Verne Gagne holds a special place in the history and lore of Minnesota wrestling. At Robbinsdale High School, Gagne won two high school state championships, first capturing the 165-pound championship in 1942 and then winning the heavyweight crown in 1943. Gagne stayed close to home, enrolling at the University of Minnesota, where he’d become a two-time NCAA heavyweight champion.
Gagne won a Big Ten championship as a freshman, then took time off during World War II, joining the United States Marine Corps. When Gagne returned for the 1946-47 season, he would finish third at the NCAA championships and then win titles each of the next two seasons.
During Gagne’s time at Minnesota, he also played football and was eventually drafted into the NFL, but opted for professional wrestling as a more lucrative career path. In 1948, Gagne was part of the Olympic delegation to the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Following his wrestling career, Gagne carved out his professional wrestling career, becoming one of the bigger draws in the Midwest.
With Minnesota’s long history with the American Wrestling Association, a circuit Gagne founded in 1960, the often separate factions between amateur wrestling and professional wrestling blurred, with many top amateurs coming to wrestle for Gagne. Several members of the Minnesota Wrestling Club (now the Minnesota Storm) would come to the AWA after their international careers ended.
Gagne is a member of the David Bartelma Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame as well as numerous professional wrestling Halls of Fame.