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The Midwest

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Pro-Wrestling has a storied history in the Midwestern region of the United States. In the late nineteenth century, professional wrestling was largely a circus attraction. There was a pecking order of wrestlers: the novelty (often a strongman or freak), the shooter (a competent amateur) and the hooker (an amateur armed with various submission holds illegal in competitive wrestling). The system often had these wrestlers working exhibitions with one another and challenging a local stud, which fans would pay to come into the tent to witness. Many of the most notable early professional wrestling legends cut their teeth in this system. It existed well into the twentieth century and often famous professional would return to touring with a troupe between big matches. In the Midwestern United States, where amateur wrestling has long thrived, this attraction was turned into a box office gold by savvy promoters.

The promoters developed a new system. Celebrated amateur wrestlers and the toughest farm boys signed with managers, who marketed them and built them up to challenge a World Champion (though there was never really a single undisputed world champion). Top matches became vacation attractions for fans and at that time Des Moines, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska, though less than one hundred and fifty miles apart, were the two biggest centers for professional wrestling. As it grew, Chicago, Illinois, the nearest large city, became the new home to marquee matches between the top talent. If there was a big attraction, it was often taken to Chicago. Paddy Carroll and later Jack Curley were successful professional wrestling and boxing promoters and ran the city strongly for a quarter century. Then problems began and Curley headed east and so did many of the money matches for the next twenty years. Professional wrestling still had money in it and there were still promoters who turned Detroit, Michigan, Kansas City, Missouri and Wichita, Kansas into well-established markets and Omaha and Des Moines remained key markets as well. However, it was Tom Packs in St. Louis that became the real powerhouse in the Midwest throughout the next two decades.

In the 1930s, the Midwest had a shot at pulling the major money back over the Appalachian Mountains and out of the Northeast. New York City and even Boston were hurting and the industrialized cities of the Midwest were on the rise. St. Louis promoter Tom Packs managed the NWA (Association, not Alliance) champion and he controlled the Midwest with an iron fist. However, Packs' approach made him enemies who united against him. During the mid-30s, the so-called "Little Trust" was formed with Billy Sandow, Al Haft out of Columbus, Ohio; Adam Weissmueller out of Detroit, Michigan and the up-and-coming Fred Kohler out of Chicago, Illnois. It was a short-lived syndicate, but it led to some significant developments in the Midwest. It gave Weissmueller and Kohler the edge in their respective cities. However, Sandow remained an unstable partner as he sold the "Little Trust's" championship to Packs and Paul Bowser, yet soon after created the "National Wrestling Alliance" name and created a champion in opposition to Packs' champion.

In Wichita, promoters (and brothers) Billy Sandow and Max Baumann developed relationships with various promoters - Kansas City's George Simpson and Orville Brown (who headed the well-respected MWA); Des Moines' Paul "Pinkie" George (who had been left out to dry by Packs); Omaha's Max Clayton; Minneapolis' Tony Stecher and eventually Packs' own matchmaker Sam Muchnick. Although the waters were rocky through the late 1930s and early 1940s, when World War II ended, pro-wrestling was on the edge of a "Golden Age" due to the arrival of television in American homes. Packs had made some poor business decisions and his power base was strained. After George, Stecher and Clayton joined some Midwestern boxing promoters to create a cartel in the region for that sport, they decided to come together with pro-wrestling promoters to create a cartel.

On July 18, 1948, the National Wrestling Alliance was formed by six promoters in Waterloo, Iowa. Promoters representing St. Louis, Detroit, MinneapolisColumbusKansas City and Des Moines joined forces. This organization became crucial in the 1950s when professional wrestling was transformed by the rise of television. Over the next eight years, the Alliance would accept the membership of dozens of promoters throughout North America and reject the memberships of others and dramatically shape the landscape of pro-wrestling in North America.

Even before the NWA was formed, television began building a following in post-war America. Pro-wrestling became one of the first hit shows for many local affiliates of the national broadcasting companies. This new media created a generation of stars who mastered it quickly and eclipsed the older generation who could not adapt. Fred Kohler had two semi-national TV shows coming out of Chicago that established many legends who would go on to have major influence due to this wide-spread appeal. Kohler became a real powerhouse with this TV, his top stars and his booker, he almost went under. This allowed Eddie Quinn to move in and nearly take over the city. Kohler created new ties and reclaimed Chicago before another fall led him to break away from the NWA and run independently for a short time under the banner International Wrestling Alliance for a short stint.

These kinds of promotional wars and challenges the NWA authority became common place. As the TV wrestling era had boomed, numerous stars had been created and many people understood this new media. Some like the American Wrestling Alliance under Johnny Doyle and Jim Barnett ran in direct opposition in some major markets. Although they eventually left. Verne Gagne, however, ran more cautiously and edged his way into markets where the NWA affiliate was dying. Through this strategy, his company, the American Wrestling Association was able to build into a major promotion with a respectful relationship with the NWA establishment. One of the Gagne's partner, Dick the Bruiser, had a group out of Indianapolis called the World Wrestling Association that had a similar relationship until he started challenging The Sheik's NWA affiliated Big Time Wrestling in Detroit. Although these sorts of conflicts plagued the Alliance, they maintained a level of stability under the leadership of Sam Muchnick.

