Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: AWA Wrestling Legends “Q and A” review

Larry “the Ax” Hennig and the Hi-Flyers (Gagne and Brunzell) take on a bevy of questions from the AWA’s glory days!

Featuring Greg Gagne, Larry “the Ax” Hennig and Jim Brunzell

Hosted by George Schire

Schire introduces all the men. He then breaks down why each man is a legend.

Hennig broke into wrestling in 1957. By 1961 he was headlining shows in the Midwest and traveling to Japan to wrestle. 1963 saw Hennig turn heel and partner with Da Crusher. In 1964 Larry partnered with Harley Race and they spent 5 years dominating the AWA scene while feuding with Da Crusher. Dusty Rhodes replaced Race briefly after Harley left to acquire fame as a single.

After a tour of the WWWF, Hennig returned to the AWA with the nickname “The Axe”. A few months later, Hennig turned babyface and stayed beloved for the remainder of his career.

Greg Gagne was trained by Verne Gagne, Billy Robinson and other legit tough guys. Schire says he never saw Gagne have a bad match. Nick Bockwinkel loved working with Greg and considered it a “night off” because Gagne was easy to work with. Jim Brunzell and Gagne captured the AWA tag titles several times. The pair were extremely popular and they headlined in the AWA and Central States areas. (My co-worker who is now pushing 50 will attest that she and her girlfriends found the “Hi Flyers” to be “hot” back in their prime.)

The AWA was a treat to work for because the pay was good and the travel was reasonable. Brunzell tells the story of a wrestler in another area who drove home and couldn’t find his own house as his house had been renovated during the long period of time since he had last been able to go there.

Gagne tells some tall tales of he and Brunzell touring Japan and working hour long matches night after night. If your interested in more Gagne stories from Japan (and many more fibs), check out this shoot I covered:

Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: Greg Gagne Shoot Interview

Larry is asked about his time working for Stu Hart in Canada. He deadpans “It was cold” to a big laughs. Hennig puts over Hart’s skills as a promoter. Larry also mentions that Bret Hart wrestled Larry’s son Curt in one of the best matches of all time at Summerslam ’91.

Brunzell is asked who his favorite partner was. Greg pretends to prepare to fight if Brunzell doesn’t say it was him. Brunzell laughs and then says his best partner was his wife. He then puts over Mike George, Gagne and Brian Blair as all being great partners for him over the years.

Bob Orton Jr. told Brunzell that Randy Orton earns $359,000 a month for working now. Brunzell is thrilled that the talent today has contracts as well as merchandise to make money with.

Hennig has been married for over 60 years. Wrestling was hard on the families, but all 3 men stayed with their wives over the years.

Larry talks about stiffing Jim Brunzell during his early days wrestling in order to make Jim pay his dues and prove his toughness.

Brunzell puts over how tough Haku was. They worked in Japan and the WWF together. Haku had athletic ability on top of his raw power

Gagne had wars with Mad Dog Vachon. Verne told him to work stiff or else Vachon would eat him up. Both men threw hard shots and Vachon scratched Gagne up bloody.

Schire and Greg tried to tally up how many guys Verne trained over the years and the number reached over 400. They then say 150 after the conversation continues.

Verne fought being given a goofy gimmick early in his career. Gagne wanted to present a serious wrestling show.

Ric Flair quit after 3 weeks of training with Verne and Billy Robinson. Verne drove to his house, got him outside and knocked him down. He told Flair he can’t quit because he had too much potential.

Mid-Atlantic brought Jim in during the late 70’s. It was a hard schedule as the guys worked 7 days a week. He hated working for booker George Scott. Scott ran an angle where Brunzell stole Iron Sheik’s boot and was going to wear it for their next match. Scott booked it as an hour draw. Brunzell told him it was going to kill Jim’s babyface heat if he couldn’t beat the heel with a gimmick boot on. Another night Scott made him use 6 dropkicks to beat Rene Goulet.

Curtis Axel calls Larry’s cell phone while he is on the panel and hijinx ensue as they tease Hennig.

Ed Asner sent a note to the Gagne family after Verne passed away. They had kept in touch after filming “The Wrestler” together.

Greg claims Asner wanted him to move to Hollywood and become an actor.

Hennig gets a big laugh by saying “I was in the movie, and I still had to pay to see the premiere!”

Bobby Duncum was a cool character. He had perpetual bad knees which plagued him. Duncum would run out of gas after 15 minutes, so they would book him in long matches as a rib.

Bobby Heenan not only got his own charges over, but he got their opponents over all at once.

Heenan loved to drink. Verne smelled it on him one day at TV, but Heenan just quipped “Goddamn it Verne, you can’t smell Vodka!”

Verne tried to take over the Los Angeles territory in 1969. Hennig worked against Lou Thesz. The card did not do well due to a lack of local TV.

Gagne loved working in Denver as the arena was circular and the fans energy pulsated into the ring.

Bull Bullinski would wrap food in tin foil and cook it on his vehicle’s engine as he drove on long trips.

The AWA would charter airplanes from time to time. One time Mad Dog Vachon drank a bunch of beer at the arena and was feeling good. Brunzell gave him some drugs that were uppers on top of that as Vachon had a long drive ahead when the plane landed. Then Adrian Adonis gave Vachon pain pills. Mad Dog walked to the plane obviously impaired. One of the wrestlers mentioned they smoked pot with Vachon after the match. When the plane was in the air, the others all felt a rush of air as the plane depressurized.  Vachon was hanging out of the back of the plane via a chain he had wrapped around his neck. Mad Dog went nuts and started throwing everything that was loose out of the plane. The pilot alerted the police and they were waiting on the tarmac when the plane landed. Mad Dog stormed off screaming “I’ll kill you cocksuckers!” The other wrestlers ended up tying Vachon to a seat and flying the rest of the way home with him tied down.

Gagne quit wrestling because the WWF stole most of the AWA’s vets and Gagne was stuck working with rookies who didn’t know how to work. A side reason was a long time back injury he got after Crusher Blackwell power slammed him on the cement floor at a TV taping.

Brunzell quit wrestling in August of 1999 when he was 50. He decided to quit because he couldn’t work like he once was able to.

Hennig liked working in tag teams due to the fact that tag teams only have to take half the bumps as single workers do.

Gagne would watch the other matches on the card to make sure his match would be unique and not duplicate any other bouts.

Jesse Ventura could talk and Adrian Adonis could work, and together they formed a great foil for Brunzell and Gagne to play off of. Gagne admits they ran the match so often that he got sick of working with them.

Brunzell and Gagne headlined against Adonis and Ventura in a cage in the Twin Cities. They drew 19,000 fans. Brunzell got his biggest AWA payoff at around $4,500 for that night.

Buddy Rose worked with Gagne as a ring crew member when both men were learning the ropes.

Hennig has 25 grandkids.

Final thoughts: The audio set up needed a little work as the guys had to share a mic and the audience questions were not always clear. The fans ate up the stories though and the session was very fun to watch.



Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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