World Wrestling Association: WWA Indianapolis Wrestling Territory

The Indianapolis-based World Wrestling Association (WWA) was a promotion created out of rebellion and built on a legacy that goes back to the foundation of the NWA. Developing and featuring myriad top performers such as Bobby Heenan and Scott Steiner, the small, center-of-the-country promotion made its impact felt coast to coast until its unfortunate demise in 1989.

The World Wrestling Association (WWA Indianapolis) wrestling territory thrived under the tutelage of Dick The Bruiser (after purchasing the NWA Indianapolis territory from Jim Barnett with Wilbur Snyder in 1964) and stars such as Baron von Raschke, Big Moose Cholak, Wilbur Snyder, The Great Wojo, Bobby Heenan, Scott Steiner, The Valiant Brothers (Johnny, Jimmy, and Jerry), The Assassins (Joe Tomasso and Guy Mitchell), Ox Baker, The Fabulous Kangaroos, and a host of others.

Welcome back, wrestling fans, to another edition of the Wrestling Territories. Our last stop saw us traveling through wild and wooly Amarillo and the stomping grounds of the legendary Funk family: Western State Sports. Fasten your belts as we’re headed up route I-70 to the home of the Hoosiers as we take a look at the World Wrestling Association out of Indianapolis!


The Rise and Fall of World Wrestling Association: WWA Indianapolis

The year was 1964, and midwestern standout wrestler Dick the Bruiser (William Afflis) decided to break away from the NWA affiliate in Detroit and start his brand in his home state of Indiana.

Along with fellow wrestler Wilbur Snyder, the two purchased the NWA Indianapolis territory from Jim Barnett, who was amassing capital for a new venture in Australia. They formed Championship Wrestling of Indiana as their parent company, and the WWA was founded shortly after.

In 1965, the two also purchased the Chicago-based Fred Kohler Enterprises, the original NWA territory where both had started.

Dick The Bruiser (William Afflis) and Wilbur Snyder purchased the Indianapolis NWA promotion that would soon become World Wrestling Association (WWA) in 1964 from its longtime owner Jim Barnett.
Dick The Bruiser (William Afflis) and Wilbur Snyder purchased the Indianapolis NWA promotion that would soon become World Wrestling Association (WWA) in 1964 from its longtime owner Jim Barnett.

Purchasing the Territory from Wrestling Promoter Jim Barnett

There are a few schools of thought on exactly how and why Jim Barnett left the area for Australia. One is that he was making a swift departure to avoid a brewing scandal surrounding himself, the University of Kentucky football team, and several instances of indiscretion documented in the book The Thin Thirty.

There are documented accounts of Dick the Bruiser and Wilbur Snyder running in direct competition with Barnett, who transferred control of the company and sold his interests to stakeholder Balk Estes, who eventually couldn’t compete with the duo.

But there is also an inside story amongst the boys in the business that Afflis met with Estes at a hotel in Indianapolis and either held or pushed him out of the room window and told him, “This is my town!”

But, of course, with the carny nature of the territorial wrestling scene, it could very well be a combination of the three. Either way, Bruiser and Snyder took the town.

Wrestling promoter Jim Barnett at the Hordern Pavilion, Sydney Showground, March 7, 1973.
Wrestling promoter Jim Barnett. [Photo: Mervyn George Bishop/Fairfax Media]

Fred Kohler and Chicago’s Wrestling From the Marigold

Fred Kohler was a native Chicagoan who began wrestling and promoting a career in 1925 at the age of twenty-two.

After several major successes in the Chicago area, he joined forces with Ed White, and the two promoted together in the Windy City into the 1950s. They began airing their product on the DuMont Network and called their show Wrestling From the Marigold.

Fred Kohler (left) and Ed White (right) promoted wrestling in the Chicago area together for many years, and their show Wrestling From the Marigold on the DuMont Network was a huge ratings success.
Fred Kohler (left) and Ed White (right) promoted wrestling in the Chicago area together for many years, and their show Wrestling From the Marigold on the DuMont Network was a huge ratings success.

The show drew huge ratings and stayed on the air until 1957.

Dick the Bruiser and Wilbur Snyder worked the territory they would eventually own during this time. Unfortunately, Kohler ran afoul of Sam Muchnick at this same time when he tried to expand his business and ran shows in Indiana, which was part of Muchnick’s St. Louis Wrestling Club’s territory.