In 1975, long-time NWA president and St. Louis promoter Sam Muschnick retired. The National Wrestling Alliance went into a decline from which it would never recover. Power struggles and political manuevering saw some promoters leaving and the AWA took over much of the NWA's role as the premier force in the Midwestern United States. This allowed the changes of the 1980s to occur with little organized opposition. The Central States (Kansas City) promotion was trying to keep control and eventually took over long-time NWA capital, St. Louis in 1982. However, promoters in the Carolinas and Texas were trying to gain control of the NWA reigns. As this was going on, Vince McMahon began moving across the United States and making his WWF the national pro-wrestling product. Between 1983 and 1987, the pro-wrestling landscape had changed more than one could have imagined. Many of the NWA strongholds had been gobbled up by Vince McMahon, the AWA's talent had been poached and only Jim Crockett Promotions (which essentially ran the NWA) remained a viable threat. Again pro-wrestling had crossed back over the Appalachian Mountains and the long, proud pro-wrestling tradition in the Midwest became a memory.

After this time, the remains were pathetic. Gagne's skeleton crew continued to run shows around the AWA stomping grounds, Eddie Sharkey's Pro-Wrestling America offered the same thing in the same area. Larry Matysik ran an independent out of St. Louis, but eventually turned to the WWF. Dick the Bruiser and The Shiek continued to run their respective markets with often frightening results into the 1990s. The pro-wrestling of the Midwest that made legends of the old hookers is long gone, the NWA as a powerful organization is long gone and the type of TV wrestling that changed it all is gone as well.




Chicago in Southern Illinois is perhaps the most crucial city in the early years of organized professional wrestling. The name of the game was making money and to make money, promoters needed to bring in the paying fans. New York City and Boston always had the advantage of dense population and more money potential. Many of the first big matches before the turn of the century were held in Chicago. Paddy Carroll was the first man to promote the sport successfully in Chicago, but it was a different man who really made Chicago a wrestling town. Jack Curley came from San Francisco, California to work in Chicago, he also wrote for local newspapers and eventually found work with Carroll in 1893. Throughout the 1890s, Curley raised his stock promoting boxing in Chicago and St. Louis, Missouri. As the century turned, so did Curley's promotional interests. Boxing was eventually outlawed in Chicago, so he turned to professional wrestling and continued to promote in Illinois and Missouri. Curley was a force in both boxing and pro-wrestling by this point. He was a key member in the Jack Johnson-Jim Jefferies bout and the Johnson-Jess Willard fight where the controversial black champion lost his title. Curley though was a true powerhouse in pro-wrestling's early years when he promoted Frank Gotch, George Hackenschmidt and Dr. Benjamin Roller as his main attractions in the Midwest and took his act to Europe. Gotch-Hackenschmidt had a huge gate, huge attendance, but by many accounts was a huge disappointment that killed Chicago for many years. So, Curley traveled to New York City with a new stable of talent and never looked back. Joe Coffey and Ed White inherited operations after Curley's departure. In 1934, a past-his-prime "Strangler" Lewis put over megastar Jim Londos in front of over 35,000 and had a record-setting gate. Chicago had rearrived on the landscape and promoters wanted a piece. Ed White's ties with promoter Billy Sandow gave him an edge, but a third promoter named Fred Kohler was on the rise. Coffey's death and White's retirement in the early 1940s, allowed Kohler to inherit the city completely and take it into the "Golden Age."  


Fred Beell
Orville Brown
Bobby Bruns
Farmer Burns
Primo Carnera
Charles Cutler
Dusek Riot Squad
Gino Garibaldi
Frank Gotch
George Hackenschmidt
Ed "Strangler" Lewis
Jim Londos
Bobby Managoff
Danno O'Mahoney
Ole Olsen
Everett Marshall
Dr. Benjamin Roller
Oki Shikina
Ruffy Silverstein
Ray Steele
Swedish Angel
Sandor Szabo
Lou Thesz
George Zaharias
Stanislaus Zbyszko



Omaha on the eastern edge of Nebraska was one of the first true centers of professional wrestling. Back when the pro ranks were not too far removed from the amateur ranks, wrestling states like Nebraska were hotbeds for producing high-quality wrestlers and hosting some of the biggest matches of the day. From 1880 to 1890, Omaha's population doubled twice and then some, the meat packing industry was taking off and attracting European immigrants. They brought a rich wrestling tradition with them and many top notch wrestlers came from that tradition like John Pesek, the Duseks and most notably Joe Stecher. Boxing and wrestling were both popular attractions at circuses and carnivals and Omaha became a crucial city in this line of work. When professional wrestling became a serious revenue source for promoters, they began focusing on population center like Omaha. Two notable matches in the 1910s were Joe Stecher defeating Charlie Cutler and Earl Caddock defeating Stetcher. This soon shifted to the cities and Omaha lost its central spot. The Midwest remained a viable market, but the East Coast was were the action was through the 1930s. Then Midwest promoters began trying to pull the market back their way as a new generation came up. Max Clayton was the Omaha promoter by this point and was one of the key players in the formation of the National Wrestling Alliance, but was not a founding member. He and the Duseks were obligated to remain aligned with the National Wrestling Association and it took a year before they became full-fledged members. Despite their sway, television shaped professional wrestling and a stigma developed amongst amateurs. Ironically, Gorgeous George, the most influential figure of the television era was a Nebraska wrestler himself before donning his golden locks and prissy demenour. This brand of pro-wrestling was just too much for the Nebraska diehards and from then forward, it eventually became a tough market.

