Remembering the Magnificent Nick Bockwinkel
By Brian Westcott: One of the greatest second-generation wrestlers of all-time. Very intelligent, eloquent, and in the words of so many people who respected him, a true class act. Nick Bockwinkel represented pure class inside and outside the ring.
He was born Nicholas Warren Francis Bockwinkel on December 6, 1934 in St. Louis, Missouri. Nick’s father, Warren Bockwinkel, was a regional star in the 1940s. Being the son of a professional wrestler, Nick attended several high schools while touring with his father—Jefferson Union High in the San Francisco area being one of them.
Warren encouraged Nick to try out for football which he did. Nick became a star fullback, eventually earning a coveted football scholarship at the University of Oklahoma. Alas, Mr. Bockwinkel lost his scholarship to a double-knee injury. Fortunately, Nick decided to enter the family business and after much tutelage and training from his father and others, including the late Wilbur Snyder, Nick made his pro debut in 1955 in Southern California against a man who became his godfather, the late and former National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz.
Mr. Bockwinkel became a traveling vagabond, learning the ins and outs of the pro wrestling business by being on the road with his father and men such as the late Yukon Eric. Bockwinkel adapted many scientific holds into his arsenal. True, he wasn’t shaped in the mold of a Danny Hodge, nevertheless, he was a tremendous technician.
Bockwinkel went to many of the different NWA territories such as the Great Lakes region, the Pacific Northwest, the Jim Barnett circuit, Hawaii, and even the land of the rising sun, Japan, where he was treated as a true professional wrestling god.
In 1969, Bockwinkel went to Atlanta, Georgia and it was there that Mr. Bockwinkel suddenly decided to make an about-face and turned heel. Even then, he was using a dictionary and memorizing certain words to use during his eloquent interviews.
This new attitude followed Bockwinkel to the one place where he would make the largest impact of his entire career, the American Wrestling Association out of St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota in November 1970.
In June 1971, a 40-plus-year friendship began between Mr. Bockwinkel and the new president of the Bockwinkel Brigade, Mr. Mick Karch.
Bockwinkel would team up with another legend, the late Ray “The Crippler” Stevens. Bockwinkel and Stevens won the AWA World Tag Team Championship four times between 1972 and 1974.
Without a doubt, the greatest feud Bockwinkel ever had throughout his entire career was a man who turned out to be his boss in real life. Promoter/wrestler/trainer, the late Verne Gagne. Gagne and Bockwinkel sold out everywhere they went. On November 8, 1975 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Bockwinkel won his first of four AWA World Heavyweight Championships. Bockwinkel defended the championship against a who’s who in professional wrestling. Men such as the late Billy Robinson, Edouard Carpentier, Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon, Dr. X (Dick Beyer), The Crusher, and many others. On March 23, 1979, Bockwinkel wrestled Bob Backlund to a double countout in a rare AWA vs. WWWF title match at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Gagne regained the title on July 18, 1980 in Chicago, Illinois. After Gagne retired in May 1981, Bockwinkel was awarded his second AWA World Heavyweight Title. Traded the title with Otto Wanz in 1982 and won it back a third time. In April 1983, Bockwinkel went up against a man who became a huge legend in professional wrestling, Hulk Hogan. Hulkamania started in the AWA and Nick Bockwinkel got to be a part of that.
Even during the 1980s, Bockwinkel still traveled to different territories such as Houston for Paul Boesch, San Antonio for Joe Blanchard, Memphis for Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler, and many other places. On February 22, 1984, Bockwinkel lost the AWA World Heavyweight Championship to the late Jumbo Tsuruta in Tokyo, Japan. Bockwinkel was awarded his final AWA World Heavyweight Title after Stan Hansen failed to appear for a title defense on June 29, 1986 in Denver, Colorado.
One of the best matches Bockwinkel ever had, even at the age of 51, happened on November 15, 1986 at the Showboat in Las Vegas, Nevada. Bockwinkel took on a man who was a lot younger and very much in his prime, the late Curt Hennig. The match went to a 60-minute, time-limit draw. By the end of the match, both men were bleeding buckets as they were in a figure-four leglock. ESPN aired the match on New Year’s Eve. Bockwinkel passed the torch to Curt Hennig by dropping the title on May 2, 1987 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California.
Bockwinkel retired as an active wrestler in 1987 and got a job with the World Wrestling Federation as a road agent. He was eventually dismissed in 1989.
Every once in a while, the sickness, as its referred to, would come out. Another memorable match happened in May 1993 as Bockwinkel wrestled Dory Funk, Jr. to a 15-minute, time-limit draw at World Championship Wrestling’s Slamboree event at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia. The fans gave both men a standing ovation. Verne Gagne was in the corner of Bockwinkel, while the late Gene Kiniski was in Funk’s corner. The late Johnny Valentine did color commentary.
By 1994, Bockwinkel reached out to his friend Mick Karch, asking him about the current state of World Championship Wrestling. The reason: Bockwinkel became Commissioner of WCW from 1994 to 1996.
While Bockwinkel’s active in-ring career ended, his legacy would continue to shine as a member, and later Vice President, and President of the Cauliflower Alley Club. He was the front grunt person. The man in charge of storage of fine artifacts.
Bockwinkel’s health began to deteriorate. And the end finally came on Saturday, November 14, 2015 when this one of a kind gentleman breathed his last breath at the age of 80.