THE EAST-WEST CONNECTION
Adrian Adonis & Jesse Ventura
1979 - 1982
AWA World Tag Team Champions
Written by Mike Rickard
During his days as a color commentator for the WWF, Jesse “The Body” Ventura noted that sometimes the most effective tag teams were made up of two very different individuals. By Ventura’s estimation, each partner complemented the other, bringing something different to the table that made them much stronger as a team. “The Man Who Tells It Like It Is” may have been referring to his own partnership with Adrian Adonis, a team that saw great success in the American Wrestling Association. Join me now as Tag Team Appreciation Month looks at the career of The East-West Connection.
The man who would become known as Adrian Adonis entered the world on September 15, 1954 as Keith Franke. The Buffalo, New York native trained with wrestling star Fred Atkins before leaving the Queen City to travel the country, developing his skills as a pro grappler. Initially working under his real name, Franke debuted in the squared circle in 1974, but eventually transformed into Adrian Adonis, a biker clad in leather with a penchant for pulverizing opponents. Adonis developed into one of the sport’s best workers and was brought into the AWA by its owner, Verne Gagne.
Minneapolis native James Janos was born on July 15, 1951 and like many men from his generation, found himself in the Vietnam Conflict. Janos worked in the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Team before he joined the Mongols motorcycle club. Janos eventually returned to Minnesota where he trained to become a professional wrestler, rechristening himself Jesse Ventura, Ventura being the name of a California highway (pop culture fans may recall the 1973 song “Ventura Highway” by the band America). Ventura started his career in the Pacific Northwest Territory before campaigning in the AWA. With his tie-dyed outfit and muscular physique, Ventura emulated tie-dyed muscleman “Superstar” Billy Graham, but eventually forged his own identity.
The technical heel Adrian Adonis and the powerful brawler Ventura teamed to form The East-West Connection in the AWA. The two formed a fearsome heel duo, with “Golden Boy” Adrian Adonis’ ability to wrestle and bend the rules providing a balance to Ventura’s power-based offense. The East-West Connection found their way to the top of the tag team ranks, winning the AWA Tag Team Championship in one of the most bizarre ways ever. AWA Tag Team Champions Verne Gagne and “Mad Dog” Vachon were scheduled to defend the belts against Adonis and Ventura, but Gagne no-showed the card, resulting in The East-West Connection being awarded the belts on July 20, 1980.
The East-West Connection faced a number of top teams, with AWA mainstay the Crusher teaming up with a number of opponents to try and topple the champions. The Crusher teamed with Greg Gagne, Mad Dog Vachon, Buck “Rock and Roll” Zumhofe, Dick the Bruiser, and Baron Von Raschke. However, the Crusher came up empty every time when it came to the titles. The Crusher also challenged Ventura to pose-down challenges with the fans picking a winner.
Adonis and Ventura would hold the AWA World Tag Team Championship until June 14, 1981 when The High Flyers (“Jumping” Jim Brunzell and Greg Gagne) defeated them for the belts. However, The East-West Connection team was far from being finished. Towards the end of 1981, The East-West Connection invaded the WWF, working as singles stars and reforming their team in 1982. However, The East-West Connection failed to win championship gold in the WWF.
Nonetheless, both Adonis and Ventura played important roles in the WWF during their time together. In his memoir, Backlund: From All-American Boy to Professional Wrestling's World Champion, the former WWF champion discusses how both men provided challenges for him during his reign as champion, with Adonis putting on some of the best matches Backlund recalls during his time at the top of the WWF mountain.
The East-West Connection eventually went their separate ways, but AWA fans will always remember the colorful combination of Adonis and Ventura, two men who likely would have gone over well today with their outrageous interviews and blend of technique and power in the ring.
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