WWA-Indianapolis Intro Page #2
Dick and Wilbur, by the late 50's,were top draw cards in Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and all points in between. They were to this region, as much of a contrast as Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair were in the early 90's. And their feuds with each other were box office magic.
One story had Bruiser buying into Fred Kohler's office as far back as 1960. At any rate, by 1963, Kohler had taken on Jack Pfeffier as a booking agent, and Pfeffier proceeded to run Chicago into the ground, booking in sound-alike wrestlers like Bummy Rogers and Hobo Brazil. Fans, and top-flight talent, stayed away in droves. Wrestling in Chicago nearly died all together. Johnny Doyle owned the Detroit promotion, selling it outright to Eddie Farhat (The Sheik) in 1965. Sheik used his father-in-law, Francis Fleser, as his frontman. So, another market closed up for Bruiser, as Sheik had a penchant for booking himself on top.
Bruiser had taken to working in southern California for Eileen Eaton's (Mike LeBell's) WWA office, and between the WWA office, and Verne Gagne's, they put together a loose alliance to take over and build a large Midwest territory.
When Dick and Wilbur started
showing TV tapes prior to running their first
wrestling card (at the Southside Armory in
Indianapolis, April 25,1964) they were showing
tapes from Los Angeles. On April 22,1964,Bruiser
won the WWA (California version) heavyweight
title from Freddie Blassie. The California WWA
title was an offshoot of Fred Kohler's
heavyweight title, stemming from a match between
Edouard Carpentier and Lou Thesz on 6/14/57,
where Carpentier won a disputed decision over
Thesz and was recognized as champ. Even though
Carpentier lost that claim to the title in Omaha
to Verne Gagne in August of 1958, Carpentier was
recognized as champ going into a 6/12/61 match
with Freddie Blassie in Los Angleles, and lost
the title to Blassie. The title had gone through
a succession of hands and would go back to
Blassie before the April 1964 match with
Bruiser. (Dick would eventually lose the
California version to Dick "the
Destroyer" Beyer on a count out on
7/22/64), and the tape of that match was used to
build a feud between him and Bruiser in the
On their first card, Bruiser and Snyder defended their "World tag team titles" against the Miller Brothers, going to a 60 minutes draw. Bruiser and Snyder had been Estes' AWA Tag Team champs, as a result of a victory over Cyclone Negro and the Masked Terror (Jay York) on 12/10/63 in Indianapolis. They continued to claim the now Worldwide Wrestling Alliance tag team titles, as well as Dick having the heavyweight belt. This might have been pure ego, but more than likely, it was done to establish the straps and the viability of anyone who would take them off of Bruiser and Snyder. Dick and Wilbur, in the future, would use their reps to get new talent over and develop new stars.
Whenever Bruiser bought Kohler out, it wasn't until March 6,1964, when bigger stars started to appear in Chicago, with Pat O'Connor and Art Thomas being brought in to headline at the Amphitheater. Bruiser finally headlined his first show on May 15,1964, going to a no contest with O'Connor. There were no more cards held that year in the Amphitheater until September 12, when Dick defended his WWA Heavyweight belt against O'Connor, and the team of Angelo Poffo and Nikolai Volkoff defended their newly awarded NWA Tag Team titles against Roger Kirby and Dennis Hall. Now… are you ready for this? Volkoff and Poffo had won the WWA belts from Bruiser and Snyder on 7/30/64, and lost them back to Snyder and Bruiser on 9/4/64 in Indianapolis. Poffo and Volkoff were the new tag champs in Chicago. On October 8,1964, Bruiser and Snyder did their first live TV taping in Indianapolis at the Southside Armory, which was to be shown in Chicago as well as Indianapolis. Poffo and Volkoff, who had lost the WWA Tag Team titles, defended their newly awarded NWA Tag Team titles against Bobby Managoff and Bobby Hire. And this was in an era of kayfaybe!
One other market that they went into was Detroit, working with Olympia Stadium general manager Lincoln Cavaleri. They brought in talent from Verne Gagne's AWA, including tag champs Larry Hennig and Harley Race.
So, the whole territory that was the original WWA included Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, Louisville, and possibly parts of Ontario (I have yet to confirm this as of this writing). It also included such towns as Champaign, Danville, Peoria, and Springfield, Ill., Evansville, Ft. Wayne, Hammond and Elkhart, Indiana.
