Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: Greg Gagne Shoot Interview

Greg Gagne Shoot Interview

Presented by RF Video

Gagne was born a year before Verne broke into the business. Verne was working as a light heavyweight in Tulsa when Greg was a toddler.

He recalls being propped up by Verne to watch a nearby drive-in movie screen as one of his first memories in life.

Mickey Mantle and Bart Starr were Greg’s childhood heroes. A cellphone interrupts the interview because even after doing 100s of shoots, they still can’t figure out some basic professional tact.

Greg continues with his story as he talks of going to Yankee Stadium with his father and seeing the Yankees swarm Verne, which made Greg realize his dad should truly be his hero, not those other guys.

Verne’s legit wrestling background is gone over as Greg explains how he became one of TV’s first big stars.  The promoter wanted Verne to come down in a spaceship but Verne refused and just wanted to wrestle.

Greg says the Guinness Book of World Records confirmed that Verne was the second athlete (behind Babe Ruth) to earn 100,000 dollars in a single year. (Fact check?)

The kids at school wanted to fight Greg because of who his father was.

Verne taught Greg how to win these shoot fights.

The University of Wyoming was using Greg as their starting QB and Gagne had a shot with the Atlanta Falcons lined up. Verne wanted to help get him in shape and got him started training with Billy Robinson’s submission based fighting techniques. This gave Greg the wrestling bug and he started to egg his dad to train him. Verne felt he was too small at 180 pounds.

Jim Brunzell, Iron Sheik, Ric Flair, Ken Patera and NFL player Bob Bruggers all were in Greg’s training camp. Gagne claims 200 guys started day one and only six remained by the end of that day. I’ll call bullshit on that number. I’d guess you could divide it by 10 and be a lot closer to the real number.

Mad Dog Vachon scared the crap out of Greg as a kid. Red Bastien’s high flying moves influenced Greg’s own moves. He loved most of the AWA stars because he loved the business.

The movie “The Wrestler” starred a number of AWA stars, with Verne as the lead. Greg played a ref. Greg said the movie was a big hit but the corporate heads took all the money and lied about the profits.

Greg’s training went for over twenty weeks. Verne warned Greg that the wrestlers were going to be stiff with him since Verne was their boss.

Mad Dog Vachon was super rough in the ring, and eventually Verne taught Greg to hit him back twice as hard as he was being hit.

Verne was a hardass and Greg got 3 compliments from him his whole life.

A Jim Brunzell and Gagne vs. Tito Santana and Rick Martel match in San Francisco wowed Verne and he felt it was one of the best matches ever.

Verne and Greg facing Nick Bockwinkel and Mr. Saito was also a big moment for Greg as Verne told him he was one of the best babyfaces ever after his performance that night.

Bobby Heenan, Ray Stevens and Bockwinkel watched Ric Flair and Greg’s early matches and guided them to improve every match.

Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell were suppose to join the WWWF for a year long run in the late 70’s, but Brunzell balked after getting married.

The WWWF guys had a much easier time wrestling because they worked a slower style and mostly brawled, compared to the AWA’s mat based struggle.

Sam Muchnick was usually quiet. Bob Geigel and Pat O’Connor were the vocal leaders in St. Louis.

The AWA got local TV in St. Louis in order to get the AWA guys over with the fans so when they appeared in St. Louis they could draw. This led to Greg and Jim Brunzell coming in to face Bobby Duncum and Blackjack Lanza. They tore the house down on the same night as a Jack Brisco vs. Harley Race match. Since they showed up the NWA World Champ, they were shorted on the payoff and the AWA guys quit coming back.

Brunzell and Gagne went down to Georgia and lit up the ring. Since the AWA guys outclassed GCW’s talent, the planned headline push for High Flyers never came to be.

The AWA paid really well, so leaving wasn’t a great option. Greg would have liked to have the fame that being a New York star would have brought.

Verne kept the AWA on a limited schedule because the mid-west would only draw when it was colder out.