Many feel that this led to Kohler losing his television spot on the Dumont Network. He also lost his time slot on WGN in 1957.

Things were beginning to take a turn downhill for Kohler in the late ’50s as he saw more competition enter his territory. However, he weathered that storm and was elected President of the NWA in 1961, only to get voted out in the next cycle for suggesting the organization’s dissolution.

After that, he broke away from the NWA altogether, launching his own International Wrestling Association in 1963, and ran in direct competition with them. However, it was only open for a year before Kohler folded and sold his company to the pair of Afflis and Snyder.

Dick the Bruiser

William Afflis was born in June of 1929 in Delphi, Indiana.

He wrestled and played football in high school and followed that onto Purdue University, where he did well enough to land a job with the powerhouse Green Bay Packers in 1952.

After a short-lived career in Wisconsin, Afflis fell back onto his wrestling abilities and began his foray into professional wrestling at the NWA Chicago promotion.

His gruff voice, burly physique, and hard-hitting style quickly made him a local favorite. He gained some local recognition when he handily dispatched Detroit Lions player and future TV family dad on the show Webster, Alex Karras, in a bar fight.

The always formidable Dick the Bruiser (William Afflis) as WWA World Heavyweight Champion.
The always formidable Dick the Bruiser (William Afflis) as WWA World Heavyweight Champion.

The Bruiser continued to work in the Chicago and Detroit markets for the NWA and would regularly squash new talent that came into the area, which built his tough-guy character up even more. He worked there until he splintered off and started the WWA in 1964.

Wilbur Snyder

Wilbur Snyder was born a California boy in Santa Monica on September 29, 1929.

He also started his career in football, but after receiving some wrestling training in the 1953 off-season, he decided to transition to a more long-lasting, lucrative career in the squared circle.

Wilbur Snyder, creator of The Abdominal Stretch.
Wilbur Snyder, creator of The Abdominal Stretch.

Snyder made his bones when he took the US Heavyweight Title off Verne Gagne at the Marigold Arena in Chicago.

After that, he continued to work the NWA circuit and won titles across the country. He also created and perfected his signature move, The Abdominal Stretch. He finally decided to stop wandering around so much and put roots in the Indianapolis area with a promotional partner, Dick the Bruiser, in 1964.

The Bruiser quickly established himself as the WWA World Heavyweight Champion, and they booked him as such.

He won the title on twelve different occasions from its inception in 1964 until 1985. He also started in the tag ranks with his business partner Snyder, who won their WWA Tag Team Titles on April 25, 1964, just three days after The Bruiser won the heavyweight gold.

The two men fought the pair of The Assassins and lost the titles to them in July of the following year. However, they would cement a rivalry that lasted through the following year.

The Assasins (Joe Tomasso and Guy Mitchell)

The Assassins were the combination of Joe Tomasso and Guy Mitchell.

"The Assassins" Joe Tomasso and Guy Mitchell.
“The Assassins” Joe Tomasso and Guy Mitchell.

While the two only stayed together for a short time, Mitchell remained on the WWA roster off and on for the next twenty years.

He was crowned The Stomper by Afflis during his time between WWA and the Big Time Wrestling (BTW) Detroit promotion, where The Bruiser also worked while he was based out of Indianapolis.

The Assassins were the first tag team that Bobby Heenan ever managed, but he would go down as possibly the greatest tag team manager in history.

Bobby Heenan

Born Raymond Louis Heenan in Chicago, as WWII ended in 1944, Bobby dropped out of school in the eighth grade to support his mother and grandmother and was drawn to the business of professional wrestling, which he so loved to watch as a child.

He started as low on the pole as you can by carrying bags, selling refreshments, and being an all-around “go-for.”

Though he claimed never to receive any official training, the business came naturally to the youngster, and he got the chance to wrestle in his first match in the WWA.

He was billed as “Pretty Boy” Bobby Heenan because of his youth and how quickly he took to the ring in 1965.

"Pretty Boy" Bobby Heenan.
“Pretty Boy” Bobby Heenan.

The Bruiser, who had an excellent eye for potential, recognized that Heenan would be better as a manager and gave him the job of working with the heel tag teams.

Notable Tag Teams in the WWA

The tag team ranks were on fire in the WWA, and the title changed hands often as the years passed. Several teams of note made their mark during this time.

