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AWA Team Challenge Series (Plus) - Part 4

by Scrooge McSuck

Larry Zbyszko

- It’s the final countdown for not only the Team Challenge Series, but for the status of the American Wrestling Association. We’ll try and stay chipper and on a positive note and recap what took place in Part 3 of the AWA Team Challenge Series compilation...

The Light Heavyweight Championship is dusted off and we’ve got two clear contenders in the form of "Rock N’ Roll" Buck Zumhofe and "The Illustrious" Jonnie "Not The Host of the Daily Show" Stewart. We’ve had a goofy triathlon that saw the Hangmen KO Baron von Rashke but still manage to lose a 3-on-2 Handicap Match. "Benchwarmer" Bob Lurtsema disrupts things and almost injures Mike Enos (the storyline was Enos claiming injury). The Trooper and Flapjack Norton surviving a grueling 5-minute Royal Rumble style match. The Tokyo Bullets pulling off the upset of the century in the most confusing match of 1990 against the Hangmen. Larry’s Legends are in a terrible spiral, and Candi Divine retained her Ladies Championship by DQ over Playboy "Phenomenon" Magnificent Mimi. There’s only a few weeks left in the Team Challenge Series and it looks like the Baron’s Blitzers have a strong lead.

Sgt. Slaughter vs. Tom Burton:

This has to be one of Slaughter’s final appearances in the AWA, as we’re into the month of August and it wasn’t long until he started popping up on WWF television being re-introduced to the audience. The commentary of Lee Marshall and Eric Bischoff constantly harps on Slaughter being down on his luck lately, and put over Larry Zbyszko and two "successful" title defenses against the Sarge in Guam and Honolulu, HI. Yeah, I believe those matches took place. Even if true (and they aren’t), why put over the heel clean and make the baby-face sound like a loser unless you know there’s a good chance he’s jumping to the WWF? Oh, and his TCS Team, the Snipers, are way out of first place. Lockup and Slaughter shoves him off. Burton with some blows in the corner. Slaughter starts no-selling it and returns the favor. Whip to the ropes and Slaughter with a back drop, followed by a short-clothesline. The Cobra Clutch finishes at 2:04. The arena is so dark, you can tell this is from the end of a taping when everyone figured "why bother wasting our time watching more squashes?"

Jake "The Milkman" Milliman vs. Larry "The Butcher" Cameron:

We’re close to the final set of tapings methinks. Cameron had a brief career in the CFL in the Mid 70’s and didn’t enter professional wrestling until he was in his 30’s. He bounced around the Indy scene of the late 80’s, but I recognize him from his work in Stampede. In a sad "where are they now", Cameron passed away during a match while on a tour of Europe on December 13th, 1993 at the age of 41. Sorry for the downer intro... hey look, Milliman is a short, goofy looking jobber! Cameron pounds away and chokes in the corner. Lame grocery store jokes about the "Milkman" and "Butcher" nicknames. Milliman teases some offense, but misses a dropkick. Cameron with a kidney punch and a hip throw, sending Milliman to the floor. Cameron with a clothesline and running Powerslam for the three count at 2:24. Squash-tastic.

AWA Tag Team Championship Match:
The Destruction Crew © vs. The Trooper & D.J. Peterson:

