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On this date in AWA history: Verne Gagne wins the title from Pat O'Connor ... sort of

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Photo via <a href="http://www.minnpost.com/_asset/5ym49h/mp_main_wide/VerneGagne1965_452.jpg">www.minnpost.com</a>
Photo via www.minnpost.com

Maybe having a WWE monopoly isn't such a bad thing after all.

Flashback to August 16, 1960, when on this date in AWA history, pro wrestling hall-of-famer Laverne Clarence "Verne" Gagne became the American Wrestling Association (AWA) champion.

Well, sort of.

See, in the old days, you didn't need botched finishes, run-ins or evil Hebner twins to dispute a world championship. That was the promoters job in what eventually evolved into a "my way or the highway" style of booking.

You don't like my ideas or my talent? Fine, I'll go start my own promotion.

And that's exactly what Gagne did when he split from the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) to form the AWA alongside the late, great Wally Karbo in 1960.

They had a promotion, all they needed now was a champion.

Since the NWA pretty much ruled the independent circuit at that time, Gagne and Karbo tried to avoid creating a paper champion by naming reigning NWA titleholder Pat O'Connor the AWA champion as well, under the stipulation that he would have 90 days to defend it.

In other words, Gagne decided to wait three months before naming himself champion so it at least looked like he made some kind of an attempt to legitimize the AWA title.

As expected, O'Connor and the NWA weren't interested and on August 16, 1960, the New Zealander was stripped of the title he never held and Gagne began the first of 10 AWA title runs before retiring from the sport in 1981.

A two-time NCAA wrestling champion out of the University of Minnesota and 1948 U.S. Olympic Freestyle alternate, Gagne favored substance over style and was one of many mid-west promoters throughout the years who thought nothing would ever come of the young, technically bankrupt wrestler known as Terry Bollea.

If they only knew.

Retired in 1981, Gagne was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and has since been confined to an assisted-living facility in Bloomington, Minnesota, where  he was held responsible for the death of a fellow resident after a physical altercation in 2009.

A tragic end to a brilliant career.