Back to the Territories: Jim Cornette and Baron Von Raschke on the WWA!

“The Toughest Man in the World” is discussed, as is territorial wars, riots, big feuds and more!

wwa

Produced by Kayfabe Commentaries

Hosted by Jim Cornette 

Guest: Baron Von Raschke 

Cornette does a voiceover explaining how the WWA was largely a territory in one state (Indiana), and yet they dared to call their top title a “World” belt.

Bruiser was kicked off four different college football teams before finishing out his college career at a fifth team. He then worked as a bouncer before winding up spending 3 years as a member of the Green Bay Packers.

Midwest promoters saw this big rugged stud as a potential goldmine and within a year of debuting, Bruiser was already main eventing shows. Within 18 months, he was challenging Lou Thesz for the NWA World title.

He then formed a team with another roughneck Da Crusher and they won accolades across the Midwest before becoming so popular that they had to become babyfaces.

By 1964 Bruiser was part of the office and playing the role of promoter.

In 1970, he and Crusher teamed to face Mad Dog and Butcher Vachon in a cage at Comiskey Park in Chicago. They drew a (then) incredible 30,000 fans.

Bruiser headlined into his 50’s and in 1982 he and Ric Flair drew almost 20,000 fans for a St. Louis main event.

In 1984, he and Crusher reunited for a match in Chicago and drew 20,000 fans.

In the 60’s, Bruiser caused a riot in Madison Square Garden and ended up getting children banned from wrestling events because of it.

Another time in the 60’s saw NFL player Alex Karras get into a (planned) bar brawl with Bruiser and Dick spent time in jail as a result of the too realistic angle.

Bruiser put a 14-foot bed in his mansion’s master bedroom.

Bruiser ended up dying in 1991 at the age of 62. He ruptured a blood vessel while lifting weights and died soon after.

Baron Von Raschke is here to tell us about the WWA as he was a headline talent there.

WWA had short road trips, which the workers liked.

Having the home base in Indianapolis allowed the talent to slip off to Toronto and St. Louis to make extra cash working the big shows in those towns.

Bruiser did not have an office. Business was done in his garage.

Jim Barnett got his start as a backstage power holder in the Midwest. Barnett had to move to Australia in the mid 60’s after he got involved in some homosexual improprieties, which allowed Wilber Snyder, Bruiser and the Sheik to take over the Midwest.

Dick was already the WWA champ based out of L.A., and since that promotion was having issues with the NWA, Bruiser just took their title and declared himself the champion of the new WWA out of Indiana.

Snyder and Wilbur were also tag titleholders, so they made themselves the first tag champs.

Bruiser was known from his football days, so when he used his wife as the local promoter on the advertising, the fans knew Dick was really in charge, a bit of a no-no in that era.

The Baron came in to the WWA in 1970 as the territory was really starting to get hot.

Baron got his Nazi gimmick from Mad Dog Vachon. Vachon wanted to call him Baron Von Pumpkin. Von Raschke thankfully talked him out of this.

Pat O’Connor taught the Baron “THE CLAW”.

Bruiser had an antiquated TV show presentation. He would tape house show squashes and air them. Corny puts over the promos as being the real highlight of the shows.

The Baron and Bruiser still hold the Fort Wayne attendance record, with over 10,000 fans coming to see them grapple.

Chicago was not an official WWA or AWA city, and the cards often had a mix of both group’s talent. This led to a mistake one week when the Indianapolis WWA TV show ran the Chicago wrestling promos instead.

The cops got a work out in Chi-town as the ring was very close to the fans.

A main event payoff in 1970 for Chicago was about the same as six-grand in today’s market.

Bob Luce was the Chicago commentator and he became a famous face for his intense TV plugs.

Verne Gagne would rotate towns so the guys hit each one around once a month. Bruiser had a 3-week turnaround.

The WWA payoffs were okay, but largely average compared to other places.

Ernie Ladd went from the NFL to the ring and he tried to work babyface early in his career. This was a bit difficult because he was a giant of a man and it was tough for heels to believably hurt him. Baron worked against him early on, and eventually they became a heel team.

The Sheik was running Detroit, and the Bruiser decided to start a promotional war with him to claim the area. Bruiser had a lot of talent that Sheik had made stars out of in Detroit.

The NWA came down on Bruiser for this, and Detroit fans were the winners as the NWA loaded up shows to compete and Bruiser pulled in a bunch of top AWA guys to battle back with.

The Sheik was too tight to ever book the NWA World Champ.

Bruno Sammartino came in to help Bruiser in the war.

