Verne Gagne
Birth nameLaverne Clarence Gagne
Born(1926-02-26)February 26, 1926
Corcoran, Minnesota, U.S.
DiedApril 27, 2015(2015-04-27) (aged 89)
Bloomington, Minnesota, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Minnesota
Children4, including Greg Gagne
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Verne Gagne
Billed height5 ft 11 in (180 cm)[1]
Billed weight215 lb (98 kg)[1]
Trained byJoe Pazandak[2]
Tony Stecher[2]
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
Years of service1943–1946
UnitUnderwater Demolition Team
Battles/warsWorld War II
Medal record
Collegiate Wrestling
Representing the Minnesota Golden Gophers
NCAA Championships
Gold medal – first place 1948 Bethlehem 191 lb
Gold medal – first place 1949 Fort Collins Heavyweight
Bronze medal – third place 1947 Champaign Heavyweight

Laverne Clarence Gagne[2] (February 26, 1926 – April 27, 2015)[3] was an American amateur and professional wrestler, football player, wrestling trainer and wrestling promoter. He was the owner and promoter of the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association (AWA), the predominant promotion throughout the Midwest and Manitoba for many years. He remained in this position until 1991, when the company folded.

As an amateur wrestler, Gagne won two NCAA titles and was an alternate for the U.S. freestyle wrestling team at the 1948 Olympic Games before turning professional in 1949. Gagne was an 11-time world champion in major professional wrestling promotions, having held the AWA World Heavyweight Championship ten times and the IWA World Heavyweight Championship once as the IWA World Heavyweight Championship was considered a world championship in Japan. He has also won top professional wrestling promotions World Heavyweight Championships such as the World Heavyweight Championship (Omaha version) five times. He holds the record for the longest combined reign as a world champion in North America and is third (behind Bruno Sammartino and Lou Thesz) for the longest single world title reign.[a] He is one of only seven men inducted into each of the WWE, WCW and Professional Wrestling halls of fame.

Early life

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Gagne was born in Corcoran, Minnesota, and grew up on a farm in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.[4] He left home at the age of 14 after his mother died. He attended Robbinsdale High School, where he went on to win the state championship for high school wrestling in 1942 and 1943.[5] In 1943, he was recruited to play football at the University of Minnesota as defensive end and tight end, while also continuing wrestling.[6] As a freshmen, Gagne won the Big Ten 175 pound wrestling title in 1944 after returning from duty in the Marine Corps.[7]

Amateur wrestling career

Gagne's football and wrestling career was interrupted by a tour of duty with the United States Marine Corps in 1943.[7] He played on the Marines Football Team with the likes of Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, Gopher Great George Franck and other NFL Stars.[8] Gagne also served with the U.S. Navy's Underwater Demolition Team.[2] He chose to return to the University of Minnesota, where, as an amateur wrestler, he captured two NCAA titles. In 1948, he beat Charles Gottfried of Illinois in the 191-pound class to win his first NCAA championship in Pennsylvania.

The next year, he returned to the championships but had moved up a class, to heavyweight. In the final, he met future NWA World Heavyweight Champion Dick Hutton, the two-time defending national champion in the division. The showdown ended in a 1–1 tie, but Gagne was awarded the win because he controlled Hutton for longer periods of the match.[9]

He was also an alternate for the U.S. freestyle wrestling team at the 1948 Olympic Games; he later said that he might have wrestled in the Olympics, but his coaches had discovered that he had earned money winning a wrestling match at a carnival, thus putting his amateur standing in question.[10]

Football career

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Gagne in the 1940s

Gagne joined the National Football League (NFL) soon after being drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 16th round (145th pick) of the 1947 NFL Draft.[11]

In 2006's The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA, Verne's son, Greg, said in an interview that Bears owner George Halas prevented his father from pursuing both football and wrestling, and forced him to make a choice.[12] In the same interview, Greg mentioned that wrestling was a much better paying job at the time than playing football and as a result, Verne chose wrestling over football.[13][14]

By 1949, Gagne had signed with the NFL's Green Bay Packers. He went on to play three preseason games with the Packers before being released.[15]

Professional wrestling career

National Wrestling Alliance (1953-1960)