Uh-oh, we’ve got Lee Marshall and Vern Gagne on commentary, so you know this match is a big deal. Bloom and Trooper start after a lengthy bit of stalling and referee instructions. Bloom with a boot to the chest and rake of the eyes. He grabs a headlock, but a shoulder tackle doesn’t budge the Trooper. Trooper comes off the ropes with his own, knocking Bloom backwards, through the ropes. Bloom tries to trick Trooper into a chase, but Trooper no-sells being hung across the top rope and sends Bloom flying into the turnbuckle. He sends Bloom to the floor with a clothesline, and Enos runs in for the same treatment. Enos tags in and unloads with rights and chops. Criss-cross, Trooper counters a cross body with a slam for a near fall. Peterson with a double axe-handle from the top. Whip to the ropes and Enos turns knocks him silly with a shoulder tackle. Another whip to the ropes, and Peterson comes back with arm drags, followed by a dropkick. Trooper misses a running shoulder tackle to the buckle, making him our face-in-peril. Bloom with a sloppy shoulder breaker. They take turns working the shoulder. Enos uses the shoulder as a battering ram into the turnbuckle. Bloom with the leap-frog splash across the back. Trooper gets dumped to the floor and bashed with the dollar store version of a guard rail. Back inside, Trooper goes for a sunset flip, but Bloom blocks. Enos with a fireman’s carry for a two count. We get the fake hot tag that the referee conveniently doesn’t see. Double elbow gets a near fall. Enos misses a leg drop, allowing Trooper to tag out to Peterson. He hits Bloom with a clothesline, followed by a slam and suplex to both Bloom and Enos. The challengers get whipped into each other, with Trooper being thrown to the floor. Whip to the ropes, and a double back drop to Peterson, followed by a double clothesline. They go for the Wrecking Ball, but Trooper trips Bloom up, and Peterson cradles Enos for three and the Tag Team Titles at 14:08. **1/2 Nothing spectacular, but the work was fine with the standard tag structure. I think Peterson worked maybe 30-seconds until that final sequence, so it felt like he was a non-factor in the match quality.

AWA World Heavyweight Championship Match:
Larry Zbyszko © vs. Harley Race:

Talk about dusting one off for the sake of filling TV time. I’m assuming this was a one-and-done taping for Race (obviously from one of, if not the, last TV taping), but how is he automatically the #1 Contender? What about the Trooper? I forgot to mention before that Zbyszko has been using Tina Turner’s "The Best" as his entrance music. MANLY MUSIC! Speaking of manly, Race’s lavender singlet. Lockup and Zbyszko with a side headlock. Race takes him over with a hip toss and drops a knee across the forehead, sending Zbyszko to the floor for a breather. Back inside, Zbyszko pounds away and drags Race to the canvas with a front facelock. Race fights back to his feet and cradles Zbyszko for a two count. Zbyszko sends Race flying over the top rope following a hard right hand and introduces him o the timekeeper’s table. Race escapes another chinlock with a pair of headbutts and plants the Champion with a piledriver. Race with another knee drop for two. Whip to the ropes and Race grabs a sleeper. Zbyszko manages to scoot his way to the ropes and force a break. Race dumps him to the floor, but a piledriver attempt is countered with a back drop. Zbyszko pounds away with rights before grabbing a chinlock. Vern Gagne comically reminds us of Zbyszko’s challenge to two men who are no longer the Champions of those companies, forcing a polite correction from Lee Marshall. Whip to the ropes and Race with a clothesline, followed by a suplex for a two count. Zbyszko with his own suplex, but an elbow drop misses. Zbyszko lifts Race for a slam, but they both go tumbling over the top rope. They brawl and suddenly the bell rings at 11:05. Marshall thinks it’s for Race ramming Zbyszko to the post. The referee gets whacked and now a bunch of scrubs try and separate them. The official result is a Double Count-Out. ** Watchable, but the match would be a bit more suitable for 1980, not 1990.

- Team Challenge Update! What an Update we have, too. Sgt. Slaughter has gone AWOL (a.k.a signing with the WWF), so Col. DeBeers has been voted in as the new Captain of the Snipers (and there is no name change for the team... yet, at least). In the TCS Match of the Week, Col. DeBeers and Larry Cameron, a Wild-Card member for the Legends, took on D.J. Peterson of the Blitzers in a "Meat Grinder Match". If Peterson survived a 3-period match, he would receive 8 points for his team, but a victory for DeBeers and Cameron would mean 4 points each for the Snipers and Legends. Peterson fought hard, but fell in the 3rd period, awarding the split points to DeBeers and Cameron. The Blitzers remain in 1st with 45 points, but the Snipers and Legends have crept back into things, with 38 points and 37 points respectively.

