Since I’m on vacation this week, this column is a re-telling of wrestling memories in various venues I’ve attended live. The reason they’ve provided me memories occurs because of many different reasons, as you’ll see.
From May 1993 to 1995, I sat in the front row of section C (the on-camera section with John “Hat Guy/Hawaiian Shirt” Bailey and company) the first two years at the ECW Arena, before the Club ECW plan was devised. Since I’d been burned by former Tri-State Wrestling Alliance promoter Joel Goodhart for a similar plan, I refused to put out the money for the “4-packs”. It turns out that wasn’t such a bad idea, as the seats I’d regularly sat in with my brother, were the very seats that were involved in the 1995 Terry Funk-Cactus Jack “fire incident”.
So I moved up with the “bleacher bums” in Section C. As I sat there, I was fortunate enough to see ECW at its best during its golden era. I also was able to gather many other memories until December 23, 2000, the last ECW show at the ECW Arena.
Here are a few of my top matches and memories from that building, memories many of you in the United States and around the world via TV and tape…
Jerry Lynn-Rob Van Dam, August 8, 1998 and August 28, 1999 – For two straight years these two created Match of the Year candidates. For whatever reason, Lynn and Van Dam seemed so perfectly matched with one another that they could turn the Arena crowd on, and made them remember the way they used to before the Arena crowd changed, and before the pure bloodmarks discovered ECW.Along with the moments of great action, there were the moments of humor; including the night that the bWo imitated KISS at the ECW Arena. I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life at a wrestling show as to watch Stevie, Meanie and Nova doing “Rock and Roll All Night” in full KISS makeup. That’s another moment for readers to catch on tape if they can.
Philadelphia Civic Center
The Philadelphia Civic Center was one of my favorite wrestling venues, for the sight lines and the fact that a few hundred people could sound like thousands because of the acoustics. No matter the size of the crowd, given that it was a Philadelphia crowd, the crowd was NEVER quiet.
Three of the PPVs held there bring back some memories, first, the 1989 Halloween Havoc, which featured the Thunderdome main event of Ric Flair and Sting (with Ole Anderson) against The Great Muta and Terry Funk (with Gary Hart as manager and Bruno Sammartino as guest referee) . The “electrified” cage actually caught fire around the Halloween like display. An unintentionally hilarious moment saw Muta actually attempting to put out the fire with his “Muta mist”.
Then there was the 1992 Halloween Havoc, where poor Jim Ross was trapped into one of the more hilarious remarks by an live announcer ever. The show’s opener saw Tom Zenk, Tom “Johnny Gunn” Brandi, and Shane Douglas taking on Arn Anderson, Michael Hayes and Bobby Eaton. Given that this was Philadelphia, who do you think the crowd popped for? I don’t mean just the ringsiders or the “smart fans” either. The Civic Center fans took a nuclear crap all over the babyfaces in this match.. It was so noticable (even McMahon wouldn’t have been able to hide it with his notorious WWF Hogan-era sound sweetening, unless the sound had been outright cut off) that Ross HAD to acknowledge it in commentary, but couldn’t very well say we were popping for the heels. So Jim Ross actually said live on air “Philadelphia fans sure like their…er, ‘veterans'”.
Then there was Slamboree 1994. The PPV was more or less a coming-out party for Philadelphia hardcore fans, as ECW was just starting to hit its stride, with the most vocal ECW fans ringside at the Civic Center. Terry Funk even climbed into the crowd to celebrate with fans any of you who’ve seen ECW Arena shows can easily identify, such as “Hat Guy” John Bailey.
Legends honored over the Slamboree weekend included The Assassin, Ole Anderson, Harley Race, Ernie Ladd, The Crusher, and Dick the Bruiser.
Notable on the PPV was WCW realizing that they couldn’t forget this was Philadelphia, with an actual Philadelphia-style hardcore match that saw Cactus Jack and Kevin Sullivan defeated The Nasty Boys (Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags) (with 1970s Flyers enforcer Dave Schultz as guest referee) in a Broadstreet Bully match to win the WCW World Tag Team Championship.
Honorable mention for Civic Center memories also go to the Cactus Jack-Eddie Gilbert August 3, 1991 classic three falls/three matches at the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance show at Pennsylvania Hall of the Philadelphia Civic Center. Even though this was in the secondary building of the Civic Center and not the main hall, these three matches (counted as separate falls) throughout the show come to mind.
The Spectrum was the home of Philadelphia WWF shows for years, including house shows aired the next day on the local PRISM cable network (the local precursor to Philadelphia’s version of Comcast SportsNet, except PRISM showed movies when not showing sports and wrestling). NWA fans went to shows more when nothing else was going on then to see WWF’s Titan Toon Adventures of the day, it at all.