Gagne in the early 1950s

In 1949, Gagne decided to wrestle professionally, starting his career in Texas. In his debut, he defeated Abe Kashey, with former World Heavyweight boxing Champion Jack Dempsey as the referee. On November 13, 1950, Gagne captured the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Junior Heavyweight title in a tournament for the vacant championship.[2]

In September 1953 in Fred Kohler Enterprises, Gagne was awarded the newly created Chicago version of the NWA United States Championship.[2] Gagne became one of the most well-known stars in wrestling during the golden age of television, thanks to his exposure on the Dumont Network, where he wowed audiences with his technical prowess. He was rumored to be one of the highest-paid wrestlers during the 1950s, reportedly earning a hundred thousand dollars a year.[16]

On June 14, 1957, Edouard Carpentier defeated NWA Champion Lou Thesz in Chicago. The NWA later overruled the decision of the referee in Chicago and gave the title back to Thesz. However, certain wrestling territories of the NWA including Nebraska refused to go along with the decision and continued to recognize Carpentier. Carpentier lost his title to Gagne in Omaha on August 9, 1958,[2] making him the recognized NWA World champion in the NWA territories that had recognized Carpentier, before dropping the belt three months later to Wilbur Snyder. By early 1960, the wealthy Gagne rarely wrestled and turned his focus towards building a wrestling promotion of his own.[citation needed]

American Wrestling Association (1960-1991)

In 1960, Gagne formed his own promotion, the American Wrestling Alliance (later it became Association). Before this, the Minneapolis territory was under the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) umbrella. Setting up to pull away from the NWA, the Minneapolis territory (as it was known), gave a "story-line only" edict to the NWA in May 1960 that unless their NWA World Champion Pat O'Connor defended his title against Verne Gagne with 90 days, Verne Gagne would become recognized World Champion by default. There was never any intention of such a match taking place. At the end of the 90 day period, the AWA was formed in August 1960 and it was announced that because NWA champion Pat O'Connor failed to meet Gagne, that the AWA recognized Gagne as the first AWA World Champion.

Some of Gagne's biggest feuds were against Gene Kiniski, Dr. Bill Miller (under a mask both as Dr. X and then Mr. M), Fritz Von Erich, Dr. X, The Crusher, Ray Stevens, Mad Dog Vachon, Larry Hennig and Nick Bockwinkel while champion and title changes. He always wrestled as a face and utilized the sleeper hold as his finisher. His longest reign as champion was for 7 years, from August 31, 1968, to November 8, 1975, dropping the title to Nick Bockwinkel. He would regain the title from Bockwinkel on July 18, 1980, and drop it back to Bockwinkel on May 19, 1981.

After his last title lost in 1981, Gagne would wrestle occasionally for AWA until 1986. His last match was a six-man tag with his son Greg, and Jimmy Snuka defeating Boris Zhukov, John Nord and Sheik Adnan Al-Kassie on June 29, 1986.[17]

Gagne with WWWF promoter Vincent J. McMahon and his perennial world champion Bruno Sammartino

As AWA head, Gagne was known for putting on an "old school" show. He sought out wrestlers with amateur backgrounds over the larger, more impressive-looking wrestlers who dominated professional wrestling in the 1980s. This led to a problem with his biggest draw, Hulk Hogan, whom Gagne had acquired after Hogan had been let go by the World Wide Wrestling Federation and who Gagne also felt was not championship material, due to the fact that Hogan was a power wrestler rather than a technical wrestler. Seeing Hogan as the company's top draw, Gagne did, however, let Hogan feud with Bockwinkel.