AWA Light-Heavyweight Championship Match:
Buck Zumhofe vs. "Illustrious" Jonnie Stewart:

It’s the match everyone has been waiting for, the crowning of a NEW Light-Heavyweight Champion. Did Vern Gagne just call Zumhofe a YOUNGSTER? Yeah, Stewart was 22 or 23, but Zumhofe was over 40! That’s like Gorilla Monsoon calling Carlos Colon a youngster at the 1993 Royal Rumble. Stewart stalls on the floor while that youngster Zumhofe struts around like someone’s drunk, middle-aged, child-molesting, scumbag father. Stewart pounds away but misses an elbow. They trade hammerlocks until Zumhofe picks the leg. Zumhofe kicks off the turnbuckle to take Stewart over with a side headlock. Stewart counters with a head scissors. Zumhofe with a slam, followed by a hip toss into an armbar. In the meantime, we get a long winded rant about how awful wrestling is when people are painting their faces and shaking ropes. In the 25 or so years I’ve watched WWE, I rarely, RARELY, heard commentary that buried (or even acknowledged) the competition. Just saying. Stewart takes a bump to the floor, but there’s no DQ called. Stewart gets sent to the corner and Zumhofe charges in with an elbow. Zumhofe with a slam for two. Stewart goes to the eyes, but Zumhofe isn’t giving him much. Stewart takes another good bump over the top to sell Zumhofe’s poor offense. Stewart gets knees up on a splash attempt, but misses an elbow drop and Zumhofe covers him for three at 10:10 despite Stewart getting his shoulder up at two. ½* Match was mostly crap. Zumhofe controlled almost the entire match, looking old and out of shape. Post-match, Stewart lays out Zumhofe with the belt and throws him over the top rope.

Behind The Eight-Ball Elimination Match:
The Blitzers (Baron von Rashke, Brad Rheingans, The Trooper, Tommy Jammer) vs. The Legends (Mike Enos, Wayne Bloom, Hangman Killer and Psycho)

What in the heck is a Behind the Eight-Ball Match?! According to Lee Marshall, the rules are simple. It’s an 8-Man Tag where points are awarded as so: 1 point for an elimination, either via pinfall, submission, or throwing someone over the top rope or through the ropes, to the floor. There are no DQ’s or Count-Outs. The winning team is awarded 3 points as well, so the maximum scoring would be 7 for the winning team and 3 for the losing team... you got all that? Jammer and Psycho start. Jammer with a headlock and shoulder tackle. Killer saves him from being thrown over the top rope. Enos goes for a slam, but Jammer counters with a roll up. Jammer with a shoulder tackle and dropkick. He goes for a body press, but Enos pulls the ropes down and Jammer goes flying out for the elimination at 2:18. Rashke charges in and gets trapped and choked on in the corner of the Legends. The Hangmen takes turns pounding away on the geriatric leader of the Blitzers. Rashke grabs the Claw from out of nowhere. Chaos erupts and the illegal Hangman knocks the Baron to the floor to eliminate him at 4:48. Rheingains with a drifting back suplex on Psycho for the three count at 5:03. The Destruction Crew work over Rheingans while distracting the referee as best they can. Rheingans with an Oklahoma Roll on Enos for two. Bloom with a double under-hook suplex for two. Rheingans with a Power-Slam for two. Killer stomps away but Rheingans fights back. Bloom pulls the ropes down on Rheingans and he’s gone at 7:46. Trooper in with a diving clothesline on Killer, but an elbow drop misses. Trooper avoids a charge and shoulder tackles Killer out at 9:00. Bloom and Enos double up on Trooper with a clothesline and suplex. Trooper does his best Hulk-Up impression, back drops Bloom out at 10:06, and grabs the Big Pinch on Enos. Bloom with a distraction, allowing Enos to escape and shoulder tackle the Trooper out at 10:50 to give 7-points to the Legends. DUD Incredibly rushed. I like how only one person took a pinfall out of 7 total eliminations.

- You want to know something funny? The scoring system. Yeah, we know, it’s mostly nonsense, but here is the concrete proof of scoring shams: Before the match, the scoring was as followed:

Baron’s Blitzers with 18 wins, 19 losses, 2 Draws, 7 DQs for 45 points
Sarge’s Snipers with 18 wins, 19 losses, 1 Draw, 1 DQ for 38 points
Larry’s Legends with 17 wins, 20 losses, 1 Draw, 2 DQs for 37 points

Following the last match, the scoring has suddenly become this...