Brunzell and Gagne met while playing college football. Greg got him into the wrestling biz after that.

The High Flyers feud with Stevens and Bockwinkel set business on fire.

Adrian Adonis was a fabulous worker. Among the best ever. Jesse Ventura was aloof towards Greg after he left the business for politics.

Heenan got everyone over in the matches and angles he worked. Greg says Bockwinkel was “Ok” on promos but Heenan made his act top notch.

All-Japan brought Gagne in for a tour of Japan when he was basically a rookie. Gagne accidentally started a riot while acting as a second for Bob Bruggers. Things got way out of hand and the end result was Giant Baba putting Gagne in the main events for the rest of the tour and giving him a big bonus. (I don’t believe a high percentage of this story is true…)  Looking it up, the promotion was actually the IWA (E?) at that point, but that’s a minor quibble. I checked the results and it appears Gagne was largely losing in the matches he took part in, which is to be expected since he was super green. Gagne named several other wrestlers on the tour correctly, which means he remembers it well, and probably just made up a story to engage the audience. I can’t hate on him for that I suppose.

Greg worked a tag match in Japan against Ricky Steamboat in a sold out Tokyo Dome. (It was the Sumo Hall and Steamboat teamed with Atsushi Onita)

He refers to Steamboat as “methodical” and puts Flair ahead of him in the workrate department.

Heenan was the only guy who jumped to the WWF from the AWA and actually fulfilled his contracted dates.

Jerry Blackwell was one of the best big man workers in history. Gagne claims they worked forty-five minute matches against each other and Blackwell was rearing for more while Gagne was blown up.

Gagne claims the High Flyers were put over Baba and Dory Funk Jr. in Japan as part of the World League Tournament. (Wrestlingdata.com has Dory and Greg’s only encounter being a Pro Wrestling USA battle royal)

Bruiser Brody was a dangerous opponent. Gagne smashed Stan Hansen in the face with a chair during a wild brawl with the High Flyers and Hansen and Brody. Brody wanted to work with Gagne because Greg had “fire”. Brody didn’t want to work with Sgt. Slaughter or Blackwell during the same period.

Promoters wanted Greg to be the AWA champ during the 80’s but Gagne was never hot on the idea.

Andre the Giant got hammered at a local bar, broke Bockwinkel’s seat in his new car and had to be dragged to his hotel room.

Scott Hall got a big push in the AWA but wouldn’t take direction when the Gagnes tried to help him.

John Nord was too much of a partier and wrecked his own career by being out of control. He trashed a Denver hotel room and was fired by Verne.

Rick Martel was solid but lacked charisma to be a top guy.

Bockwinkel, Heenan, Wally Karbo, Greg and Verne served as the AWA’s booking committee for a long period of time.

The AWA set up an Andre vs. Hulk Hogan match for February of 1983 to headline a series of big shows. On Hogan’s last night in the AWA, Andre got hammered and told Verne to get away from him. Nobody knew why Andre was cranky until Hogan left abruptly and the pieces started to fall into place. (In the past, Greg has gone way into fantasy world over this event, as at one point he was claiming the match was going to be on PPV and or CBS was going to air it live on network TV.)

Hogan wanted to be the champion but refused to work for All-Japan since he was loyal to Inoki and New Japan. Hogan quit over it. Greg denies the issue was related to Verne selling Hogan merchandise and not giving Hulk a cut of it, as has been heavily reported/rumored.

The interviewer asks Greg about the “Minneapolis Massacre” where Hogan and David Schultz bled all over the place. Gagne struggles to remember it but says he thinks it drew money and that Schultz was a odd ball. (The reason Gagne couldn’t remember the match is because it took place on a WWF card….that one is on RF Video.)

Greg denies that the Iron Sheik was bribed by Verne to break Hogan’s leg.

Vince McMahon came to the Gagnes in the spring of 1982 and offered to buy the AWA. Verne needed to talk to all his partners. Vince came back several months later and Verne tossed a big number at him. Vince got dropped off at the airport and told them “I don’t negotiate.” The attack on the AWA began a few months later.