Eventually, as noted on the 2006 Spectacular Legacy of AWA DVD, Gagne agreed to make Hogan his champion after Hogan's feud with Bockwinkel ran its course in April 1983, but only on condition that Gagne would receive the bulk of Hogan's revenues from both merchandise sales and his matches in Japan, which Hogan refused. In late 1983, Hogan accepted an offer from Vincent K. McMahon to return to the WWF. The Iron Sheik, whom Gagne trained, alleged that Gagne bribed him to inflict career-threatening damage on Hogan's knee after it became apparent that Hogan was leaving for the WWF. What followed was an exodus of major stars from various territories and promotions, including Gagne's AWA, to the WWF. McMahon wished to take his promotion "national" and do away with the traditional territorial system that dominated the North American pro wrestling landscape for decades.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, by the mid-1980s, Gagne began promoting the AWA beyond the geographical bounds of its traditional territory. In September 1985, ESPN began broadcasting AWA Championship Wrestling, giving the promotion national exposure like the WWF. However, the AWA suffered numerous setbacks. ESPN did not treat AWA Championship Wrestling as a priority; the show was sometimes not aired in its regular time slot (occasionally ESPN would change the time slot without advertising the change beforehand), and sometimes it was preempted by live sporting events. This resulted in many fans being unable to tune in on a regular basis. Gagne's booking strategies for the wrestlers themselves continued to follow more traditional themes than those of the WWF, believing as he did that the top stars should be highly gifted technical wrestlers rather than those with just charismatic personalities. Throughout the mid to late 1980s, the AWA would lose the vast majority of its top stars to McMahon, while ratings and live attendance continued to decline. By 1991, the damage had been done, and the AWA shut down after 30 years. Gagne would eventually end up in bankruptcy court.[18]

Wrestling Halls of Fame

In April 2006, Gagne was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by his son, Greg Gagne. He is one of only seven people to be inducted into the WWE, WCW and Professional Wrestling Halls of Fame.[19]

In 2018, he was inducted into the Nebraska Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Death of Helmut Gutmann

On January 26, 2009, Gagne got into an altercation with Helmut Gutmann, a 97-year-old resident of the Bloomington, Minnesota nursing care facility where they both resided. According to Gutmann's widow, who was not present during the altercation, Gagne picked Gutmann up and threw him to the floor, then broke his hip by pulling back on his body. "'The attack happened quickly while the men were at a table', Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts said. 'It was more like "a push and a shove" and it caused Gutmann to fall.'"[20] Neither man had any recollection of the incident.[21] Gutmann was admitted to the hospital, and died on February 14 from complications of the injury.[22] On February 25, 2009, the older man's death was officially ruled a homicide by the Hennepin County medical examiner's office.[21] On March 12, 2009, the Hennepin County Prosecutor's office officially announced that Gagne would not be criminally charged as a result of the death as, because of Gagne's dementia, he lacked the mental capacity necessary to be criminally culpable.[23]

Illness and death

Gagne was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease[24] (or possibly chronic traumatic encephalopathy caused by a lifetime of head injuries)[25] and had been living in the memory-loss section of a Bloomington, Minnesota health care facility.[24] In January 2012 he was living in the home of his daughter Beth and her husband Will.[26] He continued to make public appearances in his last years, aided by his son Greg.[27]

On April 27, 2015, Gagne died in Bloomington at the age of 89.[28]

Championships and accomplishments

Amateur wrestling

Professional wrestling


  1. ^ WWE does not recognize the AWA title as a world championship, making Bruno the longest combined-reigning world champion.