Balk Estes folded his office in Indianapolis in September of 1964, leaving Bruiser and Snyder with run of the entire territory. Though nothing can be substantiated, it appears that Bruiser and Snyder may've had some kind of agreement with the athletic commission to keep anyone else from getting a promoter's license, and therefore, there was no opposition to Bruiser and Snyder in Indiana until the early 1980's, when the athletic commission was dismantled.
The territory, on paper, looked great. However, there are always logistic problems in trying to run an organization this large, coupled with the fact that in many cases, the crowds weren't that large, and in some areas, like Detroit, there was steady competition. Whatever the problems, by 1965, Bruiser and Snyder started dismantling their territory.
First, they closed up shop in Detroit in May of 1965, and wouldn't go back there until 1971. Next, Bruiser and Verne Gagne set up a partnership in Chicago, and the WWA titles were systematically eliminated, starting on February 26,1966,with a wrestle-off between AWA champion Maurice Vachon and WWA champ ion Bruiser (leaving only Verne's AWA belts). Bruiser, as stated above, had been using several of Verne's guys in Detroit, and they may have in fact, been partners there as well.
They leased Louisville and Evansville to Nick Gulas, who eventually lost the licensing to Jerry Jarrett in the 70's. Hammond and the Illinois towns became AWA, while Elkhart and Ft. Wayne remained WWA. After that, Indianapolis basically became a farm league for the AWA and St. Louis. What Bruiser and Snyder lost in territory, they gained in power, and they had a lot of stroke in the wrestling business for most of the remainder of their careers.
From Indianapolis, during this period, many greats emerged. The Blackjacks, the Valiants, Bobby Heenan, the Chain Gang, Greg Valentine (as Babyface Fargo), Baron von Raschke, Ernie Ladd, were just some of the names. It was also a trying ground for different feuds, and a place where perennial mid-carders (by this point) like Art Thomas, Billy Red Cloud, and Moose Cholak, could be featured.
In 1971, Bruiser and Snyder, along with Lincoln Cavaleri, started running shows in Detroit again in the aging Olympia Stadium. This seemed like a strange move at the time, as Sheik's promotion was an NWA promotion, and usually if you opposed the NWA, you were blacklisted. During this time, several of Dick's stars as well as himself were appearing in St. Louis, the home of the NWA. The NWA did initially send in reinforcements to the Sheik, and the early crowds for the WWA were pretty low, but with TV tapings now being done at the new Expo Center in Indianapolis, and the main events being broadcast, things started picking up. A talent exchange between the Bearman's promotion in Ontario, the Rougeau's in Montreal, and Bruno Sammartino's Pittsburgh promotion also helped. In addition, there was some luring away of talent from the Sheik, which soon caused the WWA houses to overtake the established NWA promotion, doing turn-away business in most of the towns on the circuit. Through 1972 and1973, Indianapolis was frequently SRO, with main events like Bruiser and Crusher vs. The Blackjacks, Bruiser and Bruno Sammartino vs. Ernie Ladd and Baron Von Raschke, Cowboy Bob Ellis vs. Baron Von Raschke, and Bobby Heenan and Jimmy Valiant vs. Art Thomas and Pepper Gomez. One of the more strange things that the WWA did, however, was have different champs in Detroit than in Indianapolis. For example, Art Thomas was given the title in a phantom switch, while Billy Red Cloud was champ in Indianapolis.
In 1974, the Vietnam Conflict had ended, and unemployment started to rise, along with gas shortages and run away inflation. Crowds for both promotions were dropping, and several territories besides these two were hurt. It was announced on Big Time Wrestling in Detroit in April of 1974 that the promotional war was over, and that the WWA titles would no longer be recognized in Detroit. Bruiser and the Sheik had gone into a loose partnership, and started one of the most violent feuds in wrestling history. Cobo Hall was packed for their meetings, and the new Market Square Arena drew nearly 15,000 fans to see them.
By 1975, Indianapolis had gone back to being a farm type league… a haven for new talent and aging veterans or established stars between jobs. It was also a stop-off point for performers working the Chicago/St. Louis circuit. Dick would also use it to bring in major talent for a string of matches between himself, taking it to Chicago, St. Louis and Ft. Wayne. Some of the more notables included Bruiser Brody, Harley Race and Nick Bockwinkel.
We'll take a closer look at the connection with Detroit, introduce Sam Menacker, and examine the relationship between Menacker and Brusier as we head into 1975.
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