Greg Gagne on his father's upcoming induction into the WWE Hall of Fame
On April 1, Greg Gagne will have the special honor of inducting his own father, Verne Gagne, into the WWE Hall of Fame. WWE.com contacted Greg Gagne to get his thoughts on his father's induction, the legacy of the AWA, an accusation by The Iron Sheik and much more:
WWE.com: What does it mean to you and to professional wrestling to have your father inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame?
Greg Gagne: It means a lot to our family. We're very honored that WWE would do this despite the history with the AWA and World Wrestling Federation, as it was at the time. It's ironic that 20 years later, he's being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. I think it's an honor and a tribute to him that they recognize all the contributions he's made to the sport of professional wrestling.
WWE.com: What do you think your father's greatest contribution to wrestling has been?
Greg Gagne: Well man, he started on the DuMont Network in 1951. He was kind of the first wrestling star who was made on national TV — him along with Pat O'Connor, Hans Schmidt; Roy McClarity — people like that. It's funny, it seems like wherever we go in the country, people recognize my father from way back then. The people are a little bit older, of course, but they still recognize him and they recognize that that's when wrestling first hit the networks. And he was a major, major part of that.
Of course, throughout the years, he developed the AWA. He himself went out and developed the entire television network that we had, stretching from Winnipeg, Manitoba, all the way down to St. Louis, all the way to the west coast to San Francisco. So, he developed Winnipeg, Green Bay, Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Omaha, Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Francisco. That's a large area. And he not only wrestled and booked the towns but also got all the TV stations lined up. I guess at that time, that's the way they did it.
That, and then he personally trained about 93 different wrestlers. There are some names people wouldn't remember, but I'll just highlight some of the names that people will remember: Larry "The Axe" Hennig; Blackjack Mulligan; Blackjack Lanza; Baron Von Raschke; Gene, Ole and Lars Anderson; "Cowboy" Bill Watts; and Bob Backlund.
A little bit later in our group there were six of us. We had Bob Bruggers, who was from the Miami Dolphins; "The Iron Sheik" Khosrow Ali Vaziri; Ken Patera; Ric Flair; Jim Brunzell and myself. We were followed by Sgt. Slaughter and Chris Taylor and Ricky Steamboat; the Nasty Boys; Curt Hennig. My father contributed an awful lot to the sport and then gave guys who were floundering around the country — trying to find their niche — like The Crusher, "Mad Dog" Vachon and Nick Bockwinkel. My father brought them in and turned them into Superstars or gave them the vehicle to do it.
WWE.com: Did you ever think this day would come when Verne Gagne is inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame?
Greg Gagne: No. Did anybody else? Probably not. No, I don't think we ever did. My dad and Vince battled for years. Vince had his vision, and by 1983 stepped on a lot of toes along the way. I guess the biggest toes were Verne and the AWA, which was probably his strongest competition at the time. It was heated. It was very heated. And if you would have told me 25 years ago that WWE would be inducting Verne into the Hall of Fame, I would have told you that you were out of your mind. You might see Vince and Verne in a Cage Match, but you wouldn't see Verne inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
WWE.com: Do you think there's any bitterness now toward Vince McMahon and WWE for their nationwide expansion?
Greg Gagne: You know, some of us got over it. I don't know. My father is 80 years old. His memory is not as good as it used to be. He remembers everything in the past, but the current stuff, not too well. Yeah, I think there's still a little edge there, I would think. He was as surprised as I was when we got the call. But again, it did make him perk up right away.
WWE.com: Was he open to being inducted right away?
Greg Gagne: Not right away, but I said, "It's 25 years ago, now. You have to bury the hatchet. You got to get on." And we all have. I think it's very thoughtful of WWE to even consider inducting my father. This is a great way to recognize his contributions. He's done a lot for the sport, and I said, "Let's take advantage of it while you still can." Let's not have it happen after he passes away.
WWE.com: What do you think the AWA's legacy is?
