In September 1953, Verne Gagne was awarded the United States Heavyweight
championship by Chicago promoter Fred Kohler and spotlighted on Kohler's DuMont
telecast with national distribution. Gagne's championship was not recognized officially by
the National Wrestling Alliance despite being booked by NWA members.
In the following years, many wrestlers held the U.S. Title, but again, none of them were
officially sanctioned by the NWA.
At the 1961 annual convention of the National Wrestling Alliance in Toronto, there was
discussion about naming the recently defeated heavyweight champion, Pat O'Connor,
United States Champion. O'Connor had proven to be an excellent draw. His June 1961
bout with Buddy Rogers had broken the national gate record, and was very popular
wherever he appeared. He had a good working relationship with Sam Muchnick, and it
was agreed that Muchnick would book O'Connor as the U.S. titleholder to any members
that wanted to use him.
Muchnick, who was no longer the NWA President, but retained the titles of executive
secretary and treasurer for the Alliance, was paid $15,000 a year to book new World
Heavyweight champion Buddy Rogers and O'Connor as the U.S. champ.
The United States Title at this time, however, may have been only loosely recognized by
the NWA. Meaning that an NWA representative was booking the champion and making
O'Connor available on a national scale - like the heavyweight titleholder - but that the
NWA did not have to approve a title switch. O'Connor could work angles on a local basis
to sell tickets and to help the local booker/promoter. If it made sense to flip the title over
the course of a week or two to boost attendance, it was possible to do so without NWA
O'Connor, in early October 1961, went into Windsor, Ontario to face Dick the Bruiser at
the Cleary Auditorium. Bruiser was claiming the Doyle-Barnett version of the United
States championship, and the latter duo were promoting the show. In publicity, it was
said that O'Connor was "dethroned by the Bruiser." O'Connor didn't get more than a
draw against Bruiser in Windsor, but a short time later, was billed as the United States
champion again when appearing in St. Louis (10/20/61). So Bruiser's claim remained
steady in Barnett-Doyle territory, as did O'Connors when he wrestled elsewhere.
Did O'Connor even lose to Dick the Bruiser in 1961?
O'Connor's championship would eventually morph into a Central States lineage.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
October 7, 2010
|United States Heavyweight Title - Recognized by the NWA