Cornette heard Bruno was angry at the Sheik because when Sammartino was WWWF champ he went to Detroit to accept the Sheik’s challenge in a best of 3 falls match. Sheik booked himself to win round one, then walked away as champ as the next 2 rounds never happened.

Sailor Art Thomas was made WWA champ to appeal to the black audience in Detroit.

“Cowboy” Bob Ellis was a star from the 50’s and into the 70’s. By the end of his career, he was wearing a toupee and sometimes had trouble keeping it on his head during matches.

Ellis had surgery to fix up his scarred forehead, and then ended up taking bookings in Puerto Rico where blood was expected from the top guys.

Despite being a big man, Bruiser could go an hour with the Baron when called upon.

WWA frequently had reruns of old matches shown on TV in order to make up for only taping 3 weeks of matches for each month. This eventually exposed how business was sinking as the crowd size in the older clips was much bigger than the current TV’s.

Bobby Heenan got shorted on a payday after helping draw a big house, this caused him to quit the WWA and head to the AWA.

The Sheik and Bruiser ended their promotional war and business sank for both of their groups. Bruiser and Sheik feuded in the ring to feed off the heat from the promotional war.

Moose Chalek was a massive man who worked often in the WWA. Baron recalls that he was a big lug and stiff as a wrestler.

Moose owned a bar in Chicago and the Notre Dame football players often made appearances when they could.

Bruiser Brody eventually came to the territory. Brody bitched about payoffs and the 50-something year old Bruiser took him on in the locker room. Brody ended up pounding Bruiser pretty good and Brody got his extra money.

The WWA continued to weaken in the 80’s as mostly old guys were given pushes as the modern stars were passing over working the area due to small crowds leading to small payoffs.

Baron got larger payoffs when business was down because the WWA had to overpay in order to try and get some actual drawing cards on the show.

One of the last “stars” of the WWA was “The Great Wojo” a legit amateur wrestler. Wojo was a student of the Baron’s amateur wrestling classes. Baron had been a Olympic level wrestler before turning pro.  (The only WWA angle I can remember being covered in the Apter mags in the late 80’s was the Great Wojo challenging any other World champion to come and fight him to determine a real world champ.)

Jerry Blackwell decided one night to try to “shoot” on the Baron as a bit of a rib, and the Baron quickly reversed the move and trapped Blackwell on the mat.

Billy Robinson, a noted “shooter”, ground his elbow into Baron’s ribs one night and started talking smack – Baron whooped him for trying shit as well.

The guys who were “shooters” often had to ask their victims to allow them to lock on a move to show them how much they could be hurt, an amateur wrestler had the skills to put an opponent in a bad position.

With the talent drying up, Bruiser made himself the WWA champ in 1984 and tag champions were Bruiser and Jeff Van Camp (the future Lord Humongous).

(I have seen some of the latter day WWA TV shows, and they were definitely low rent productions. I distinctly remember the fact that Bobo Brazil, in his late 50’s, was awarded a “sexiest wrestler” award or something similar.)

On the same show that Crusher and Bruiser drew 30,000 fans to Chicago to see them face the Vachon Brothers in a cage, the Baron challenged Verne Gagne for the AWA title.

Mad Dog Vachon was punched in the throat at some point and his gravelly promo voice came from that trachea injury. The Bruiser suffered a throat injury while playing football for the Packers, and his voice was equally gravelly as a result.

Da Crusher always cut promos on all the beer he used to drink at his “old man’s saloon” was a gimmick – he actually was a wine drinker.

Bruiser and Crusher remained big draws into their middle 50’s. A lot of steam left them in 1984 when the Road Warriors dominated them in the ring, which finally killed off their aura.

Baron had to work an hour draw with Lou Thesz when Von Raschke was just a rookie.

Cornette and the Baron talk about how Bobby Heenan leaving probably set the WWA up for failure as they lost his promos, and the heat he could give any heel who was paired up with him. (Heenan has nothing nice to say about Bruiser when asked about him in his shoots. Not a real surprise he left I guess.)

Baron liked working for the WWA because the short road trips meant he could be home with his wife and young kids quite often.

Final thoughts:   Baron, now in his 70’s, remains a fairly erudite guest for a documentary type interview such as this. This shoot was around 90 minutes long, a bit shorter than normal for Kayfabe Commentaries releases. I’m not sure if there was a lack of material to talk about or what.   As much as I enjoyed what was presented, I walked away feeling like I didn’t get a real deep look into the WWA. Bruiser’s big feuds were touched upon, but overall it feels like a lot of talent and angles were not covered. I’d deem this entertaining but incomplete.

Written by Andrew Lutzke

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

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