Mon 2 Feb 2009
How Greg Gagne Hopes To Make Another Splash
Once upon a time, a man named Verne Gagne was one of the primary rulers of the professional wrestling world. He owned a Minneapolis-based promotion called the American Wrestling Association, where he was its frequent champion for many years.
During Gagne’s reign, his son, Greg, also trained to become a performer. He, along with a fellow named Jim Brunzell, were a dynamic babyface team called The High Flyers. That was then.
This is now. Greg Gagne is 60-years-old. His father is 82. Vince McMahon owns the AWA name and tape library. Surely, time has passed since the glory years — but the Gagne family is still kicking.
Greg Gagne, also a former trainer for WWE and WCW, is striking out on his own. He has developed a two-pronged business venture called the Gagne Wrestling Association. One part of the business is to sell merchandise from yesteryear — gifts and collectibles featuring the stories and likenesses of former AWA superstars who ruled with Verne. You know the names. Mad Dog Vachon. The Crusher. Nick Bockwinkel. A portion of the proceeds raised through the sales of the merchandise, according to Gagne, will go back to the estates of those superstars.
“Those guys are all hurting a little bit,” Gagne said. “This is a chance for us to thank them.”
One item is a signed print of Verne from his ring days in the 1950s. A well-known sports memorabilia dealer in the Mall of America priced the item at $900. Gagne is selling it for $50. That’s called a bargain.
Another bargain might be the Gagne Wrestling Academy. That’s the second leg of the business, a school to train wrestling stars of the future. Greg wants to start classes in April on a campus in the Twin Cities area. But why now? Why not just work as a trainer for one of the big promotions? Gagne says Stephanie McMahon helped answer both questions.
“I had 18 people ready for them,” Gagne said after training a recent crop of WWE newbies. “And Stephanie said, “Well, Greg, you did a good job but you’re teaching the kids to dropkick the wrong way. I said, ‘Steph, I made my living throwing dropkicks!’”
While Gagne says he left WWE with no hard feelings, he knew he could do better. Training is in his blood. He’s helped develop fellows we’ve all seen in the ring, including Booker T, Steve Austin, Kevin Nash and Mike Knox.
Before him, his father Verne was instrumental in training legends such as Sgt. Slaughter, Ken Patera, Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair. Yep, that Ric Flair.
Greg recalls the days when Flair was just a kid out of the University of Minnesota. A lad who always wanted to be a pro wrestler:
“Ric quit one time during the camp and my dad went over and dragged him out of his house,” Gagne said. “Ric was standing in the yard, saying, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it.’ And Verne actually knocked him right on his butt. And he said, ‘Flair, I’m not going to let you quit because you have too much @#$%^ potential.’
“Verne was hard-nosed and he was tough on us, but he never asked us to do anything that he couldn’t do or wouldn’t do. So we’re going to pass on the legacy of Verne.”
A legacy which means the new recruits might be miserable. Gagne says it’s a necessary evil in order to weed out those who simply won’t make it.
Ribs ‘N’ Ropes
“A lot of kids, the first time they hit the ropes, they’ll break their ribs,” Gagne said. “(When I trained), we took 1,000 bumps a day. You have to learn how to fall. And for six weeks we were black and blue. The skin was off our knees, off our shoulders, off our elbows. But after six weeks, it goes away.”
Gagne has some help in his camp. His former partner Brunzell is part of the act. So is AWA fan-favorite Buck
Zumhofe, who promotes live wrestling events around the Midwest. The Zumhofe connection gives Gagne grappling graduates an instant venue to show their stuff.
“They run 140-170 shows a year … in little bars,” Gagne said. “But they’re successful. We can put (the students) on the road, and give them that experience they need getting in front of people. Most of these other (independent wrestling camps), they’re not training them properly. And when they get done with them … and they’ve taken their money … they have nowhere to wrestle. They can’t get ‘em booked anywhere.”
Once upon a time, a man named Verne Gagne was a primary ruler of the professional wrestling world. His son, Greg, knows how it works. Can the storied family fly high once again?
“I’ve got a pretty good background and know what to get out of people,” Gagne said. “I know for a fact that I can produce talent.”