Baron’s Blitzers with 19 wins, 23 losses, 3 Draws, 7 DQs for 48 points
Larry’s Legends with 21 wins, 22 losses, 1 Draw, 1 DQ for 44 points

Let us do the match. To award 3 points to the Blitzers, they were credited with 1 win and 1 draw to make the 3 points balanced, while Larry’s Legends were given 4 win for 8 points and were deducted a DQ so that would balance out to 7 points. But while the Blitzers were credited for 4 losses for the 4 team members, why were the Legends only credited with 2 losses instead of 3? And how can you give the Blitzers a win and a draw to make an odd number of points, but tamper with the Legends totals by moving numbers around? My head hurts.

Behind The Eight-Ball Elimination Match:
The Diamond Cutters (Curtis Hughes, Buck Zumhofe, The Unknown Soldier, Jonnie Stewart) vs. The Legends (Mike Enos, Wayne Bloom, Hangman Psycho and Killer)

Another one of these? Please, be the end soon for this TCS. I wonder how well Stewart and Zumhofe will be as a team. The Soldier and Psycho start. The Snipers take turns working the arm. Gagne recognizes the new name of the Snipers, "the Diamond Cutters", although it’s never changed on the update screens (probably out of laziness). Hughes lays out Enos with a clothesline, but misses a splash. Hughes with a dropkick, sending Enos over the top and to the floor at 2:28. Bloom drags Hughes to his corner for some double and triple teaming. Zumhofe gets worked over for a bit. The Unknown Soldier cheap shots a Hangman (Psycho?), and Zumhofe rolls him up for three at 4:30. Did you know the Unknown Soldier won the first-ever Team Challenge Series Match? Double dropkick on Killer gets two. All the while, Stewart refuses to tag in. The Soldier works over Killer and comes off the ropes with an elbow for two. He goes to the top, but Bloom shakes him off for a cheap elimination at 7:08. Hughes with a slam on Bloom for two. Zumhofe with a body press on Bloom for two. Stewart gets a reluctant tag, pitching a fit the entire time. Bloom sends him from corner to corner and plants him with a slam for two. Zumhofe accidentally dropkicks Stewart out at 9:37. Tweener miscommunication? Zumhofe cradles Bloom, but Stewart interferes from the floor. Zumhofe misses a charge to the corner and he’s gone at 11:31. Hughes fights off a double-team from Killer and Bloom. Bloom takes a botched spill through the ropes at 12:39. Hughes with a torture rack on Killer, and a second rope splash gets three at 13:05. That means with one week to go in the Team Challenge Series, the Blitzers are in 1st with 48 points, the Legends in 2nd with 47 points, and the Snipers/Diamond Cutters in 3rd with 45 points. WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW!? DUD Oh, and the match was mostly garbage.

- We are only one match away from completing the Team Challenge Series. Let us look back at some of the matches that lead up to this point...

  1. Hard to begin the list without mentioning the infamous Great Turkey Hunt, which was basically a RAW TURKEY ON A POLE MATCH, where Jake Milliman scored a sneaky upset over Col. DeBeers. To make things worse, this was taped in an empty studio that looked like a big pink nightmare.
  2. Yukon John Nord defeating Shiek Adnan Al-Kahassie.
  3. The Trooper defeating Mean Mike Enos in a Football Clash, featuring children’s Soccer nets and crooked baby-face referee Benchwarmer Bob Lurtsema.
  4. Baron von Rashke defeating Wayne "The Train" Bloom in a Greco-Roman Rules Match
  5. Countless Battle Royals, sometimes featuring Royal Rumble rules, sometimes not, and always with different scoring situations.
  6. The Beauty and the Beast Tag Team Match, featuring the Magnificent Mimi and Col. DeBeers... and no, DeBeers isn’t the Beauty.
  7. Sgt. Slaughter going over the Russian Brute in a brutal(ly awful) Taped Fist Match
  8. Yukon John Nord and Col. Debeers battling with one-arm tied behind their backs... LITERALLY.
  9. Sgt. Slaughter battled Kokina Maximus (a.k.a Yokozuna) in a BATTLE OF THE BULGE.
  10. The TCS Triathlon, with neck pulling contests, man-handling of scrub opponents, and a 3-on-2 handicap match.
  11. Flapjack Norton taking a victory from Col. DeBeers in a Knock-Down Match (yep, the winner knocks his opponent down)
  12. The Meat Grinder Match!
  13. Behind the 8-Ball Elimination Tag Team Matches, featuring a grand total of three pinfall jobs out of a possible 14 eliminations. All this and even more matches that were just random matches without ridiculously goofy stipulations.