 
Johnny Barend
Freddie Blassie
Martin "Farmer" Burns
Earl Caddock
Charlie Cutler
Dusek Riot Squad
French Angel
Frank Gotch
Hans Hermann
Ed "Strangler" Lewis
Skull Murphy
John Pesek
Antonino Rocca
Buddy Rogers
Wilbur Snyder
Joe Stecher




Des Moines in central Iowa was one of the early capitals of professional wrestling. Like Nebraska, Iowa was a wrestling state. Unlike Omaha though, Des Moines did not have a major economic attraction. Instead, it was the center of a farming state that never had population boom, but rather grew steadily along with Davenport, Cedar Rapids and Council Bluffs (which bordered Omaha). All these were good spots for professional wrestling and promoters focused on them for a long time. Notable wrestlers came out of Iowa, Martin "Farmer" Burns being the first, his disciple Frank Gotch became the biggest star of his day and Earl Caddock followed with great success as well. Iowa's rich wrestling heritage carried through the years when professional wrestling went through a metamorphosis in the big cities and in the East. By the 1940s, promoter "Pinkie" George had control of the city, but the top talent in the midwest was being hogged by St. Louis kingpin Tom Packs. After being left out in the cold by Packs, George helped begin a loose affiliation with promoters called the "National Wrestling Alliance." Orville Brown became the first Alliance champion in 1944. Four years later, this group expanded become a more significant organization and George was the made the president.  


Freddie Blassie
Jim Browning
Bobby Bruns
Earl Caddock
Dusek Riot Squad
Don Eagle
French Angel
Gorgeous George
Jim Londos
Ed "Strangler" Lewis
Everett Marshall
Bronko Nagurski
Gus Sonnenberg
Joe Stecher
Ray Steele
Wladek Zbyszko




Columbus in central Ohio was a key industrial city that was ripe for professional wrestling in the early twentieth century. Albert Haft had been a middleweight wrestler in 1910s and took to promoting with big ambitions. In the 1920s, Haft was bringing the best heavyweights in the sport to Columbus. Perhaps more significant in the long run was Haft's policy of heavily pushing light heavyweights, as a former lighter weight wrestler himself. Many of these men like Jack Reynolds, Hugh Nichols, Joe Turner and most importantly, Paul Bowser became key promoters throughout the United States. When Jack Curley's "Big Six Trust" was weakened these men took over professional wrestling in their respective markets and many aligned with the National Wrestling Alliance when it formed. During this time however, pro-wrestling was controlled by the "Trust" and Haft continually tried to break into New York City (the goldmine for pro-wrestling promoters) and was always kept out by Curley. He and Paul Bowser, who became the promoter in Boston, tried to force their way in at one point, but lacked the star power. They also had an interest in Chicago, but that never took either. When Curley’s top star, Jim Londos, left him in 1932, Haft was among those who backed Londos in an attempted takeover of the New York City scene. Curley cleverly made a deal with key promoters to undermine this new group that planned to use the "Greek Adonis" as a bludgeoning tool. Haft was one of those left out of the "Trust" that Curley formed to restore order. Haft continued as the politics in New York City did significant damage to the city. While this was going on, outside territories were growing and forming their own groups. It became fashionable to establish a governing body and a regional "World" champion and the "Midwest Wrestling Association" was Haft’s contribution.
Al Haft was the main man in Ohio and became a key figure in the shift that pro-wrestling witnessed in the 1940s that would shape the "Golden Age of Pro-Wrestling" with the growth of television. As the East Coast promoters aged, Haft became a real power broker and was a key member in the "National Wrestling Alliance," which would put him on the inside after years of being on the outside. The power of pro-wrestling shifted from the East Coast to the Midwest and by the 1950s, Haft had one of the premier promotions in the nation. Around this time, Jack Pfefer moved into Toledo, Ohio to cash in on this hot market. While men like Charley Marotta, Cliff Maupin and Larry Atkins had coexisted with Haft, Pfefer was not that type. The two men had a colorful past as enemies and allies during the wrestling wars. However, Pfefer’s long-standing relationship with Buddy Rogers, propensity for novelty acts (women, “midgets” and tag team main events) as well as his connections around the pro-wrestling world made his Toledo promotion an instant threat to Haft. Not long after, Rogers had a falling out with Pfefer and jumped to Haft’s group, forcing Pfefer to move on as he frequently did. Haft continued into the 1960s and made his exit as Ohio’s economic hard times began. Although he his own beliefs about promoting that were in contrast to the NWA management, he was a member until the bottom fell out for Columbus in the late 1960s.  


Orville Brown
Jim Browning
Charlie Cutler
Rudy Dusek
Don Eagle
Gorgeous George
Eddie Gossett (Eddie Graham)
Karl Gotch
Soldier Frank Leavitt (Man Mountain Dean)
Ed "Strangler" Lewis
Jim Londos
Everett Marshall
Bill Miller
John Pesek
Frank Sexton
Dick Shikat
Ruffy Silverstein
Joe Stecher
Ray Steele
Ray Stevens
Lou Thesz
Ted Thye
Whipper Billy Watson
Stanislaus Zbyszko
Wladek Zbyszko





