On Saturday, November 14th it was reported that former American Wrestling Association World and Tag Team Champion Nick Bockwinkel had passed away at the age of 80. Everyone here at Last Word On Sports with to send our condolences to his family and friends.
Nick Bockwinkel started his professional wrestling career after a knee injury forced him to leave the gridiron and begin a new path that would lead him to world wide fame. Perhaps Bockwinkel was destined for greatness as his debut match was against former National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thez at the tender age of 16 years old in 1963.
After several years of toiling away on the West coast, usually teaming with his trainer and father Warren Bockwinkel, Nick travelled to Minnesota and the AWA, where he helped form one of the greatest trios of all time by teaming up with Ray Stevens and manager Bobby Heenan. The tag team of Bockwinkel and Stevens are considered by many to be the greatest tag team in not just AWA history, but the history of pro wrestling. The duo, along with “The Brain” managed to capture the Tag Team Championships on three separate occasions, starting in 1972.
At the age of 40, when many wrestlers were thinking about retiring from the business, Nick was just getting started on building his legacy. After a seven year reign, Bockwinkel captured the AWA World Heavyweight Championship from company owner Verne Gagne. In his time as champion, Nick would defend his title against such legendary stars as Hulk Hogan, Billy Robinson, Dick The Bruiser, The Crusher, Mad Dog Vachon, Jerry Lawler, and more. He also participated in the very first match that pitted the AWA Champion vs the Word Wide Wrestling Federation Champion when he faced Bob Backlund on March 25, 1979. This was one of many instances in which Nick would take the AWA Championship to other companies and defend it against their top stars, not just in the United States but in Canada and Japan as well. Bockwinkel’s fourth and final World Championship run came to an end at the hands of young star Curt Hennig, who took the title from him on May 2nd, 1987, a match that helped make Hennig a star. Later that year, after four decades of tremendous ring activity, Nick retired from active competition. He would only return to the ring to face old rival Billy Robinson on a UWFi show in May of 1992, and Dory Funk Jr. at World Championship Wrestling’s Slamboree 1994 event.
Once his time in the ring was done, Bockwinkel had a number of very important roles outside the ring as well. Eventually, Nick joined the World Wrestling Federation and became not only an agent for the company, but also put his gift of gab to use as a colour analyst. In 1994, Bockwinkel rejoined his former manager Bobby Heenan in WCW, acting as the on screen commissioner for the company until the role was taken over by JJ Dillon. He was also the co-commissioner of a short lived shoot style pro wrestling company in Japan called the Japan Pro Wrestling Association.
2007 was a monumental year for Nick. He was inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame Class of 2007, and the same year he was named the President of the Cauliflower Alley Club, which he served until 2014, when he stepped down due to health reasons. Bockwinkel was also a member of the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum.
Nick Bockwinkel was known as one of the classiest and most articulate pro wrestlers of all time. While most credit Ric Flair as the man who began the trend of World Champions wearing fine suits to interviews, Bockwinkel always presented himself in a professional manner whenever he gave televised interviews, and used vernacular that would often leave fans feeling talked down to and enraged. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest technicians of his era, and looking back on footage from that time, it is a difficult position to argue.
Nick Bokwinkel has inspired generations of pro wrestlers and fans throughout his life, and from all accounts of those who knew him outside the ring, served as a stand-up family man and friend. In the end, that may be his greatest accomplishment of all. He was known as the smartest man in professional wrestling, and while we couldn’t always say we felt smarter after watching Bockwinkel on television, we can all agree that we were entertained. He will be missed.