The entertainment provided by Verne Gagne's AWA wrestling organization was like watching an episode of "Zorro,'' and what super senior among us didn't love Zorro when he was dominating TV ratings for a time in the late '50s?

There were villains and misled authority figures having Zorro cornered every week, and yet he was too smart and skilled for those lunkheads to do him in — just like Verne.

Then came Vince McMahon in the early '80s to steal away the talent for the WWF (rebranded as WWE in 2002), and TV wrestling became a never-ending series of "Mad Max'' sequels.

I liked Mad Max, once, maybe twice, but not twice a week for decades. Too many decibels, too many explosions, too much unintelligible bellowing in interviews.

Phil Mackey, radio colleague and aficionado of updated forms of wrestling, gave me hope in a conversation Friday. He offered the information an organization called AEW (All Elite Wrestling) was becoming McMahon's first serious competitor since Ted Turner's WCW went under two decades ago.

Mackey's suggestion was AEW had a more "old school'' vibe than WWE's weekly telecasts, including veteran Jim Ross on the blow-by-blow. To check on this, I found an episode of AEW "Rampage,'' with CM Punk joining the organization seven years after his bitter falling out with McMahon and WWE.

Yes, Ross was on the telecast, but sitting next to him as the analyst was a guy in a plastic mask billed as "Excalibur." I don't want a masked man; I want a cohort in sunglasses and taking out his cigar to say in a marginally alarmed voice, "You heard it, ladies and gentlemen …'

Marty O'Neill, that was old school. And George Schire, foremost expert on our "Golden Age'' of wrestling, author of four books, is still old school.

I received a message from George with a reminder that this summer marked the 50th anniversary of a dramatic twist in AWA drama — spurred by a tragedy.

Hercules Cortez and partner Red Bastien, the AWA's tag team champions, were driving back to the Twin Cities after a card in Winnipeg on July 23, 1971. Cortez fell asleep at the wheel near St. Cloud and the car left the road.

Cortez was thrown from the vehicle and died at the scene. Bastien was hospitalized with moderate injuries.

The crash took place at 2 a.m. on the 24th. There was a card scheduled for that Saturday night in Minneapolis, in which Cortez was to take on Nick Bockwinkel, with the winner getting a shot at Gagne's title. Bastien also was going to wrestle as a single vs. AWA newcomer Ray Stevens.

"Verne had been champion for several years and thought it was time to spice things up,'' Schire said. "He brought in Bockwinkel in December 1970 and was going to put the championship on Nick at a point in 1972. Nick was going to defeat Hercules, the buildup for the title bout with Gagne could start, and Hercules and Bastien would continue as tag team champs.''

The card wasn't canceled because of Cortez's death. It was adjusted on the fly by Gagne and his creative partner, Wally Karbo.

Hercules' death was announced to the crowd, there was a period of silence, and then came this stunner: Verne would step in for Hercules as Bockwinkel's opponent … but in a non-title bout.

There still was the need for a proper introduction of Stevens to the locals, since Bastien's replacement that night was not a big name.

What happened was Stevens plopped himself in a chair at ringside to scout the Bockwinkel-Gagne bout. Momentum went back and forth and then Verne got Nick in the dreaded sleeper hold, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

Stevens exploded onto the ring apron, screaming at the ref that Verne was using an illegal chokehold. Gagne let go of Bockwinkel, charged over and landed a series of punches on Stevens, splaying him onto the floor.

Nick took advantage, sneaked over and tossed Verne on his back for a quick 1-2-3 count … but in a non-title bout.

Bockwinkel and Ray "The Crippler'' Stevens soon were arena-packing tag team champs. That lasted three years. Then, on Nov. 8, 1975, in the St. Paul Auditorium, Bockwinkel defeated Gagne to win the AWA heavyweight title, which he carried honorably for five years with intellectual superiority and snideness.

In wrestling, old school means true genius. Like Zorro.