Detroit became the automotive capital of the world at the beginning of the twentieth century, but it was not until the 1920s that the city became home to a regular wrestling promotion. Nick Londes popped the city by running major shows at the Olympic featuring the top heavyweight stars of the day. After his success, Adam Weissmueller moved in and ran the Arena Gardens with increasing success himself. His operation was taken over by Louis Markowitz, but again there were challenges to the number one spot. Detroit had a lot of factory workers who would pay good money for pro-wrestling and a lot of people were vying for that cash. Jack Pfefer had his hands in the pot for a time, "Strangler" Lewis promoted for stint, Maury Feldman and Jack Giroux had regular operations and even Chicago kingpin Fred Kohler battled for outlining markets. Then the war hit and things changed. The market was shaken up and a former assistant to both Weissmueller and Markowitz would emerge on top. The "Harry Light Wrestling Office" seized control of the Arena Gardens and began bringing in a wide variety of talent. By 1947, the promotion had television and Light had become the undisputed victor of the battling that had lasted nearly a decade. The following year, the National Wrestling Alliance was formed. Light's right-hand man and booker, Bert Ruby, would represent the promotion when they became the Detroit affiliate. Although this was not the end of battles in Detroit, it supplied the city with an NWA affiliate that would last until 1980.  


Orville Brown
Bobby Bruns
Wild Bull Curry
Ivan Kalmikoff
Tarzan Kowalski (Killer Kowalski)
Karol Krauser
Ed "Strangler" Lewis
Danny McShain
Danno O'Mahoney
Buddy Rogers
The Sheik of Araby (The Sheik)
Dick Shikat
Ruffy Silverstein
George Zaharias





St. Louis has always been a distinct metropolitian oasis in the desert of massive territories of pro-wrestling. The city was the home base of Tom Packs from 1922 until his operation collapsed in 1948. The big money in pro-wrestling had headed east, but there was still ample opportunity in the Midwest. Packs became one of the six members of Jack Curley's short-lived "Trust." When it dissolved, megastar Jim Londos left Curley and sought backers, Packs, along with Philadelphia's Ray Fabiani were those backers. They became power brokers in the National Wrestling Association, which had been the pro-wrestling arm of the National Boxing Association until 1930, had been a major sactioning body and Packs eventually assumed control of their champion in the Midwest and built St. Louis into the most powerful office in the region with an alliance with Northeastern promoter Paul Bowser. Eventually, Packs developed a reputation for being greedy with that power and left several promoters out to dry. A small group united with hopes of driving Packs out of business. The big turn came when his matchmaker Sam Muchnick left him to start a rival group in the city. Muchnick, aligned with the people who would make up the National Wrestling Alliance, struggled to get his footing, but after the war, he worked hard to build his company. With the Alliance on the verge of its offical formation and Muchnick nipping at his heels, Packs closed up shop in 1948. He had been the man who made St. Louis into a pro-wrestling hotbed, but a new generation was seizing power. However, his side of the battle would be succeeded by others. After Tom Packs closed up shop in 1948, a powerful group of promoters came together to buy into his promotion's legacy. The consortium was comprised of Toronto's Frank Tunney, Montreal's Eddie Quinn and National Wrestling Association stars Bill Longson and Lou Thesz, who was the man at the helm. Thesz resumed the war for St. Louis with Sam Muchnick, but the National Wrestling Alliance's formation aided Muchnick in the long run. Although Tunney and Quinn were strong partners, other Association members were jumping to the Alliance. Eventually, Thesz succumbed and the group quietly merged with Muchnick's. Thesz became the NWA World Champion and the warring between the sides died off. Although the MVSC remained a separate entity until 1959, it was unofficially under the Muchnick umbrella.

 
Paul Boesch
Orville Brown
Vic Christy
Dean Detton
Dusek Riot Squad
French Angel
Michele Leone
Jim Londos
Wild Bill Longson
Bobby Managoff
Everett Marshall
Bronko Nagurski
Buddy Rogers
Ray Steele
Swedish Angel
Sandor Szabo
Lou Thesz
Whipper Billy Watson





Minneapolis, Minnesota was opened by Tony Stecher in 1933 with local football hero Bronko Nagurski making his pro-wrestling debut. Stecher had been an excellent wrestler in his day, but mainly served as the handler of his younger brother Joe who was a world class wrestler. After Joe had a nervous breakdown, Tony moved him to St. Cloud, MI and opened shop in Minneapolis. Nagurski was his main attraction and the city steadily grew under Tony Stecher's guidance. However, St. Louis promoter Tom Packs, the power broker in the Midwest, was not doing any favors for his neighbors. This led those neighbors, Stecher included, to break away from Packs. After that 1943 split, Stecher and his associates began slowly undermining Packs' operation. While Stecher carefully played both sides when the time was right, he and associate Wally Karbo jumped on board with the Alliance and brought great experience and influence with them.  


George Gordienko
Cliff Gustafson
Abe Kashey
Ed "Strangler" Lewis
Bronko Nagurski
Sky Hi Lee
Ray Steele
Lou Thesz
Sandor Szabo
Jim Wright




Kansas City in Western Missouri was the home base of George Simpson in the 1930s. In 1940, home state hero Orville Brown became the booker and held the MWA championship. Brown moved into the cities of St. Joseph, Missouri and Topeka and Wichita, Kansas. The latter city had been a significant for many years under Tom Law, Billy Sandow and his brother Max Baumann. Brown was a real power player in the Midwest and was the brains and brawn behind the Kansas City office. He was a legit talent with a farmboy charm that made him a popular draw in the region. When the National Wrestling Alliance formed in 1948, Brown was recognized as the first champion due to him being a widely recognized champion and being an influential member. Unfortunately, shortly before a match with the other NWA (Association) champion Lou Thesz, Brown was nearly killed in an automobile accident. He escaped with his life, but he sustained injuries that ended his in-ring career. Although Brown remained associated with Simpson's office, his influence was gone and it halted his territory for growing as it had throughout the 1940s. The promotion did well in the 1950s, but Chicago and St. Louis became the major capitals of pro-wrestling. Brown sold his shares in the company off and it was taken into the age of television without him.  