Final Event Battle Royal:

Participants: Brad Rheingans, The Trooper, D.J. Peterson, Russian Brute (Blitzers) vs. Col. DeBeers, The Unknown Soldier, Curtis Hughes, Jonnie Stewart (Diamond Cutters) vs. Mike Enos, Wayne Bloom, Hangman Killer, Jake Milliman (The Legends)
5 points to the winning team, and 1 point awarded for each elimination. This one is for all the marbles and "one million dollars." Same rules as the Survival Battle Royal featured in Part Three. 30-Second intervals between arriving participants, last man standing wins it for his team, and with the point system as it is, the winner will also clinch the 1st place claim to 1 Million Dollars. Starting out will be Col. DeBeers for the Sniper Cutters, Brad Rheingans for the Blitzers, and Hangman Killer for the Legends. DeBeers pounds away on Rheingans, but gets back dropped over the top rope at the 9-second mark. Sucks for him. Russian Brute is in for the Blitzers, moving in slow motion. For whatever reason, the Brute attacks his own partner and helps Killer toss Rheingans at 1:18, awarding a point to the Legends. Curtis Hughes enters for the Diamond Snipers and pounds away on the Brute and Killer. Hughes tosses Killer at 2:25. Wayne Bloom enters and attacks Hughes from behind. Holy crap is the Russian Brute an awful worker. Hughes knocks the Brute out at 2:53. D.J. Peterson enters, tries to throw Bloom out, but ends up being eliminated thanks to his own momentum at 3:07. Jonnie Stewart enters and accidentally knocks Hughes over with a weak left hand at 3:31. Credit to Hughes for the most exaggerated elimination bump of all time. Mike Enos enters next and the Crew toss Stewart at 4:06. The Trooper hits the ring and fights off a double-team from the former Tag Team Champions. The Uknown Soldier takes his time coming to the ring as the Destruction Crew is both gone courtesy the Trooper at 5:27. The Unknown Soldier from behind to eliminate the Trooper at 5:33... and it is clearly Col. DeBeers. Jake "The Milkman" Milliman is the lasyt entrant, refusing to sub himself out for Larry’s Legends in favor of a non-scrub. Milliman sneaks his way by Zbyszko, the Hangmen, and Destruction Crew. The Colonel Soldier pounds away and tries tossing him out, but Milliman holds on. DeBeers with a slam, followed by a choke. DeBeers with another slam, but Milliman unmasks him in the process! DeBeers charges, but goes flying over the top rope, and JAKE MILLIMAN WINS to give the Team Challenge Series and "Million Dollars" to Larry’s Legends! Naturally, Zbyszko, The Destruction Crew, and the Hangmen gloat and celebrate and ignore Milliman as if he had nothing to do with the victory.

- The Team Challenge Series is over, and the AWA had stopped taping footage for TV, continuing on for a few more months using older footage or archived material from years past before completely fading away. The roster wasn’t the deepest, but let’s see what became of the core performers from the last days of the AWA...

Larry Zbyszko – Arrived in WCW by the end of the year, joined the Horsemen as a last-second replacement at Wrestle War’s, and joined Paul E. Dangerously’s Dangerous Alliance through the end of 1991 and first half of 1992. Became one of the voices of WCW Nitro, feuding with the New World Order throughout the late 90’s. Popped up every now and then to complain about McMahon until being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015. He talked a lot about Bruno Sammartino’s back yard.

Mike Enos and Wayne Bloom – Signed with the WWF in 1991 and worked under the name "The Beverly Brothers, Beau and Blake." Never reached higher than mid-level status, and spent a good portion of their tenture being stuck in comedy matches with the Bushwhackers. Both found their way to WCW during the late 90’s, but were used mostly as enhancement talent.

The Texas Hangmen – Worked under the masks in promotions such as WWC and the infamously awful American Wrestling Federation in the mid 90’s. The gimmick may or may not have lived on with the same men under the masks, but names associated with the gimmick didn’t achieve must success after the AWA folded.

