54 years ago today, Verne Gagne is awarded the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. Pat O'Connor was named the first AWA World Champion when they broke away from the NWA. O'Connor, the recognized NWA World Heavyweight Champion at the time, was given 90 days to defend the title against Gagne, but as the NWA snubbed the challenge, the match never took place. Gagne would go on to win the AWA world title ten times, including an uninterrupted seven year run as champion from 1968 to 1975.
24 years ago today, Patrick John "Pat" O'Connor, dies of cancer at Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri just six days shy of his 66th birthday. Born in New Zealand, he helped tend to the sheep and cattle on his family farm in his younger years. After briefly serving in the New Zealand Royal Air Force, he became an accomplished amateur wrestler, representing his country in the Pan American Games in 1948 and the British Empire Games in 1950, where he was a silver medalist in freestyle wrestling. He won the New Zealand Heavyweight Championship in amateur wrestling in consecutive years, 1949 and 1950. From 1955 to 1957, he would win singles and tag team gold for NWA territories in Chicago and Toronto, but in 1959, Pat would win at the time wrestling's biggest prize, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, defeating Dick Hutton. However, the title change caused a rift between bookers Sam Muchnick and Chicago promoter Fred Kohler; the rift would in part lead to the formation of the American Wrestling Association. When the AWA was formed, Pat was named its first champion, but he never defended the title, so it was awarded to Verne Gagne three months later. O'Connor would lose the title in June 1961 to Buddy Rogers at Comiskey Park in Chicago. The attendance of 38,622 fans and $148,000 ticket gate were both records at the time, and would stand until the 1980s. Pat would wrestle for the AWA in the late 1960s, winning the tag team titles with Wilbur Snyder in November 1967. They'd lose the belts less than a month later. O'Connor was a part of Sam Muchnick's final wrestling show in January 1, 1982; Pat then become a part-owner of the St. Louis territory along with Gagne, Harley Race and Bob Geigel. One of O'Connor's final bouts came for the WWF in November 1987 as part of an Old Timers' battle royal won by Lou Thesz. Following his death from cancer, an eight-team tag tournament held in O'Connor's honor. Pat is a member of the Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame since 1996, and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame since 2007.
22 years ago today, The Great Muta defeated Riki Choshu in Fukuoka, Japan to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
13 years ago today, the WWF presented its first ever live episode of Smackdown from the E Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The show debut a new theme, "The Beautiful People" by Marilyn Manson and a new set, a large fist breaking through mirrors.
- The Rock defeated Shawn Stasiak.
- X-Factor (Albert & X-Pac) defeated Tajiri & William Regal.
- Rhyno & Rob Van Dam defeated Chris Jericho & Jeff Hardy.
- Chris Kanyon & Diamond Dallas Page defeated Edge & Christian.
- Kurt Angle defeated Tazz.
- Booker T and The Rock went to a no contest in a "lights out" match.
10 years ago today on an episode of RAW from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Randy Orton defeated Chris Benoit to retain the World Heavyweight Championship. The story, of course, is following the match. Evolution, with Orton hoisted on Batista's shoulders, celebrated Randy's second victory over Benoit in as many nights... until Triple H turned on Orton in a fit of jealous rage. The end of show beating turned Randy face by default, but would return to his heel alignment just before Wrestlemania 21. Of note, this also happened on the show.
5 years ago today, TNA presented Hard Justice (pay link) from the Impact Zone at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. In a precursor to the Hardcore Justice events, all of the matches on the show were contested under hardcore rules.
- Daniels defeated Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, Consequences Creed, D'Angelo Dinero, Jay Lethal, Suicide & The Amazing Red in a Steel Asylum match to become #1 contender to the TNA X-Division Championship.
- Abyss defeated Jethro Holliday. Had Holiday won, he would have collected a $50,000 bounty.
- Hernandez defeated Rob Terry to retain the #1 contender to the TNA World Heavyweight Championship briefcase.
- The British Invasion (Brutus Magnus & Doug Williams) defeated Beer Money Inc. (James Storm & Robert Roode) to retain the IWGP Tag Team Championship.
- Cody Deaner & ODB defeated The Beautiful People (Angelina Love & Velvet Sky). As a result of Deaner getting the pinfall, he wins the TNA Knockouts Championship. (It's a women's title. Held by a man. You figure that one out.)
- Samoa Joe defeated Homicide to become the new TNA X-Division Champion.
- Booker T & Scott Steiner defeated Team 3D (Brother Devon & Brother Ray) in a falls count anywhere match to retain the TNA World Tag Team Championship.
- Kevin Nash defeated Mick Foley to become the new TNA Legends Champion.
- Kurt Angle defeated Matt Morgan & Sting in a three-way match to retain the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.
4 years ago today at a RAW taping in Los Angeles, California, Sheamus defeats Zack Ryder in just 11 seconds to retain the WWE Championship. It's the fastest WWE Championship match in Monday Night RAW history.