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The American Wrestling Association (AWA) was an American promotion based in Minneapolis, Minnesota that ran from 1960 to 1991. It was owned and founded by Verne Gagne and Wally Karbo. The territory was originally part of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), becoming an independent territory in the late 1950s. Reigning NWA World Champion Pat O'Connor was declared the first AWA World Champion in May 1960, but was given a 90-day ultimatum to defend his title against Verne Gagne who was touted as the number one contender. When O'Connor failed to defend his title, it was stripped of him and awarded to Gagne on August 16, 1960.
Anton Stecher was a founding member of the NWA in 1948 and had promoted wrestling in Minneapolis since 1933 through his Minneapolis Boxing and Wrestling Club. In 1952, he sold a one third interest in the promotion to Wally Karbo and his son Dennis. Stecher died on October 9, 1954 and control of the promotion passed to Karbo and Dennis. Verne Gagne, a former amateur wrestling champion, had become a well known and popular wrestler nationally in the 1950s as a result of his appearances on the DuMont Network. He aspired to become NWA World Champion, but for various reasons to do with politics inside the NWA, he never became champion. In 1959, Dennis Stecher sold his majority stake in the Minneapolis Boxing and Wrestling Club to Karbo and Gagne. They became co-owners of the promotion from that point onward.
Breaking from the NWA
In 1960, after unsuccessfully lobbying the NWA for a title match between Gagne and the NWA World Champion Pat O' Connor, Gagne and Karbo led certain territories out of the NWA forming the AWA. The AWA unilaterally recognized NWA World Champion Pat O'Connor as AWA World Champion and gave him 90 days to defend the AWA title against Gagne. The NWA ignored the challenge. O'Connor was stripped of the AWA title and it was awarded to Gagne on August 16, 1960. While O'Connor was considered the first AWA Champion, he never wrestled in the AWA until later in the 1960s (when he teamed with Wilbur Snyder to win the AWA World Tag Team Championship).
Gagne was a former amateur-wrestling champion who had earned a spot on the U.S. team at the 1948 Summer Olympics; he ran the AWA with a traditionalist sensibility, firmly believing that sound technical wrestling—not flashy "sports entertainment"—should be the basis of a pro-wrestling company. Starting in the 1970s, Gagne trained his newcomer wrestlers from his farm in Chanhassen, Minnesota.