Jake Milliman – Wrestled irregularly since the closing of AWA. Worked spot Independent shows, but nothing consistently. Only WWF credits were from the mid 80’s.

Baron von Rashke – At 50 years old, von Rashke winded down his in-ring career, doing occasional Independent shows and a one-time appearance for WCW at the 1993 Slamboree before retiring from the ring in 1995.

The Trooper – Adopted the gimmick of the masked "Patriot", becoming one of the stars of Global Wrestling Federation. Had success in Japan, joined WCW and teamed with Marcus Bagwell as "Stars and Stripes." Toured overseas some more before joining the WWF in the Summer of 1997 for a short feud with Bret Hart and the Hart Foundation. Injuries forced him to retire in 1998. Allegedly sold his gimmick to Tom Brandi, but denies ever giving the approval.

D.J. Peterson – Worked Independents until a motorcycle accident ended his life at the age of 33 on May 25th, 1993.

Tommy Jammer – Hung around working Independents in the Minneapolis area before quietly retiring in 1994 after only 5 years in the wrestling business.

Brad Rheingans – Mostly worked Independents and helped train would-be wrestlers.

The Russian Brute – Worked under the name "George Petrovsky" as a token scrub on the weekend syndies for a few WWF tapings of Superstars of Challenge, mostly worked Independents at an irregularly pace.

Yukon John Nord – Arrived in the WWF in the early weeks of 1991 as "The Viking", quickly changed name to "The Berzerker", a gimmick that appeared to be an odd tribute to the late Bruiser Brody. Left the WWF in 1993 and mostly stayed out of wrestling before an improbable return in WCW in 1998 where he developed his own unbeaten streak before being squashed by Goldberg.

Scott Norton – Achieved great success overseas. Popped in and out of WCW throughout the 90’s, gaining his most North American fame as a muscle and B-lister for the New World Order.

Col. DeBeers – Never appeared on WWF or WCW television. Worked briefly for Herb Abrams’ UWF. Worked Independents until retiring in the early 2000’s. Opened a wrestling school, but has never developed anyone worth noting.

Jonnie Stewart – Left the AWA to return to college football at North Park University. Wrestled on and off Independently. Once mistaken for the comedian of the same name. Ran for congressional office in the state of Illinois unsuccessfully.

Curtis Hughes – Signed with WCW before the end of the year, introduced as the Big Cat. In the Fall of 1991, was rebranded as Mr. Hughes, a muscle who wrestled in slacks, dress shirts, and suspenders (and always wearing his glasses). Found his way in and out of the WWF throughout the 90’s and continued to work Independents well into the 2000’s.

Buck Zumhofe – Scumbag.

Eric Bischoff – One of the voices of the AWA’s final months. Found his way in WCW as a C-level broadcaster, but soon found himself in power, working his way up to Executive Producer and President of WCW. Launched what came off as a personal attack with the WWF during the Monday Night Wars and became the evil authority figure of the New World Order by the end of 1996. Maintained a career in wrestling as well as a television production through the present day.

Lee Marshall – Found his way in WCW throughout the late 90’s, mostly doing C-level show commentary or calling in from wherever Nitro was taking place. Provided the voice of Tony The Tiger, mascot for the Frosted Flakes cereal, after the retirement of Thurl Ravenscroft). Passed away at the age of 64 of esophageal Cancer on April 26th, 2014.

Vern Gagne – Stayed away from wrestling after the closure of the AWA. Was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006 around the same time that the tape library of AWA footage was sold. Suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, passing away on April 27th, 2015 at the age of 89.

Final Thoughts: It’s almost sad to see the results of the last TV taping for the AWA. A thin roster over-exposed with goofy gimmick matches and a handful of older performers showing why they weren’t being used elsewhere. The young talent was uninteresting or too green to really feel like the majority of the matches mattered. After all these years, I think the concept of the TCS could work under the right circumstances, but so much was thrown at the wall that it was hard to take seriously. I really wouldn’t know how to recommend such a compilation of footage. The AWA has been gone long enough that younger fans know little to nothing about it, and the TCS era is an unfair sample size of what AWA meant to wrestling for several decades before the declining years.

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