Buddy Austin
Red Berry
Orville Brown
Bobby Bruns
Vic Christy
Mike DiBiase
Dusek Riot Squad
Bob Ellis
Ron Etchison
The Flying Scotts (George & Sandy)
Bob Geigel
John Paul Henning
Lee Henning
Wladek "Tarzan" Kowalski
Ed "Strangler" Lewis
Wild Bill Longson
Mills Brothers (Al & Tiny)
Sonny Myers
Pat O'Connor
Nelson Royal
Kinji Shibuya
Swedish Angel
Enrique Torres



National Wrestling Alliance - Chicago (1949-1962)
Chicago was the second largest city in the United States by the time the NWA formed, it was all Fred Kohler's. The slick businessman had outlived his competition and secured television in 1946, which he used to build up the city. Kohler became one of the most powerful promoters with three TV shows (two that were semi-national) that drew great viewership. One through ABC was getting spent into New York City and that spawned a second on the DuMont Network, which became the most famous pro-wrestling show of the "Golden Age" as it was seen throughout the Eastern United States. Kohler's influence was scaring other NWA promoters and he was growing annoyed of the double-standard that he was held to by NWA management. However, Kohler did not have to bow to the leadership as he had his own distinctive drawing cards, namely his US Champion Verne Gagne. Although he repeatedly made concessions, Kohler was making aggressive moves. An alliance with New York City bosses Toots Mondt and Charley Johnston allowed the trio to claim eight major US cities. Then in early 1955, DuMont cancelled his show and the rug was pulled out from underneath his whole operation. He struggled to stay afloat over the next few years. This was made worse when Montreal kingpin Eddie Quinn began running the city. The problems were amplified further when Verne Gagne and many of his established stars left along with his right-hand man Jim Barnett. Kohler was nearly dead and believing Quinn was being backed by the NWA's top brass, he made a deal with Washington D.C. promoter Vincent J. McMahon. The alliance proved to be amazingly successful and Quinn was forced out as Kohler's following steadily grew. In 1961, he held the biggest show of the era when 38,000 people came to Cominsky Park to watch Buddy Rogers win the NWA Championship from Pat O'Connor. A couple months later, Kohler assumed the presidency of the NWA for a year. Not long after that things began to decline again and Kohler pulled out of the NWA and started a short-lived rival company.  


Lou Albano
Mitsu Arakawa
Red Bastien
Red Berry
Bobo Brazil
Guy Brunetti
Haystacks Calhoun
Primo Carnera
Moose Cholak
The Crusher
Don Curtis
Dick the Bruiser
Dusek Riot Squad
Chief Don Eagle
The Fabulous Kangaroos
The Fabulous Fargos (Jackie & Donny)
Verne Gagne
George Gallagher
Gorgeous George
Eddie Graham
Jerry Graham
The Great Togo
Gypsy Joe
Gary Hart
Rip Hawk
John Paul Henning
Hans Hermann
Don Leo Jonathan
Duke Keomuka
Killer Kowalski
Stan Kowalski
Sky Hi Lee
Mark Lewin
Jim Londos
Wild Bill Longson
Prince Maivia
Bobby Managoff
Luis Martinez
Danny McShain
Bill Miller
Mr. Moto
Pat O'Connor
Angelo Poffo
Argentine Rocca
Lalo Rodriguez (Ciclon Negro)
Buddy Rogers
Bruno Sammartino
Hans Schmidt
Mike Sharpe & Ben Sharpe
The Sheik
Ruffy Silverstein
Wilbur Snyder
Dick Steinborn
Sweet Daddy Siki
Lou Thesz
Sailor Art Thomas
Johnny Valentine
Johnny Walker (Mr. Wrestling II)
Bearcat Wright
Yukon Eric





National Wrestling Alliance - St. Louis (1948-1982)
St. Louis was the home base of National Wrestling Association kingpin Tom Packs and while opposition in the area around St. Louis was not entirely unusual, running the city itself in opposition to Packs seemed like an impossible task. However, Sam Muchnick did just that in the late 1940s. A former sportswriter who could communicate with anyone from famous athletes to powerful politicians, Muchnick used this abilities to break away from his former boss and start running his own shows in St. Louis. After Packs sold out, Muchnick was able to get a toehold on the market and eventually local promoter and National Wrestling Association champion Lou Thesz merged his "Mississippi Valley Wrestling Club" with "Sam Muchnick Sports Attractions." Although they remained separate for another ten years, when they became the single "St. Louis Wrestling Club," the two promotions were both under NWA control. Soon after the merger, Muchnick began the celebrated "Wrestling at the Chase" TV program and became the definitive president of the NWA. St. Louis became known for its straightforward product with great pro-wrestling without all the theatrics that were becoming increasingly popular. After Muchnick's retirement in 1982, St. Louis was taken over by a group of promoters and things began to spiral downward for bothe St. Louis and the National Wrestling Alliance. Booker Larry Matysik broke away and ran independent of the NWA for a stint before joining the WWF himself in 1984.

