Height: 1.80 cm (5′ 11″)
Weight: 98 kg (216 lbs)
Trainers: Joe Pazandak
AWA World Heavyweight Champion (10x)
AWA COMISKEY PARK (CHICAGO, 1974)
VERNE GAGNE vs BILLY ROBINSON
This match has a special presentation to it. Verne and Billy are presented as real deals, what they truly are. You have more of a technical match here with a nice selling from both men. It’s fair to say that Verne is the man responsible for bringing legitimacy to the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. The man was legit. Robinson, as we’ve seen before, is another wrestler who does things in a more realistic way. Therefore, we have a nice old school realist bout. The great thing about Billy is that he’s also an awesome athlete, so the matches are not boring at all. I think it’s all about that British style. It’s fascinating to listen to the commentary here. Billy goes for a leg lock transitioning into a half Boston crab. Gagne starts hitting Robinson in the head. The British champion gets annoyed. Verne plays with Billy’s nerves. Kick to the face by Verne. They trade slaps to the face and Billy gets the best of it. Meanwhile, Verne puts Robinson over in the commentary by saying he was his toughest opponent ever. Backbreaker by Robinson. Billy hits a modified piledriver. He goes outside the ring, and we have a count out victory by Verne. This was a weird match. Not bad all, and it allows us to see both men showcase their skills. However, I would say the most interesting thing is listening to Verne on commentary telling some very fascinating stories.
AJPW EXCITE SERIES – DAY 16 (TOKYO, 1976)
VERNE GAGNE vs JUMBO TSURUTA
This is definitely the kind of match I would fantasy book. We have previously taken a look at how Jumbo was booked against these legends at the beginning of his career, and I strongly believe this was what allowed him to become the great wrestler he was. I think I will stop calling the action here since I decided to leave the videos of the matches. I want to point out, by the way, I do not own any rights to these and I only found them already on the internet. Coming back to my point, though, I will try to stick to how the action works from a metaphorical physical storytelling standpoint. We can see Jumbo controlling Verne’s arm here as this can be seen as a way of telling how the young star is now on top of the business in a superior position as of that held by the legend. A very technical style also says a lot about both men. By this point, we can see how the 70s All Japan meshed well with both the NWA and the AWA since it presented a more traditional product, at least according to the matches we’ve followed so far. It’s important to remember that both men came from a legitimate background so the style of the match itself is influenced by that. It’s interesting to look how, after losing the first fall by submission with a sleeper hold, Tsuruta needs to be “awaken” by both Gagne and the referee. We can see how realism was viewed as very important. Verne won the first fall without controlling most of the match. It looked like he threw a veteran move to get that win. These small details are things we need to pay attention to when it comes to these matches. Gagne slaps Tsuruta on the face, and we see another great piece of storytelling in a small gesture. The camera shows Jumbo’s face, and he looks angry and scared at the same time. It’s the face of a man in front of a lion. He knows he can try to fight, but he doesn’t know if he can win. At the same time, Gagne walks like a man no longer in his prime. He can still go, and he is probably better than most. Still, he is not the great world champion anymore. Tsuruta wins the second fall, and he celebrates. He looks tired, though. This match is taking a lot of him. This is a tale of two men trying to find out who is the best. It’s a common one in this series we have been following. Still, it’s different because each wrestler has his own story to tell. This is not Inoki/Thesz, although there are some similarities. This is Tsuruta/Gagne, a real treasure to any real pro-wrestling fan. The match ends in a draw with none of the wrestlers answering to the ten count. That shows how, at this point in his career, Tsuruta is already on Verne’s level.
We’re not done with Verne yet. What is happening is that I decided to change the dynamic of these series. I think I will cover feuds, instead of focusing on one man’s career. I’ll probably start running some numbers while still analyzing some matches. So, soon we’ll have some new posts around.