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Verne Gagne (born May 10, 1926) is a former professional wrestler, trainer and wrestling promoter. He was the former owner/promoter of the American Wrestling Association (AWA) based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which was the predominant promotion throughout the mid-west and Manitoba, Canada for many years. He remained in this position until 1991, when the company folded. He has a son, Greg, who also wrestled.
In 1960, Gagne formed his own promotion, the AWA, becoming its top star. That same year, Gagne was awarded the AWA World Heavyweight Championship, after champion, Pat O'Connor, failed to defend the title against the number one contender, Gagne. In reality, O'Connor was only named the champion because he was the current holder of the NWA World Heavyweight Title, at the time, the most prestigious title in wrestling. He was awarded the title to give the new AWA Championship credibility. There were never any plans for O'Connor to defend the belt, much less wrestle for the upstart promotion. Verne would go on to become a ten-time AWA World Champion, a record for the promotion. He also had one of the longest World Title reigns in wrestling history, holding the AWA Title from August 31, 1968 until November 8, 1975, when he lost the belt to Nick Bockwinkel. He always wrestled as a face. Verne Gagne's finishing move was the sleeper hold.
Some of his biggest feuds were against Gene Kiniski, Dr. Bill Miller, Fritz Von Erich, Dr. X (Dick Beyer under a mask), The Crusher, Ray Stevens and Nick Bockwinkel. Verne retired from in ring competition in 1981 as the AWA World Champion, becoming one of the few wrestlers to retire as a World titlist.
As the promoter of the AWA, he was known as wanting to put on an "old school" show. He wanted former college wrestlers who could really wrestle instead of huge brutes holding his World Title. This led to a problem with his biggest draw at the time, Hulk Hogan. Gagne was willing to deviate from his normal promoting practices and let Hogan win the belt. However, Gagne wanted a percentage of Hogan's Japan earnings and Hogan refused to agree to that.
Hogan got an offer from Vince McMahon to go to the WWF, and he took it. Gagne supposedly offered the Iron Sheik $100,000 to break Hogan's leg during their World Title Match and return to the AWA with the belt. Sheik did not take the offer, informed Hogan, the McMahons, and Pat Patterson about the planned double cross, and Hulkamania was born. The following has been denied by Gagne and based on recent odd behaviorial displays by The Iron Sheik his credibility is more questionable than ever before.
After WWE's purchase of AWA's tape library, Gagne was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2006 by his son Greg, despite the fact that neither Verne or Greg ever wrestled for the company, although both have wrestled in Madison Square Garden when stars of the WWWF WWF would compete.