Buddy Austin
Jack Brisco
Ted DiBiase
Dick the Bruiser
Bob Ellis
Ric Flair
Dory Funk Jr.
Terry Funk
Rip Hawk

Wild Bill Longson
Dick Murdoch
Pat O'Connor
Harley Race
Lou Thesz
Johnny Valentine
Whipper Billy Watson

CLICK HERE for the full St. Louis alumni list




National Wrestling Alliance - Minneapolis (1948-1960)
In 1948, Tony Stecher became a founding member of the NWA and the most experienced one at that. Four years later, he sold the Minneapolis office to his right-hand man Wally Karbo and his own son Dennis. Throughout the 1950s, Dennis Stecher built the territory successfully by bringing in top notch talent. Much of the talent had been popularized through Fred Kohler's Chicago office, which bragged two semi-national TV shows. His biggest star was Verne Gagne, who was so hot that Kohler put a regional title on him that eventually became a "world" title. Then, Kohler lost TV and Gagne left along with some of the talent. Gagne toured around for a while before buying Dennis Stecher's share of the Minneapolis office in 1959. The following year, Gagne and Karbo broke away from the NWA and created a separate entity.

Mitsu Arakawa
The Brunettis (Joe & Guy)
Don Colt (Don Fargo)
Verne Gagne
Gallagher Brothers (Doc & Mike)
Bob Geigel
Hard Boiled Haggerty
Larry Hennig
Hans Hermann
Dick Hutton
The Kalmikoffs (Ivan & Karol)
Gene Kiniski
Sky Hi Lee
Reggie Lisowski (The Crusher)
Roy McClarty
Murder Inc. (Tiny Mills & Stan Kowalski)
Bronko Nagurski
Leo Nomellini
Pat O'Connor
Hans Schmidt
Kinji Shibuya
Wilbur Snyder
Johnny Valentine
Kurt Von Brauner
Fritz Von Erich




National Wrestling Alliance - Detroit (1948-196?)
Harry Light and his booker Bert Ruby seized control of Detroit after the war and the became a loyal NWA affiliate. Throughout the 1950s, Detroit was largely living in the shadow of Chicago. It was a formidable market, but lacked the homegrown stars for Light to build around. Instead, he brought in the top stars from Chicago, where they received major TV exposure. By the mid-50s, Ruby had left to start an outlaw group, "Wolverine Wrestling," which depleted Light's office greatly. These weaknesses allowed the promotion to fall prey to the promotional pursuits of Johnny Doyle and Jim Barnett in the 1960s. After they came to town and ran the new Cobo Arena with many of the stars who had become local attractions for Light. He fought them with wrestlers from other NWA affiliates and maintained his edge long enough to stave off Doyle and Barnett. By the end of it though, the aging Light had bowed out and the NWA was without a local affiliate until The Sheik took over in 1964.  


Guy Brunetti
Ivan Kalmikoff
Killer Kowalski
The Sheik
John Tolos




Chicago (1959-1960)
Eddie Quinn was one of the top promoters in the pro-wrestling world when he decided to expand his Montreal operation into Chicago. He had been an NWA member for a few years and even owned stock in the St. Louis promotion. However, Quinn left the fold and after Chicago boomed, he looked to move into the city with Bobby Managoff managing some high profile talent. NWA promoter Fred Kohler had lost his TV, his top stars and his booker, which threatened to kill his promotion. Quinn's efforts had Kohler on the ropes, but then he made a deal with Vincent J. McMahon that turned his company around. The tide turned on Quinn and he pulled out of the city and refocused on Montreal.

 
Eduoard Carpentier
Pepper Gomez
Don Leo Jonathan
Gene Kiniski
Killer Kowalski
Bobby Managoff
Buddy Rogers
Lou Thesz




American Wrestling Alliance (1960-1964)
Johnny Doyle was a seasoned promoter who had bounced around the pro-wrestling world for many years before hooking up with Indiana promoter Jim Barnett. Barnett, associated with Chicago's Fred Kohler, was based out of Indianapolis and had built a successful operation. However, when he joined up with Doyle and they began running in opposition to the NWA, they began making enemies. Doyle ran Detroit, Michigan; Barnett took Cincinnati, Ohio; and Balk Estes ran Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio. Past that, they targetted Los Angeles (where Doyle was first successful), they assisted Roy Shire's San Francisco operation and ran successful shows in Denver, Colorado and New Orleans, Louisiana as well. They also made aggressive moves by securing TV in NWA affiliates' markets. They were extremely successful, but were prevented from NWA membership when they applied for it. This roadblock frustrated them and by 1964, they were looking to get out. They sold Detroit to The Sheik and Indianapolis to Dick the Bruiser, then left for Australia. Doyle and Barnett had thoroughly shaken up the establishment and toppled a few NWA affiliates.