We made an exception one for one 1992 Saturday afternoon matinee house show with a main event of Hulk Hogan/Roddy Piper vs. Ric Flair/Sid “Justice” Vicious. The Philadelphia Civic Center fans managed to get ringside popping for Piper and Flair in their old school identities, with signs asking them to go old school. Flair laughed his ass off at the signs, and audibly yelled at Piper to “look”, pointing to the signs. Sid walked around pretty much going “duh”, and Hogan wondered why we weren’t popping for him like all the other sheep…er, WWF fans.
Unlike the battle to save the Cow Palace, the Philadelphia Spectrum will get no such repreive, and will be torn down at the end of the year for a retail/hotel combination (picked a really great time to start building with this economy, Mr. Snider, huh?).
The Philadelphia Spectrum has 26 years of wrestling history, and a total of 31 years of sports history to be remembered before it comes down. W/WWF house shows and PPVs took place at the Spectrum for 21 years, with the first W/WWF show at the Philadelphia Spectrum took place on August 3, 1974 and the final show taking place on May 18, 1996. The first match at the Spectrum had Larry Zbyzsko defeating Pete Doherty on that August 1974 show, with the final Spectrum match on that May 18, 1996 show being a title defense by then WWF World Champion Shawn Michaels defeating Diesel in a steel cage match.
Inbetween, the Spectrum hosted 2 PPVs, hosted 3 WWF tag team title changes, one Intercontinental Title change, and WWF world title matches involving Bruno Sammartino, Superstar Billy Graham, and Bob Backlund.
Title changes came on April 12, 1980, with The Wild Samoans defeated WWF Tag Team Champions Tito Santana and Ivan Putski when Afa pinned Santana with the Samoan Drop after Santana missed a top rope crossbody block; June 20, 1981, when Don Muraco pinned WWF IC Champion Pedro Morales to win the title at around the 15-minute mark after hitting him with a foreign object as the referee was “knocked out”, and on August 24, 1985 when Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine (with Johnny V) defeated WWF Tag Team Champions Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo (with Capt. Lou Albano) to win the Tag Titles after Valentine pinned Windham when Beefcake stuck Johnny V’s lit cigar into Windham’s eye.
PPVs saw: Summer Slam 1990 took place on August 27, 1990 with a crowd of 19,304. 18,703 paid; sell out) featuring a Tag Title change that saw Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart defeated WWF Tag Team Champions Demolition (Crush & Smash) to win the titles; with talent appearing including Paul Roma, Hercules, Shawn Michaels, Marty Jannetty, Kerry Von Erich, Mr. Perfect, The Warlord, Slick, Tito Santana, Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, Demolition (Crush/Smash), Jake Roberts, Bad News Brown, Jim Duggan, Nikolai Volkoff, Orient Express, Mr. Fuji, Randy Savage, Dusty Rhodes, Randy Savage, Sherri Martel, Hulk Hogan, The Big Bossman, Earthquake, Jimmy Hart, Dino Bravo), Ultimate Warrior, Rick Rude, and Bobby Heenan. King of the Ring 1995 took place on June 25, 1995 with a crowd of 16,590 that saw Mabel as King of The Ring winner, with talent including: Savio Vega, Razor Ramon, Yokozuna, Jim Cornette, Mr. Fuji), Owen Hart, The Roadie, Jeff Jarrett, Bob Holly, Shawn Michaels, Kama, Ted Dibiase, Mabel, Mo, The Undertaker, Paul Bearer), Bret Hart, Jerry Lawler, 1-2-3 Kid, Diesel, Bam Bam Bigelow, Psycho Sid, and Tatanka.
World Championship Wrestling also ran a number of events at the Philadelphia Spectrum including house shows in July 1997, December 1998, and May 1999; as well as WCW Monday Nitro shows in April 1997, November 1997, March 1998, and a Nitro in October 1999 that saw a Tag Title chance that saw Rey Mysterio Jr. and Konnan defeated WCW Tag Team Champions Harlem Heat), as well as WCW Thunder tapings in June 1998 and February 2000.
WCW’s time in the Spectrum also featured a notorious incident where Scott Hall disrupted the February 2000 WCW Thunder taping, starting with a backstage threat to legitimately attack Terry Taylor in the ring. I was at this taping that night and sat through a 35 to 40 minute delay in the Spectrum before Thunder was able to start taping. As all this went on backstage, WCW announcer Dave Penzer was left to kill time (since he’d gone out to the ring to begin what he thought was the start of the taping), actually forced to telling jokes to fill time, causing the crowd to give Penzer a helluva lot of crap for a delay he had nothing to do with.
