Fred Kohler was the right man at the right place at the right time. Not only was he
involved in a television deal across the DuMont Network that propelled him to "czar"
status in professional wrestling, he pulled the strings perfectly in molding Verne Gagne
into a superstar. Gagne, with his amateur credibility and having held the NWA World
Junior Heavyweight Title in 1950-'51, was on the cusp of becoming a major sensation.
Kohler gave Gagne the platform to shine, displaying him on his national television
programs and in magazines, and featuring him on major shows in Chicago before
thousands and thousands of spectators.
By 1953, after a poll of the National Wrestling Alliance membership, a majority of
members picked Gagne to succeed Lou Thesz as the heavyweight champion. In
matches against Thesz, Gagne looked like the coming champion, and it seemed to be
just a matter of time.
Getting Thesz to step aside for Gagne at that moment (1953) was impossible, Kohler
realized, and decided to prop his superstar up another way. He was going to name
Gagne the "United States Heavyweight Champion," a title that would be recognized on a
regional-type basis. Kohler, a week before the 1953 NWA annual convention in Chicago,
talked with organization president Sam Muchnick, and talked about the idea. Muchnick
told him that there would be no problem if the championship didn't interfere with the
Alliance's official titles.
On September 5, 1953, wrestling broadcaster Jack Brickhouse announced that Verne
Gagne was awarded the United States Heavyweight Title. A week later, in the WGN-TV
Studios, Gagne was presented with the new championship belt.
There was some confusion amongst fans regarding who was the top heavyweight, Gagne
or Thesz. But Kohler and Muchnick both went out of their way to explain that Thesz was
still the world's champion and that Gagne was more of a sectional titleholder. Gagne's
title was not recognized by the National Wrestling Alliance.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
October 7, 2010
|United States Heavyweight Title - Recognized by Fred Kohler