R.I.P.: Wrestling Legend Nick Bockwinkel, WWE Hall Of Famer, Former AWA World Champion

Last night, Nick Bockwinkel, one of professional wrestling’s classiest legends, passed away in his hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, according to WWE. Bockwinkel, a former AWA World Heavyweight Champion and WWE Hall of Famer, was regarded as one of wrestling’s most skilled technicians in the ring and one it’s most talented talkers out of it.

Bockwinkel, a product of St. Louis, Missouri, came to the professional wrestling world after aspirations of a professional football career were ended due to a knee injury. Bockwinkel attended University of Oklahoma to play football, but had his scholarship revoked after suffering the injury. Bockwinkel’s father, Warren, was a regional professional wrestler who had attained some local celebrity, and trained his son in the art alongside professional wrestling super legend, the late Lou Thesz, with whom the younger Bockwinkel would have his first match in 1955 at the age of 16.

Nick Bockwinkel, wrestling [Photo Image via WWE.com]As Fox Sports reports, Bockwinkel became best known as a featured attraction for the professional wrestling territory known as the American Wrestling Association. The AWA, owned and operated by another wrestling Hall of Famer, the late Verne Gagne, became enjoyed national attention prior to Vince McMahon and the ascension of the World Wrestling Federation, now World Wrestling Entertainment today. Bockwinkel became AWA World Heavyweight Champion when he defeated Gagne for the title at the age of 40. At the time, Gagne had reigned as AWA wrestling champion for seven years. When Bockwinkel displayed the skills and showmanship to best the iconic Gagne, his legend was solidified.

Bockwinkel also wrestled in a tag team with fellow wrestling legend Ray “the Crippler” Stevens and was managed by legendary wrestling manager turned color commentator Bobby “the Brain” Heenan. With Stevens and Heenan, Bockwinkel enjoyed early success as a three time AWA Tag Team champion, earning his first such title in 1972.

Nick Bockwinkle, wrestling [Photo Image via WWE.com]During Bockwinkel’s reign as AWA World Champion, Bockwinkel feuded with all the top names in the professional wrestling industry, including Billy Robinson, The Crusher, Otto Wanz, Jerry “the King” Lawler, and even the Babe Ruth of professional wrestling himself, Hulk Hogan. Hogan has often cited Bockwinkel’s title reign and its surrounding politics as motivation for leaving the territory and rejoining the WWF, which would result in Hogan becoming wrestling’s biggest star of all time. During his time in the AWA, Hogan defeated Bockwinkel to become the AWA World Champion, but the call was overturned and the championship given back to Bockwinkel.

In 1980, Bockwinkel lost the AWA Championship back to Gagne, who promptly retired. The championship was then awarded back to Bockwinkel. That, as opposed to having Bockwinkel earn the championship, made Bockwinkel even more despised in the eyes of the loyal AWA fans who also revered Gagne as something of a folk hero.

Bockwinkel would go on to feud with the likes of Stan Hansen, Ric Flair, and Larry Zbyszko, before finally losing the championship to a young upstart wrestler named Curt Hennig, who would go on to fame with the WWF as Mr. Perfect. Hennig, like Zbyszko, Flair, and Heenan, are also WWE Hall of Famers. Bockwinkel retired from the wrestling ring in 1987.

After retiring from the ring, Bockwinkel continued to perform as a figurehead for World Championship Wrestling and as a color commentator, whereby Bockwinkel would be able to continue displaying his gift of gab and his voracious vocabulary. After settling down in Las Vegas, Bockwinkel became involved in real estate, but never strayed too far from the business he spent 32 years in, as Bockwinkel became known as a generous giver of time and advice to young up-and-coming wrestlers who trained and performed in Las Vegas. in 2007, Bockwinkel was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. That same year, Bockwinkel was elected President of the Cauliflower Alley Club, a non-profit organization that helps and celebrates veteran wrestlers in need.

During his reign atop the wrestling world, Nick Bockwinkel carved out a niche for himself, eschewing the popular maniacal bombast in favor of calm, quiet, articulate delivery and collectiveness. Self-proclaimed “The Smartest Wrestler Alive,” Bockwinkel brought true class and an aire of intellect to his persona and to his work. In doing so, Nick Bockwinkel became one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time.
Nick Bockwinkel was 80-years-old.