  1. ^ a b "Verne Gagne's Hall of Fame profile". WWE. Retrieved May 24, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Hornbaker, Tim (2007). National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly That Strangled Pro Wrestling. ECW Press. pp. 234–237. ISBN 978-1-55022-741-3.
  3. ^ "He Helped Define Wrestling". Classic Wrestling Articles. April 28, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  4. ^ "Verne Gagne". WWE. Retrieved January 31, 2024.
  5. ^ "Verne Gagne". Retrieved January 31, 2024.
  6. ^ "Verne Gagne - M Club Hall of Fame". University of Minnesota Athletics. Retrieved January 31, 2024.
  7. ^ a b Verne Gagne National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Retrieved November 8, 2023.
  8. ^ Verne Clarence Gagne, Obituary Star Tribune. Retrieved November 8, 2023.
  9. ^ Youngblood, Kent. "Pro wrestling champion Verne Gagne never forgot his amateur roots". Star Tribune. Retrieved January 24, 2021.
  10. ^ Grasso, John (2014). Historical Dictionary of Wrestling. Maryland: Scarecrow Press. pp. 107–109. ISBN 978-0-8108-7925-6.
  11. ^ "1947 NFL Player Draft". Archived from the original on March 19, 2011. Retrieved January 25, 2011.
  12. ^ Dilbert, Ryan. "Examining Verne Gagne's Choice to Forgo the NFL for Pro Wrestling". Bleacher Report. Retrieved January 31, 2024.
  13. ^ Dhakite, Akash (February 22, 2022). "WWE Hall of Famer Left the NFL for Pro Wrestling as It Made More Money". EssentiallySports. Retrieved January 31, 2024.
  14. ^ The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA DVD
  15. ^ "Wrestling legend Verne Gagne dies at 89". Green Bay Press-Gazette. Retrieved January 31, 2024.
  16. ^ "Verne Gagne's Great Crusade". Retrieved May 19, 2018.
  17. ^ "Gagne stats". Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  18. ^ "Wrestling Perspective: In re: Verne C. Gagne, Debtor. (166 B.R. 362)". Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  19. ^ "Minnesota Wrestling Icon Verne Gagne Dead At 89". CBS Minnesota. April 28, 2015. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
  20. ^ No Criminal Charges Against Ex-Wrestler Archived June 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, March 12, 2009
  21. ^ a b Simons, Abby (February 25, 2009). "Gagne case: Death ruled a homicide". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Avista Capital Partners. Retrieved February 26, 2009.
  22. ^ Walsh, Paul (February 19, 2009). "Famed wrestler Gagne linked to death of man, 97". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Avista Capital Partners. Retrieved February 19, 2009.
  23. ^ Williams, Brandt (March 12, 2009). "Prosecutors won't press charges in Gagne case". MPR News. Retrieved February 21, 2023.
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  26. ^ Royce, Graydon (January 25, 2012). "Verne Gagne returns to screen in 'The Wrestler'". Star Tribune.
  27. ^ Powell, Jason. "AWA legend Verne Gagne dead at age 89". Retrieved April 28, 2015.
  28. ^ "Breaking News: wrestling legend, Observer first year Hall of Famer Verne Gagne passes away at 89". Wrestling Observer Newsletter. April 27, 2015. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
  29. ^ Westcott, Brian. "Verne Gagne". Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. Archived from the original on May 29, 2009. Retrieved May 24, 2011.
  31. ^ "Honorees". Cauliflower Alley Club. Archived from the original on July 6, 2022. Retrieved September 27, 2020.
  32. ^ NWA United States Heavyweight Title (Chicago) history At
  33. ^ NWA World Tag Team Title (Chicago/Indianapolis) history,; accessed September 10, 2014.
  34. ^ "Ventura given Museum's top honour". Slam! Wrestling. Canadian Online Explorer. August 4, 2003. Archived from the original on July 31, 2018. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  35. ^ Oliver, Greg (March 16, 2023). "IPWHF Class of 2023 both 'Great' and 'Gorgeous'". Slam Wrestling. Archived from the original on May 7, 2023. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  36. ^ AWA World Heavyweight Title history,; accessed September 10, 2014.
  37. ^ AWA World Tag Team Title history At
  38. ^ NWA World Tag Team Title (Minneapolis) history At
  39. ^ World Heavyweight Title (Omaha) history At
  40. ^ NWA World Junior Heavyweight Title history At
  41. ^ Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Inductees At
  42. ^ *Will, Gary; Duncan, Royal (2000). "Texas: NWA Texas Heavyweight Title [Von Erich]". Wrestling Title Histories: professional wrestling champions around the world from the 19th century to the present. Pennsylvania: Archeus Communications. pp. 268–269. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  43. ^ "NWA Texas Heavyweight Title". Wrestling-Titles. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
  44. ^ Duncan, Royal; Will, Gary (2000). "Texas: NWA World Tag Team Title [Siegel, Boesch and McLemore]". Wrestling title histories: professional wrestling champions around the world from the 19th century to the present. Pennsylvania: Archeus Communications. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  45. ^ "National Wrestling Alliance World Tag Team Title [E. Texas]". Wrestling-Titles. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  46. ^ 東京スポーツ プロレス大賞. Tokyo Sports (in Japanese). Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  47. ^ WCW Hall of Fame Inductees At
  48. ^ WWF/WWE Hall of Fame Inductees At

Further reading