 
Red Bastien
Johnny Barend
Bobo Brazil
Ciclon Negro
Dick the Bruiser
Bob Ellis
The Flying Scotts (George & Sandy)
Verne Gagne
The Gallaghers (Doc & Mike)
Don Leo Jonathan
The Kalmikoffs (Ivan & Karol)
Gene Kiniski
Killer Kowalski
Karl Krauser (Karl Gotch)
Lord Athol Layton
Angelo Poffo
Hans Schmidt
Ray Shires (Ray Stevens)
Wilbur Snyder
Lou Thesz
John Tolos
Johnny Valentine
The Von Brauners (Kurt & Karl)
Fritz Von Erich





AWA - American Wrestling Associaton (1960-1991)
Verne Gagne was one of the premier superstars of the 1950s due to being Fred Kohler's top star on his TV shows. After wearing the NWA Junior Heavyweight title, Kohler's United States title and then laying a claim to a world title, Gagne partnered with Wally Karbo and broke away from the NWA. The American Wrestling Association was one of the major pro-wrestling companies in the United States for three decades. Based out of Minneapolis, the AWA's territory grew to include Miluwakee, Wisconsin; Omaha, Nebraska; Denver, Colorado and Chicago, Illinois as its major cities. Other regular stops included Green Bay, Wisconsin; Salt Lake City, Utah; Winnipeg, Manitoba; San Francisco, California and Las Vegas, Nevada over the years. Gagne may have stepped on the NWA's toes in his early years, but eventually he too respected the boundaries and came to work with promoters throughout the Midwest to maximize his group's success. In the 1960s and 1970s, the AWA was one of the biggest and best companies in the world. They had great wrestlers, big draws and colorful characters as well as great TV coverage. Gagne had a great vision of the big picture and set up big shows in the big cities as well as anyone. By the 1980s, Gagne's roster was deteriorated by the WWF's expansion and his remained talent looked old and his production looked dated. The times passed the company by and after hanging on for several years and trying to make alliances with other territories to keep themselves alive, the AWA folded.  


Adnan Al-Kaissie
Andre the Giant
Red Bastien
Jerry Blackwell
Nick Bockwinkel
The Crusher
Col. DeBeers
Dick the Bruiser
Greg Gagne
Verne Gagne
Billy Graham
Stan Hansen
Hard Boiled Haggarty
Bobby Heenan
Curt Hennig
Larry Hennig

Hulk Hogan
Blackjack Lanza

Rick Martel
Dick Murdoch
Dusty Rhodes
The Road Warriors (Hawk & Animal)
Billy Robinson
Mr. Saito

Ray Stevens
Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon

Jesse Ventura
Baron Von Raschke
Dr. X (The Destroyer)
Larry Zbyszko  

CLICK HERE for the full AWA alumni list




International Wrestling Alliance [Chicago] (1962-1965)
After his Chicago-based NWA affiliate nearly bottomed out a second time, promoter Fred Kohler decided it was time to leave the Alliance and begin working with Jack Pfefer. Pfefer's fake superstars and other novelty acts did get over as he and Kohler would have liked. Furthermore, their biggest star, Johnny Valentine, left them without a credible champion. Kohler soon saw the writing on the wall. More importantly his son-in-law saw the writing on the wall and sold a piece of the promotion to Dick the Bruiser. The superstar brought in stars from his WWA group based out of Indianapolis, Indiana, but they could not save Chicago. Kohler was desperate to get out, but wanted to prevent Verne Gagne (head of the AWA) from buying into Chicago. Instead, Wilbur Snyder, The Bruiser's partner, bought in, although eventually the WWA and AWA would run joint shows there for years to come.

Edouard Carpentier
Jackie Fargo
Johnny Valentine
George Valentine (Buddy Fuller)
Moose Cholak
Dick the Bruiser
Pat O'Connor
Art Thomas
Hans Schmidt
Wilbur Snyder
Harley Race
Bobby Managoff
Angelo Poffo



Big Time Wrestling [NWA - Detroit] (1964-1980)
In the early 1960s, Detroit had been taken to new hieghts under the guidance of promoters Johnny Doyle and Jim Barnett. After the two had tried to go national and failed, they wanted to get out. Detroit had been run hard when they offered it to Ed Farhat and his partner Francis Fleisher. Farhat was a popular attraction from the Chicago's TV wrestling as The Sheik and over next sixteen years, The Sheik became the most successful local draw in pro-wrestling history before riding his success into the ground. Like his contemporaries from the "Golden Age," he remained on top of his promotion until it became deterimental and when changes were necessary, it was too late.  