Greg wanted to offer Hogan a piece of the business but since Hulk didn’t try to negotiate and just jumped ship to the WWF, the offer was never made.

Mean Gene, Jim Brunzell and others tried to convince Greg to jump to the WWF as well.

When the AWA started to struggle Greg wanted to close things down and let his parents retire with their millions but Verne insisted on fighting until he went bankrupt.

ESPN paying the AWA for TV time kept the AWA in business.

Tall Tale Time: Greg claims a newspaper and WGN in Chicago wanted to get in the PPV business with the AWA in the mid-80’s, so Verne gave them all the ESPN commercial time to sell for themselves. Then they started to negotiate with Hogan to jump back to the AWA for a six million dollar contract. Just as everything was about to come together, the newspaper went on strike and the deal collapsed. Since they lost their commercial money, the AWA went under.

Greg almost went way in the red personally to try and keep the AWA alive.

The Pro Wrestling USA idea would have worked had the promoters been able to decide on a leader. Jim Crockett really killed it by using the joint shows to try and steal the AWA’s talent.

Here we go: CBS came to Gagne in 1982 and wanted the AWA to run a Hulk Hogan match every few months on national TV.

Hogan ended up in WCW after Greg worked as the in between guy for Hogan and Bischoff.

Greg tells the story of when Ken Patera was refused service at a McDonald’s after hours and as a result he tossed a rock through the window. The twist I had never heard was the riot with the police afterwards started by accident as Mr. Saito answered the hotel room door naked and saw a female cop, so he slammed the door so he could but some clothes on, the cops saw this as a defiant act and started to use pepper spray. This riled up Saito and he and Patera brawled with several officers, leaving some with serious injuries.

Leon White (Vader) came to Greg and talked a bunch of smack to Gagne. Greg told him anyone in the locker room could kick his ass. A training camp with Brad Rheingans made Vader appreciate the business but didn’t stop him from getting a huge ego once he got a push.

Scott Norton had an attitude and it cost him from reaching his full potential.

Paul Heyman didn’t seem trustworthy even as a young manager in the AWA.

Gagne regrets having Jerry Lawler win the AWA title. Lawler was only over in Memphis and did nothing for AWA towns.

Larry Zbyszko and Gagne have heat as a result of things that happened when Zbyszko was married to Greg’s sister.

WCW gave Greg a big contract and was suppose to get a push but a herniated disk in his back ended his career. (He was still working in the AWA when he did his retirement angle, so I’ll call BS here too)

The later days in the AWA were hard on Greg as he was working with a bunch of green guys, so Gagne had to focus on teaching and guiding them through a match rather than just tearing down the house.

Bischoff was selling ninja toys for a living and ended up working in the AWA office, which led to an announcer role and the rest is history.

Jim Herd called the AWA and offered them cash for their syndication package, Greg couldn’t do it since Verne wanted to hang on to the end.  Gagne ended up hooking Bischoff up with a WCW gig.

Herd later offered Gagne the WCW booker job, replacing Dusty Rhodes. Gagne wanted bonuses connected to PPV buyrates and ratings going up. The deal never happened because Bischoff rose to power. Bischoff forced Gagne to sign a contract without having a lawyer look at it first and the bonuses were eliminated.

Bischoff asked Gagne for advice to help WCW grow. Gagne told him to sign Hogan and use him for national exposure. Bischoff didn’t know Hulk and asked Greg to contact him on WCW’s behalf. Gagne wanted a piece of Hogan’s bonus money as part of helping lure him in. After giving them Hogan’s info, WCW signed Hulk and shut out Greg again.

Gagne told Jim Ross he’s too southern sounding to work as a national broadcaster.

Alexander Karelin, the famous Greco-Roman super athlete, wanted to turn pro and was going to have Verne and Greg train him. Gagne went to Hogan to talk about having a three match program with Karelin once he was ready. Bischoff got wind of this and fired Gagne for mettling. Gagne warned Bischoff he was coming to the Turner offices to kick his ass and Eric vanished. (Grain of salt.)

