity. He was thinking about staying. One of the big things that Vince was able to offer was a high percentage of the secondary marketing – the tee shirts and hats and everything else – and Vern didn’t want to do that. He said ‘without me, you wouldn’t be able to sell anything; I’m not giving you that.’ I remember talking with Hulk and finally I said what’s stopping you? You’ve got 2 choices: You’ve got A, or you’ve got B which is 25x what A is.”

Wrestling with History drops each Wednesday on and all major podcast directories. Each week, former WWF, AWA, and LPWA announcer Ken Resnick looks back in long form at a different year during the 80s and 90s in pro wrestling.

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