Wilbur Snyder won several tag championships with various partners, and co-owner Dick the Bruiser also tore up the ranks with his AWA compatriot, The Crusher.

The Beer City Brawlers, known in the AWA as Bruiser and Crusher, were huge fan favorites and worked together off and on for nearly two decades after they paired up in Minneapolis. They won the AWA Tag Titles five times and six times in the WWA.

Additionally, one of Snyder’s partners, with whom he won multiple championships, was a roster regular and hailed from Indiana.

Edward Cholak, better known as Moose Cholak, was born in 1930. A monster of a man at six feet four inches, and a staggering four hundred pounds, he got his nickname by wearing a moose head to the ring and bellowing like the animal before his matches and in interviews.

Moose Cholak
Moose Cholak

Cholak worked primarily in the WWA territory from 1964 until 1981.

He is said to have worked over eight thousand matches and was a fan favorite in Indianapolis. However, like most big men, his size eventually caught up with him, and he passed away from complications of a stroke on Halloween 2002.

Talent Exchanges

The WWA had several years of trade exchange with the AWA, and it saw many northern favorites make their way there, including one Baron Von Raschke.

Baron Von Raschke.
Baron Von Raschke.

The hated German brought his scowled face and grasped claw to the Heavyweight title hunt along with fellow AWA alum Jack Lanza.

First, Lanza took the title from Bruiser, and then he and the Baron battled over it through the start of the ’70s.

Von Raschke held the title for two years except for a couple of month-long intermissions, where he lost and promptly regained the belt. He left the territory for other AWA-sanctioned work throughout the country in the summer of 1972, when he lost the title to “Cowboy” Bob Ellis.

The Bruiser was working tags while Baron was running hot with the WWA Title. He had held the tag titles seven times with The Crusher and other partners. He was partnered with Bill Miller during the height of the summer of 1970 when a new force came spinning into the WWA like a boomerang out of the bush.

"The Fabulous Kangaroos" Al Costello and Don Kent.
“The Fabulous Kangaroos” Al Costello and Don Kent.

The team of Al Costello and Don Kent hit the WWA scene and immediately took the place by storm.

The second incarnation of The Fabulous Kangaroos won the tag titles from Bruiser and Miller in July of that year, and they laid siege to any teams that stood in their way. So naturally, they were intensely hated by the fans, who would be driven to a fevered frenzy at their underhanded heel work.

Wilbur Snyder and Moose Cholak went to war with them for a year over the belts before The Kangaroos moved onto the neighboring NWA: Mid-America by 1972. These heel teams would come into a territory and get over by attacking the local babyfaces and then move on a couple of months after the heat died down.

Then the next round of heel workers would make their way through after they had just blown up a different area. Thus, the cycle continued, and everyone ate well during the territory years and could work nationwide through connections and word-of-mouth bookings.

After his successful run with The Assassins, Dick the Bruiser put Bobby Heenan with another pair of mean-spirited cowboys that he saw as a good combination for a tag team.

Bobby Heenan with The Blackjacks: Jack Lanza and Blackjack Mulligan.
Bobby Heenan with The Blackjacks: Jack Lanza and Blackjack Mulligan.

John Lanza, better known as Jack, was already using the heel cowboy gimmick that had him decked out in all-black ring gear, with the accompanying Bruiser just putting them up in matching gear, and The Blackjacks were born. Heenan was put as their manager since he had already been working with Lanza.

The Blackjacks tore into the tag division and took their only championships in the WWA in November 1971 before moving on to WCCW and eventually the WWF, like everyone else in the country that worked North of Tennessee and West of Texas.

WWA Championship Scene

The WWA World Heavyweight Championship scene saw the belt shuffle around between the hands of Bob Ellis, Pepper Gomez, and “Stomper” Guy Mitchell donned the mask and won as The Masked Stranger. Ivan Koloff also appeared from the AWA and gave Dick the Bruiser a run for his money.

But the big man, with the bigger eyebrows from Sedalia, Missouri, held it longer than anyone else during this time.

Ox Baker.
Ox Baker.

Douglas “Ox” Baker held the WWA title early in the rise of his heel career. He made his way through the territory and made the fans reel with his towering six-foot-five-inch, near three-hundred seventy-pound frame and menacing look that made him so easy to hate.

This look and his heart-punching persona made him a very marketable commodity in the ’70s, not only in the wrestling ring but on the big screen.

