“Big Thunder” Gene Kiniski was a former
AWA, WWA and NWA World Heavyweight
Champion, the only man to ever have
accomplished the feat. After playing football
for the University of Arizona, Kiniski joined the
Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL and made his
wrestling debut in 1952.
He topped Verne Gagne in Minneapolis
on July 11, 1961 and captured a claim to the
World Heavyweight Title. The victory was
supported by the American Wrestling
Association and backed by promoters
throughout the United States. His reign as
champion, though, was not going to last long.
On August 8th, Gagne beat Kiniski in
Bloomington to regain the belt. Kiniski was
AWA Champion for 28 days.
On May 24, 1962 and the card previews that preceded the event in Amarillo, Kiniski
was billed as the World Heavyweight Champion with his many victories over Buddy
Rogers. That night, Kiniski successfully defended his title against Dan Miller at the Sports
Arena. He received a shot at WWWF World Champion Bruno Sammartino on November
16, 1964 at Madison Square Garden in front of 16,816 fans and lost by disqualification. If
he would have captured the title on that card, he would have been the first and only
wrestler to have captured the AWA and WWF World Championships. And later the first to
have captured all three of the major championships. He formed a successful tag team with
Bobby “Hercules” Graham in Missouri. On November 5, 1965 in St. Louis, the duo beat
Joe Tangaro and Bobby Managoff in three falls. The two then beat Managoff and Sonny
Myers in two-of-three-falls on November 19th in St. Louis. More then ten-thousand fans
were in attendance at the Kiel. He scored an important victory over Pat O’Connor by
pinfall on December 3rd in St. Louis. Kiniski became the number one contender to the
NWA Championship and his tag team days were over.
Lou Thesz appeared at the Kiel Auditorium on January 7, 1966 to give Kiniski a shot at
the title. History was going to be made. 11,612 watched Kiniski battle the champion
through three-falls and strap the NWA World Title around his waist at the end in victory.
He was pinned in the initial fall in 18:08 and tossed over the top rope during the second
fall. The official disqualified Thesz, thus evening the match. After 1 minute and 17
seconds of the third fall, Kiniski pinned Thesz and was declared the winner. Kiniski
became the first man to have held the AWA World Title and the NWA World Title. He drew
with Shohei Baba in a sixty-minute plus match in Osaka before a large crowd on August
14, 1967. Kiniski beat Johnny Valentine with two-of-three-falls on October 9, 1968 in
Miami. He was scheduled to defend his NWA World Title against The Missouri Mauler in
Columbia, SC at the Township Auditorium on January 28, 1969.
He appeared in Tampa, Florida on February 11, 1969 for the annual Gasparilla
Spectacular Show promoted by “Cowboy” Luttrall. Gene was there to defend his NWA
World Title against Dory Funk Jr. 7,000 fans watched the 27 year old Funk defeat Kiniski
for the title by submission in the one-fall match. The spinning toehold was enough to ring
that final bell. An impressive run by Kiniski as the head of the NWA Champions was over
but his three year run as the man to beat was in the record books and documented. He
held the title for 1,131 days.
Kiniski participated in the 1975 Champion Carnival Tournament. He came in second
behind Shohei Baba. In the late 1970’s through 1982, Kiniski appeared in the Pacific
Northwest and in the NWA Mid-Atlantic Territory. He formed a tag team with Mike Popovich
in 1980. Gene and his son, Nick, appeared in the World Wrestling Federation in late 1986.
Gene was the father of Kelly and Nick Kiniski, both wrestlers. Between the early 1952
and 1994, Kiniski established himself as a top-notch wrestler and champion. His career is
judged by history and there is no question that he was one of the best of all-time.
-AWA World Heavyweight Title (1961) defeated Verne Gagne
-Co-holder of the AWA World Tag Team Title (1961) w/ Hard Boiled Haggerty
-Co-holder of the NWA Southwest Tag Team Title (1962) w/ Fritz Von Erich
-Co-holder of the WWWF United States Tag Team Title (1964) w/ Waldo Von Erich
-NWA World Heavyweight Title (1966-’69) defeated Lou Thesz
-NWA Missouri State Heavyweight Title (1973) defeated Terry Funk
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Gene Kiniski Wrestling History
Legends of Pro Wrestling