When people find out I am a professional wrestling fan, they always ask me who my favorites are. I tell them Sting, Bret Hart, Curt Hennig, Nick Bockwinkel, and Bobby Heenan would be my top 5 growing up. We lost Hennig a while ago, and this weekend the news came that Nick Bockwinkel died at age 80.
For people who did not grow up watching wrestling in the 1970s-1990s, before the WWE became pretty much the only major league in the world, they were in the top 3, along with the NWA, and the AWA. There were other territories, but those were the big three. The champion of those three would travel to certain territories that were in partners with the leagues and trade talent every several months (for instance a wrestler who was in Minnesota would be sent to Oklahoma for 6 months if they promoters were under the AWA banner).
Bockwinkel was one of the major staples of the AWA based out of Minnesota and under the promoter Verne Gagne. Before Vince McMahon Jr. started buying up the talent and going national with the WWF in the 1980s, the AWA had stars like Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, Bobby Heenan, among others.
Just some of the talent Nick Bockwinkel wrestled in his day were: Bruiser Brody, Verne Gagne, Rick Martel, Ric Flair, Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Terry Funk, Randy Savage, Jerry Lawler, Dusty Rhodes, Stan Hansen, and Magnum T.A. among others. Managed by Bobby Heenan in the AWA days, they were the perfect heel couple. They looked like they hung out together; both hailing from Beverly Hills, California, blond hair and wearing fancy suits.
Bockwinkel held the AWA World Title 4 times, along with the AWA Tag Team Titles 3 times with Ray Stevens, fought then WWWF Champion Bob Backlund , was WCW Commissioner and WWF road agent. He was also on the TV Shows Hawaii 5-O, The Monkees and was a winning contestant on The Hollywood Squares.
The thing I liked most about Bockwinkel was no matter if he was a heel or a face he kept a monotone voice when he talked during his interviews, using big words to convey his message, as opposed to some of the other wrestlers of the day who would yell and scream at their opponents. He was a classy heel, wearing suits during some of his interviews.
In the mid 1980s, I remember being able to watch wrestling every day of the week, with help from ESPN, which would air either the AWA or World Class Wrestling from Texas weekday afternoons. I remember Bockwinkel’s legendary feud with a Pre-Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig on those TV Shows, where one match in particular went a 1 hour time limit draw. Hennig beat Bockwinkel, with help from Nick’s rival/tag partner at times Larry Zbyszko handing him a roll of coins, for the AWA World Title. Hennig was a edgy babyface character until that match where he turned heel, which he carried the momentum with his Mr. Perfect character in the WWF. The matches with Hennig were not only entertaining matches, but great storytelling.
Bockwinkel was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007, and also became the President of the Cauliflower Alley Club, which is a club for boxing and wrestling people.
Bobby Heenan wrote in his first book in 2002 with Steve Anderson that Nick was “the only guy I know that if you ask him what time it is he tells you how to build a watch.” And that “Baron Von Raschke always told Nick ‘You’re living proof that a man can be educated beyond his means.’”
For the wrestling fans my age, they know what a talent Bockwinkel was. I always felt he was underrated when it came to best in ring technicians and interviewers. For those that missed out of that era, go to youtube and watch some of his matches (especially his ones with Hennig) and his interviews. It’s too bad I never got to see him wrestle live (the AWA never came around my area), but going back today and watching some of his matches brought back childhood memories of a true legend. I know that word gets passed around lightly, but it definitely fit Mr. Bockwinkel.