Robbinsdale High School standouts were seminal figures in the sport

A large crowd of pro and amateur wrestling enthusiasts gathered Aug. 16 at the Robbinsdale Historical Society to watch the Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame’s first induction ceremony.

Robbinsdale native son Verne Gagne and fellow Robbinsdale High School sports standout Larry "The Ax" Hennig constitute the hall of fame’s inaugural class. Both were successful amateur wrestlers who went on to be seminal figures in professional wrestling.

"All he ever wanted to do was wrestle," Greg Gagne said of his late father while accepting the plaque on his behalf. The elder Gagne passed away in April, and his death was mourned across the professional wrestling world. At the inauguration, attendees held signs with Gagne’s name and cheered as speakers listed his litany of championship titles.

Speakers at the induction talked about the impact of wrestling on their lives, often recounting watching Gagne or Hennig wow a crowd during their pro careers.

"Who here hasn’t slapped ‘the sleeper’ on someone at some point in their life?" joked speaker Tim McNiff, referring to one of Gagne’s signature submission holds.

"The less publicity that you get as an athlete, it seems you take away more. You take away more because you’re doing it right," said longtime Robbinsdale High School wrestling coach John Grygelko, who was himself inducted into that school’s hall of fame in 2014. "You’re just one tough cat ... You get your kids into wrestling, and they will be better for it."

About Verne Gagne

Gagne’s Hall of Fame plaque reads:

"Verne was an all-around athlete at Robbinsdale High School, winning the 1943 Minnesota State High School Wrestling Championship and being named to the All State football team.

Verne was awarded a football scholarship to the University of Minnesota and was named to the All-Big Ten Team in his first year. After one year of college, Verne enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. After his enlistment, Verne returned to the University of Minnesota and captured two NCAA titles as a wrestler and was named as an alternate to the U.S. Freestyle wrestling team in the 1948 Olympics.

Over the years, Verne’s championships and accomplishments have been numerous, including, but not limited to:

• In 1960, Verne formed the American Wrestling Association and in that year won the organization’s World Heavyweight Championship. Verne would go on to win the World Championship ten times over his career.

• World Heavyweight Championship (Omaha version) five times.

• IWA World Heavyweight Championship one time.

• 2006 inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. One of only six men to be inducted into the WWE, WCW, Professional Wrestling and Wrestling Observer Newsletter Halls of Fame.

• He holds the record for the longest combined reign as a world champion and third longest single world title reign.

For his longstanding commitment and contributions to the sport and profession of wrestling, inside and out of the ring, we are honored on this day, the 16th of August, 2015 to recognize Verne Gagne’s contributions to Minnesota wrestling history and honor him as an inaugural inductee into the 2015 Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame."

About Larry Hennig

Hennig’s Hall of Fame plaque reads:

"Larry started his wrestling career at Robbinsdale High School, subsequently becoming Minnesota State High School Heavyweight Champion in 1954. In 1963, Larry entered professional wrestling in the AWA under the mentoring and coaching of Verne Gagne. His career extended from 1963 through 1985.

Over the year’s Larry’s championships and accomplishments have been numerous, including, but not limited to:

• 1 AWA Midwest Tag Team Championship with Lars Anderson partner

• 4 AWA World Tag Team Championships: one with Duke Hoffman, three with Harley Race

• 1 WA World Tag Team Championship with Bob Windham

• 1 NWA Brass Knuckles Championship - Amarillo version

• 1 NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team Championship with Curt Hennig

• Class of 2006 inductee into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.

• Recipient of the Lou Thesz Award

For his longstanding commitment and contributions to the sport and profession of wrestling, inside and out of the ring, we are honored on this day, the 16th of August, 2015, to recognize Larry Hennig’s contributions to Minnesota wrestling history and honor him as an inaugural inductee into the 2015 Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame."

Contact Joe Bowen at joe.bowen@ecm-inc.com

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