Verne’s lakeside property that Minnesota took from him via imminent domain was worth untold millions that the Gagnes never saw a dime of.

Gagne wanted WCW to buy the AWA name from Verne and run a AWA vs WCW angle with Hogan as AWA Champ and Flair as WCW champ. Gagne says Bischoff stole this idea, fired him and started the nWo soon after using the premise Gagne offered. (He’s about the 29th guy to claim he created the nWo angle)

The WWE may have inducted Verne Gagne in the Hall of Fame as a final apology for putting Verne out of business.

Working for the WWE developmental groups was frustrating for Greg because the new way to do business was for writers to prep promos for guys and the learning process was being done verbally and not physically.

CM Punk stood out as a star when Gagne was teaching the rookies.

Paul Birchell was finding his groove as a wrestler when the WWE decided he needed to be a pirate. Gagne threw a fit about wrecking his career and got heat for it.

Another time Gagne went to Bill Demott’s developmental group and tried to lock up. The kid in the ring did it oddly and Gagne asked “Who the hell taught you to do it that way?” “Bill Demott”… Things went downhill from there.

WWE told Gagne they may have to fire him because of his age and teaching dropkicks wrong. Gagne explained the art of throwing a dropkick, but they insisted Jody Hamilton’s way was better, so Greg replied “That fat ass never threw a drop kick in his life!”

Gagne went into a ladies room to tell the Diva trainees to hurry up. One of the girl’s had her top off, so Gagne got heat from corporate for sexual misconduct.

Stephanie McMahon and Gagne got into on the WWE private jet one night when Kevin Dunn tried to tell Greg that Vince never intended to put the AWA out of business. A friendly argument ensued and Steph told Greg “My dad made Hulk Hogan”, so Gagne explained to her that the AWA made Hogan a star before she was ever born. More heat.

Verne Gagne wanted to take amateur wrestlers and have them fight martial artists in the early 90s. They offered the idea to the Olympic committee but didn’t get any traction. Gagne claims Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture were ready to compete for them. So Verne almost created the UFC… (Liddell would have been starting college at that point and Couture was prepping for the Olympics)

Guys today need to learn to sell. Everybody just bumps and bumps and bumps now.

The Freebirds were constantly no showing events in the AWA. They had loads of talent though.

Col. Debeers’ racist gimmick got him a ton of heat and he could go in the ring.

Former AWA jabroni Buck Zumhofe went to jail for sexually assaulting his daughter in recent years. Jim Brunzell thought something was odd with the two of them at an indy show. Greg didn’t know what to think but she ultimately called Greg and told him all the details. He didn’t call the cops. (Of all the things to make up a story about…)

Verne went to Europe and stopped by houses of people named Gagne and just made conversation and found some relatives.

The long slow process of Verne losing his mind to Alzheimer’s is gone over. Some days he was cognitive and others he was comatose.

Gagne misses the business but he realizes the wrestling he knew and loved is long gone.

Heenan would fake needing a wheelchair at airports to get on flights first. Then he’d take a bump in the plane and act like his back went out so he could get a first class seat.

The Brain liked to pretend he was sleeping with a newspaper over his legs. The flight attendant would come by and lift the paper up and Heenan’s cock would be hanging out. She would scream and he’d pretend to wake up and fix his pants.

On flights to Japan, Heenan would ask the flight attendant to wish his friend happy birthday over the intercom. The name he’d give would actually be the Japanese words for “big cock”. The Japanese on the flight would freak out.

Final thoughts: I gave Gagne a lot of flack for making up stories but this two and a half hour shoot delivered in spades. Gagne is lively and verbose for a near 70 year old man and the tales and history covered was fresh material from a territory that doesn’t get a lot of love. If your a fan of the old school, pick this up!

Written by Andrew Lutzke

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

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