While appearing in many films, he is most remembered for his role as the would-be executioner of Snake Plissken in the 1981 John Carpenter epic, Escape From New York.

After becoming known for his heart punch, Ox Baker sadly died in 2014 from heart attack complications. A sad irony for a great entertainer.

Bobby Heenan wasn’t done with the tag team competitors yet, not by a long shot. However, their team came there to capture the titles and rock the house to the ground. It was the team of Jimmy and Johnny Valiant.

They won their first championships just after they arrived in 1974 and held them three more times between then and 1978.

They added “brother” Jerry Valiant in the WWWF when Jimmy came down with hepatitis; Guy Mitchell was again repackaged, this time as Gentleman Jerry Valiant.

Mitchell returned to work in the WWA as Jerry Valiant. He left the wrestling scene a few years later and died in 2010. He was 68.

"The Valiant Brothers" Johnny, Jimmy, and Jerry.
“The Valiant Brothers” Johnny, Jimmy, and Jerry.

The tag rankings faltered after that, and no real established team held the belts the rest of the time the promotion was open except for “The Wild Warriors” Mad Maxx and Super Maxx in 1984 and The Motor City Hitmen years later in 1989. Al Snow wrestled as a member of The Hitmen in the early days of his career.

From 1977 until 1981, Dick the Bruiser took on a handful of worthy heel competitors who came looking to take his title. Bruiser Brody had the title in 1979, with Ernie Ladd and Johnny Valiant on a short return run, and Bobo Brazil, Blackjack Mulligan, and Harley Race all had a go for the title through 1983.

WWA Indianapolis: The Later Years

The beginning of the ’80s saw the emergence of the WWF across the territorial landscape, and with that, the talent drainage started to happen, and the WWA was not left unscathed in the fray. However, they did better than some of the rest and held on for a few more years, with new talent still being produced until the end.

Two of these men were Gregory Wojciechowski, who wrestled as The Great Wojo, and Scott Rechsteiner, who started his career under his real name but eventually dropped the Rech and started working under the character that made him famous: Scott Steiner.

“The Great Wojo” Gregory Wojciechowski

"The Great Wojo" Gregory Wojciechowski.
“The Great Wojo” Gregory Wojciechowski.

The Great Wojo made the 1980 Olympic Wrestling Team, but with our boycott of the games due to political conflicts with Russia, he missed his opportunity to represent his country there.

He came to work for Afflis in 1983 and beat him for the WWA title shortly after his debut.

He was a legitimate “shooter” and went undefeated in a series of challenges where he took on all comers for a ten-thousand-dollar prize. He retired from wrestling in 1994 and now coaches at the high school level in Toledo, where he instills the basics to the stars of the future.

The Beginnings for “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner

Little needs to be said about the career of “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner.

He went on to become WWA Champion on August 14, 1986.

He would later leave for Memphis and the CWA in 1988, where he stayed until the formation of WCW in 1989. We pick up his story from there here.

A young Scott Steiner as WWA World Heavyweight Champion in 1986.
A young Scott Steiner as WWA World Heavyweight Champion in 1986.

The Final Days of World Wrestling Association

The World Wrestling Association closed its doors in 1989.

Sadly, in November of 1991, Dick the Bruiser died suddenly at his seasonal home near Largo, Florida, from a blown blood vessel in his throat while lifting weights with his adopted son, Jon Carney.

Strongman and a tough guy until the end; he died at 62.

In another sad irony in the saga of the WWA, his partner Wilbur Snyder died only a little over a month later, on Christmas Day, also at 62.

The parallels these two wrestlers and friends had in their lives were eerie and followed them to their deaths.

World Wrestling Association (WWA Indianapolis) logo

The WWA was a small, center-of-the-country promotion, but it made its indelible impact felt coast to coast.

We hope that one result of this series is that wrestling fans, especially younger ones, search out these archived pieces of footage from all the territories we have examined.

Never forget: our wrestling history is gold!

Listen to Pro Wrestling Stories’ own Jim PhillipsDan Sebastiano, and Benny Scala discuss the glory days of the World Wrestling Association territory on Dan and Benny In The Ring:

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Jim Phillips is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories. He's been a wrestling fan since the late '70s and a journeyman writer for the past decade. He can be reached by e-mail at squints72hhi@gmail.com.