Abdullah the Butcher
Bobo Brazil
Killer Tim Brooks
Bull Curry

Abdul Farouk (Ernie Roth)
Pampero Firpo

Love Brothers (Hartford & Reginald)
Tex McKenzie

The Sheik
Tiger Jeet Singh
George Steele

CLICK HERE for the full Big Time Wrestling alumni list




National Wrestling Alliance - Central States (1963-1987)
In the years following the formation of the NWA, the Midwest region drastically changed. The alliance had ties all over the US, but the power was centralized in the middle of the country. George Simpson and Orville Brown had brought together several of the independently run markets for many years. Eventually, a group headed by Simpson took over the the nebulous region in 1963 under the name of "Heart of America Sports." This group included Bob Geigel, Pat O'Connor and Gust Karras. Eventually, Geigel assumed Simpson's role and began expanding his power base from Kansas, Missouri and Iowa to run shows in Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Like his friend Dory Funk Sr., Bob Geigel's market had no business being as prominent as it was. For both the Kansas City and Amarillo offices, the population was spread over a large area, nearby metropolitian areas already had established NWA members and their roster had a bell-shape to its drawing power. Those two made a pact and frequently traded talent over the years. Geigel also created a strong alliance with NWA kingpin Sam Muchnick and that partnership did more to keep Central States a viable entity than any other. Their biggest locally produced star was Harley Race, who developed into one of the top stars in the business, an NWA champion and a power player behind the scenes as well. Central States, under the guidance of Geigel, Race and Pat O'Connor, remained a key territory throughout the 1970s. They lacked the booking power to move into the top echelon, but politically they were one of the most important. As the decade wore on, the NWA was growing weaker as long-time president Sam Muchnik stepped down in 1975. The power struggle began pulling the Alliance apart and many strong promoters with major markets began leaving to escape the politics. This disorder turned into opportunity for the Kansas City office. Between 1978 and 1987, Geigel reigned for six years as NWA president, but it was largely ceremonial as Jim Crockett Jr. (president during the other three) and his company were taking over the lead spot in the NWA. Geigel, Race and O'Connor along with booker Larry Matysik took over St. Louis from Sam Muschnik in 1982. Pro-wrestling was changing though and the Midwestern approach just could not compete with all the superior products in other regions. The WWF just happened to be the first one to move into the area. Eventually, Race jumped and the promotion fizzled out after nearly three decades of operation. Geigel tried several times to get promotions started, but everything failed.  

"Bulldog" Bob Brown
Bob Geigel
Mike George

Lord Alfred Hayes

Lee Henning

The Interns

Bobby Jaggers

Rufus R. Jones

Roger Kirby 

Sonny Myers 

Pat O'Connor
Harley Race
Buck Robley

Bob Slaughter (Sgt. Slaughter)
Bob Sweetan 

CLICK HERE for the full Central States alumni list



World Wrestling Association [Indianapolis] (1964-1989)
Indianapolis, Indiana had been run for years by the capable office of Jim Barnett and Balk Estes. After Barnett's failed attempts to create a huge national promotion, he sold off his former city to Dick the Bruiser. During pro-wrestling's "Golden Age," where television made pro-wrestlers nationally recognized, Dick the Bruiser was amongst the most well-known. He had made a name for himself in a number of territories and now he owned his own. He was a notorious character in and out of the ring and the Bruiser was always the top star in his own promotion. After buying his company, Bruiser captured the WWA World Championship from Freddie Blassie. He brought his claim to that non-NWA organization's title home and made it his native title. His longtime association with Verne Gagne's AWA helped him keep in touch with young talent and keep himself a nationally exposed star. He often brought in stars he'd known from his prime or ones that he'd made connections with in the AWA. Many young stars got their start in his promotion, but it was always Bruiser's group and he was always on top. Detroit became the battleground between The Bruiser and NWA promoter Eddie Farhat (The Sheik) in between 1971 and 1974. They ran opposing arenas with top notch talent, but eventually the Bruiser pulled back and focused on his home base of Indianapolis and money city of Chicago until the WWF's expansion pounded his operation into oblivion.  

Ox Baker
The Crusher
Dick the Bruiser
Cowboy Bob Ellis
The Fabulous Kangaroos (Al Costello & Don Kent)

Pepper Gomez
Bobby Heenan
Ernie Ladd
Blackjack Lanza

Wilbur Snyder

Sailor Art Thomas
Johnny Valentine
Valiant Brothers (Jimmy & Johnny)

CLICK HERE for the full WWA alumni list



National Wrestling Allance - St. Louis (1982-1986)
Sam Muchnick had been a cornerstone or the keystone in the NWA for thirty-four years when he retired. The Alliance had changed greatly since he first resigned as president in 1975, but Muchnick and his home territory of St. Louis was a solid market. However, it too would change under the guidance of Kansas City promoter Bob Geigel, Pat O'Connor and Muchnick's protege Larry Matysik. Geigel and O'Connor owned a nearby city and had alterior motives, which frustrated Matysik, who eventually left the fold. St. Louis still carried great prestige and was able to host the premier talent of the day even as the NWA structure fell apart. Interestingly, St. Louis was one of the first long-time NWA cities to fall to the WWF juggernaut.  


CLICK HERE for the full St. Louis alumni list




Pro-Wrestling America (1982-1998)
Eddie Sharkey was an AWA undercarder who left the company and eventually left pro-wrestling all together. Then in the early 1980s, Sharkey began training four bouncers at a bar at which he worked and that developed into promoting. Over the sixteen years, he became one of the most well-known trainers who turned a wide variety of athletes and weightlifters into pro-wrestlers who went on to varying levels of success. After some of his trainees went on to great success, Sharkey was able to secure some name talent and ran one of the better indies. He and Canadian indy promoter Tony Condello developed a working relationship as both were competing with the dying AWA and the growing WWF. He promoted into the 1990s and continued to break in some decent wrestlers who are active to this day.

Barry Darsaw
Fantastics (Tommy Rogers and Bobby Fulton)
Sam Houston
Wahoo McDaniel
Medusa Miceli
Ken Patera
Road Warriors (Hawk & Animal)
Rick Rude
Rick Steiner
Mad Dog Vachon
Baron Von Raschke
Tom Zenk




I'd like to thank Tim Hornbaker and his wonderful "National Wrestling Alliance" book. I'd also like to thank Steve Yohe, J. Michael Kenyon, Doc Silverkat, and "clawmaster" specifically for their various contributions via the internet. Thanks to Evan Ginsberg and Mike Lano's "Legends Radio" show. And, of course Royal Duncun and Gary Will's contributions to wrestling-titles.com


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