Rick Martel played the role of the champion just as well as anyone, which is impossible to deny in this AWA title defense in the Great White North.
July 3, 1984
Halifax, Nova Scotia
AWA World Heavyweight Championship
While the NWA World Title was the pinnacle achievement in wrestling for decades, I definitely have time for an argument that the AWA title was the next best thing. Sure, the WWF title was defended outside of the home territory occasionally, but the AWA champ was probably more omnipresent, whether that meant Nick Bockwinkel and Jerry Lawler were squaring off in Memphis, the title was changing hands on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, or, in this case, Rick Martel was defending the gold against Leo Burke in Montreal's International Wrestling.
Rick Martel's career had quite the odd trajectory. There aren't many wrestlers who were young babyfaces that became world champs before becoming middle-of-the-card tag wrestlers, only to turn heel and gain fame with a male model gimmick -- remember, a male who models can never simply be called a model -- before ending their careers in a series for the WCW TV title, but Martel certainly fits the bill, and this match is an awesome showcase for the best phase of his career. At forty-five minutes and change (of a sixty-minute draw, mind you), I won't say that this match never tested my patience, but the journey was paid off, and Martel only became a better heel the longer the match went. Leo Burke was there, had an interesting career trajectory of his own, and delivered a perfectly fine performance, but this was really a platform for Martel's talents.
As much as we talk about the devaluing of world championships by WWE having two of them, the real issue isn't that wrestling having too many world champions as much as it is a wrestling company having too many world champions. The NWA and AWA champs didn't cross paths all that much, with some notable exceptions, but they existed in a wrestling landscape that gave them both plenty of space to play the role. Here, Martel looks every bit the peer to his contemporary in the role Ric Flair, and all I can wonder is how great Martel's career might have been had he reached the top ten years earlier instead of on the cusp of some transformational changes to wrestling itself.