For nearly four decades, Verne Gagne was a dominant force in wrestling — first as an athlete and then as a promoter.
Gagne, who was born in Corcoran, Minnesota and grew up in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, was a standout high school, college and professional wrestler in a career that spanned from 1948 to 1985.
Wrestling for the Gophers, Gagne won back-to-back NCAA titles in 1948 and 1949 and was an alternate to the 1948 U.S. Olympic team. While at the University, he also was a standout in football and was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 1947 NFL draft. But Gagne chose to pursue professional wrestling over a career in professional football.
Between 1949 and 1981, Gagne was a 16-time World Heavyweight Champion, winning the American Wrestling Association (AWA) World Heavyweight Championship ten times. He eventually became the owner and promoter of the Minneapolis-based AWA.
"He was a pioneer in modern day era wrestling," Gene Okerlund told the Star Tribune in 2015. "He was the one of the first guys who became a television star."
Okerlund said Gagne was also a great showman.
"He was clever enough and good enough to take that into television and market it and create a persona that became bigger than life," Okerlund said in 2015. "He was a stickler for making things look good in the ring. He gave it legitimacy. It was perceived as the real deal."
Gagne is a member of the WWE, WCW and Professional Wrestling Hall of Fames.