Greg Gagne: Well per capita, it drew more people than most of the other areas in the country. At times, per capita, what we were doing was unheard of. We were selling out St. Paul religiously every month — 18,000 people. That was happening in Denver and Winnipeg and Chicago and Milwaukee. In San Francisco, it took us three years to finally build that market up and sell out the Cow Palace. We had a big event sold out luckily because that's when Vince came in and his TV replaced ours, which was a shocker and hurt. Because it took a long time, at that time, to cultivate a region and get the audience to watch. It took a couple years to build it, sometimes. But the AWA, the NWA and the McMahons up on the east coast, those were the three major areas moneywise. The guys didn't have to work as hard there. We worked about four days a week, and a lot of people still made a very good living.
WWE.com: Are there any other AWA alumni you feel deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame alongside your father?
Greg Gagne: There's quite a few: The Crusher, who passed away this year; "Mad Dog" Vachon; Nick Bockwinkel; Ray "The Crippler" Stevens. One thing we never did was blow our own horns, but my partner Jim Brunzell and I kind of brought a whole revolution to tag-team wrestling and were sought after from other promoters around the country. We were pretty exciting and we did very well for a number of years.
WWE.com: At last year's WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, Iron Sheik told a story about your father offering Sheik $100,000 to break Hulk Hogan's legs. What do you make of Sheik's allegations?
Greg Gagne: I don't think that ever happened. I can guarantee it never did.
WWE.com: While you have an open forum, is there anything else you'd like to say regarding this subject?
Greg Gagne: No, I just don't think that ever, ever came up anywhere. I've never heard of that before. You know, The Iron Sheik had his problems over the years. I remember when we were training, The Iron Sheik had come out of the Olympics. He wrestled for Iran in 1972. We were at the Olympics because Ken Patera was there, and we came back from there and we all started training. And we went down to one of the TV matches one day — we worked out six hours a day six days a week — and The Iron Sheik says to my dad, "I don't think anybody could ever dropkick me. That's not real." And my dad was talking to Flair and myself and Brunzell and Patera and Bruggers, and then he took his watch off, turned around and dropkicked Sheik right between the eyes. He sent him a message. Knocked him right on his ass. But as far as anything like that about Hogan, no. No, that's totally untrue.
WWE.com: Who are you looking forward to seeing most at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremonies on April 1?
Greg Gagne: You know, probably everybody. There isn't anybody who hasn't crossed our path over the years. It's funny, with Hulk, I wrestled on a card at Shea Stadium when Hogan wrestled Andre the Giant up there. And we stayed on a hotel and I came up to the hotel afterward, and he was up there and was kind of down in the dumps. And I said, "Hulkster, what's the matter?"
He said, "You know what? I can't make it in wrestling. I just can't make it."
And I said, "Yes, you can. You got a lot of charisma. You just need some training and some help. Why don't you come to the AWA, and we'll bring you along."
My dad was probably best at that: developing personalities and developing the individuals. He could really do that. He developed Jesse Ventura's interviews. He helped Hogan. Everybody who's learned how to do an interview, they learned from him.
I'm anxious to see everybody there. There's a lot of people I haven't seen in a long time, a lot of friends. I think we're both looking forward to it; I know we are.
WWE.com: Do you follow today's WWE?
Greg Gagne: I do. Not all the time, but I do get to see quite a bit. My youngest son, Peter, is 17, and he watches it all the time. My wife doesn't want him watching it. There's some different things on there than what we used to have. And she thinks some of it gets too far out. But him and I watch it together when I'm home.
WWE.com: What are your thoughts about today's WWE?
Greg Gagne: You can't knock success, and Vince has success. I mean, he has no competition, of course. But yet, he had a vision. He took his vision and ran with it. And it took wrestling to another level. I mean, you see Stacy Keibler on Dancing with the Stars and The Rock in movies and Steve Austin doing commercials. They've taken it to a level that I think everybody wanted it to go to — a national thing like the National Football League — and we do have some wonderful characters in professional wrestling. Better entertainers and some better athletes than some of the other sports. And they should get their just due for being able to do some of those extra things. And I think that's what WWE has brought to the forefront, and that's something that the original promoters could never do.