The Story Of World Championship Wrestling Australia

By Benny Scala

Kowalski. DeNucci. Stevens. Arion. Lewin. Tanaka. Scicluna. Iaukea. Milano. Legendary names that rightfully belong in any professional wrestling Hall of Fame. You may ask yourself “What do these gentleman have in common?” And no, this is not a David Byrnes Talking Heads’ moment; imaginary chopping of the arm not required. All of these iconic men, along with 15 others, held the International Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship (Australia). The IWA was the sanctioning body of World Championship Wrestling (Australia). Now while the name World Championship Wrestling will probably strike a note of familiarity, don’t YouTube this and expect to see Tony Schiavone and David Crockett in cardies and dacks. You’ll be a bit disappointed.

Founded in 1964 by legendary promoter Jim Barnett, World Championship Wrestling was headquartered in Melbourne, Victoria, and was active until 1978. Although Melbourne based, the promotion also staged events throughout Southeastern Asia, particularly in Singapore and Hong Kong. Seen every Saturday and Sunday at noon on the Nine Network, the promotion quickly gained popularity, regularly drawing in excess of 6,000 fans. Walter “Killer” Kowalski is generally acknowledged as the first IWA Champion, although the details of how The Killer acquired the title are unknown. I will go out on a limb here and opine that, unlike many other title changes, this did NOT occur in Rio de Janeiro. The first verifiable title change occurred on November 7,1964, when Dominic DeNucci defeated Kowalski in Melbourne, in front of 8,000 fans. DeNucci proved to be a very viable and popular champion, holding the title on 4 different occasions.

Like every great territory during the Golden Age of professional wrestling, television was crucial for furthering storylines, establishing stars, and, most importantly, selling tickets to the next big event. With Mike Cleary and Lord Athol Layton behind the mic, and the inimitable Wallaby Bob McMasters trying to control the action, the Australian fans were regularly treated to frenetic, non-stop action, both in and out of the ring. Although the picture on the telly was black and white (at least in the early days), red (blood) was the color of the day on numerous occasions. The odds on an Abdullah The Butcher match that was absent of plasma are about the same as yours truly waking up next Monday with a full head of jet black hair, next to the smiling face of Tom Brady’s ex-wife. In both cases, to quote the Vince McMahon theme song, there’s “No Chance In Hell”. (although I am getting a bit wistful at the thought of an Ex Mrs. Brady-less life ). The fans in attendance were an integral part of the action, vociferously cheering on their favorites, raucously booing the villains, and consuming every second of the never-ending brouhaha as they would meat pies and fairy bread. The match quality was second to none, as all-time greats like Mario Milano, Spiros Arion, Mark Lewin, Dominic DeNucci, Waldo Von Erich, Bulldog Brower, and Abdullah The Butcher were a constant presence on the telly.

Abdullah The Butcher

The pinnacle of every promotion is, of course, the championship. The capstone for WCW (Australia) was the IWA World Heavyweight Championship (Australia). As was the case with many promotions during this time in wrestling, title reigns were brief, and title changes were frequent. The IWA singles title changed hands faster than the proverbial hot potato, with a total of 51 reigns in less than 7 years. As mentioned earlier, Killer Kowalski was the inaugural champion, with King Curtis Iaukea being the last to hold Aussie gold. Spiros Arion (or Spirius Arias, if you are Ernie Ladd) holds the record with 6 individual reigns, and while recordkeeping as regards professional wrestling was very imprecise at this time, it appears that Iaukea had the longest individual reign, from April through December of 1970. The IWA World Tag Team Championship (Australia) was equally fluid, with 37 teams combining for 50 reigns between June 1966 and August 1971. The iconic team of “Pretty Boy” Larry Hennig and “Handsome” Harley Race were the inaugural title holders. Mario Milano captured this title 10 times with 8 different partners, while the villainous team of Brute Bernard and Skull Murphy were 5 time champions. Milano, it should be noted, was also a 4 time IWA World Heavyweight (Australia) champion, and easily one of the most popular grapplers on the continent. A World Wide Wrestling Federation mainstay in 1970, who many still believe was a credible successor to Bruno Sammartino, Milano found the Land Down Under so appealing that he made it his permanent home upon returning from the States in 1971.

World Championship Wrestling (Australia) became a part of the National Wrestling Alliance in August 1969; however, the IWA heavyweight and tag team championships were recognized until 1971. They were ultimately replaced by the NWA Austra-Asian Heavyweight Championship, as well as the NWA Austra-Asian Tag Team Championships. Spiros Arion was the initial NWA Austra-Asian singles champion, and also the record holder with 3 title reigns. Ciclon Negro was the longest reigning champion at 133 days. Jimmy Golden and Dennis McCord (later to become Austin Idol) were the initial tag champions. Aussie native Larry O’Dea held the title 9 times, 4 of these with fellow Aussie Ron Miller. Miller would be the last title holder of record, teaming with Andre The Giant, before the belt, along with the promotion, disbanded in 1978. Ironically, Miller was also the final singles champion.

Ron Miller

Sadly, the Nine Network ceased coverage of WCW (Australia) in 1978. As mentioned earlier, television was the lifeblood of any promotion during the Golden Age of professional wrestling. Like a plant without water, a promotion without television coverage quickly withered and died. Vince McMahon used this very strategy to achieve his goal of world wrestling domination. He would purchase television time in a targeted market, outbidding and knocking the existing promotion out of their spot. Without the studio wrestling match/interview format, regional promoters were unable to draw the requisite attendance to sustain their operation. After a prodigious 14 year run, the offices of WCW (Australia) were closed for the last time in 1978.
Although in business for a relatively short period of time, World Championship Wrestling (Australia) left a rich and wonderful legacy to the world of professional wrestling. The list of men and women that graced WCW rings could fill many Halls of Fame. In addition to the aforementioned greats listed earlier in this piece, legends such as Bruno Sammartino, Haystacks Calhoun, Jack Brisco, and Ox Baker were a boon to the airline industry, flying many thousands of miles to showcase their skills for the appreciative Australian fans.
World Championship Wrestling (Australia). Gone but never forgotten.

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