I went to lots of WCW shows at the Baltimore Civic Center (also called the Baltimore Arena, and most recently, the First Mariner Arena), and the post-show festivities at the Marriott, featuring who else but… Ric Flair and friends, as mentioned in previous columns.
Oddly enough, the two memories in Baltimore that stand out the most, though, are about former WCW referee Brian Hildebrand.
Back in October 1997, I saw Eddie Guerrero saying a prayer at the Baltimore Airport Marriott bar/restaurant before his post-show meal, to find out later from friend Kathy Fitzpatrick that they’d all gotten the news that Brian had received his initial cancer diagnosis.
Just under two years later, Brian died, with many of us remembering him in Baltimore, also at a WCW show. I wrote about it in the September 11, 1999’s AS I SEE IT, not realizing that very day would be tragic for very different reasons only two years later:
Last night at the Baltimore Arena, WCW ran its first show since the death of their friend and co-worker Brian Hildebrand on Wednesday.
The show began with David Pinzer announcing the news to those who hadn’t read the news online or seen the FAR too brief mention on Thunder…then signaled for the traditional 10 bell salute given to those who have fallen in wrestling and boxing.
Personally, attending this show was far more special, as I was at this show with several that knew Brian well, including my brother John, and friends Kathy Fitzpatrick. Many of those working the show wore black armbands in tribute to Brian. Charles Robinson, who was with Brian and the family when he passed away Wednesday night, as well as Scott Dickenson were given special greeting by those of us who knew their relationship with Brian. The group of us made sure that we gave Dickenson his traditional joke greeting about donuts (one that Brian gave us to rib him with at the first Philly Monday Nitro). Our seats were close enough that he clearly saw and heard it.
Then late in the show after a Chris Benoit-Bam Bam Bigelow US Title match, Shane Douglas, Chris Benoit, and Dean Malenko came out and dedicated the evening’s show to Brian with heartfelt words for their friend.
It may have only been a WCW house show for most of the relatively small Baltimore Arena crowd last night. But it was a way for those of us who were there together to say goodbye to Brian in the most appropriate atmosphere possible…a wrestling show.
The Arena’s professional wrestling history is rich with both WWWF/WWF/WWE and NWA/WCW major events taking place at the venue over the last 36 years. Notable WWE PPVs included the 1994 King of the Ring, No Mercy 2003, No Way Out 2006 and Backlash 2008. Title changes at the Civic Center included Superstar Billy Graham defeated Bruno Sammartino for his WWWF belt on April 30, 1977 and Tito Santana defeating Greg Valentine for his Intercontinental Title on July 6, 1985.
NWA/WCW came into the market in the mid-to-late 1980s and became a legendary Four Horsemen playground with post-show meals at Sabatino’s restaurant, and in later years, post show fun at the Safari Club at the BWI Marriott. NWA/WCW title changes at the Civic Center included: Sting defeating Ric Flair on July 7, 1990, Ron Simmons defeated Big Van Vader on August 2, 1992 with Vader regaining the title at a Civic Center house show on December 20, 1992, Bret Hart defeating Goldberg at a December 20, 1999 Monday Nitro taping
Overall, the Civic Center was a major venue for WCW with eight Great American Bash PPVs (the real bigtime Bashes, not the watered down WWE versions of recent years), including the 1988 Great American Bash, in the infamous Maryland Commission-ordained screw-job finish of NWA champ Ric Flair over Lex Luger when the Commision “stopped the match due to Lex Luger’s cut”, the 1989 Bash with the classic Terry Funk-Ric Flair match, the 1990 Bash where Sting defeated NWA champ Ric Flair for the title, then the infamous “Where’s Flair” 1991 Great American Bash on July 4, 1991 that saw east coast fans turn on WCW after news of Flair’s firing by Jim Herd made its way from city to city over a weekend of Bash events (and saw Luger’s WCW title win). Under Ted Turner, WCW also ran Bashes in 1996, 1999, and 2000 and hosted SuperBrawl V on February 19, 1995.
The Civic Center hosted a historic truly wrestling moment on August 2, 1992, when Bill Watts booked the first World Heavyweight title change onto an African-Amrerican, with Ron Simmons defeating (Big Van Vader). If you can find the video of the moment on YouTube or your old tapes, you’ll see the Baltimore Arena go absolutely berserk, and hear one of Jim Ross’s most classic match calls ever. I still remember the camera catch a striking shot of a young black man in the front row crying tears of joy in one of those memorable visuals that can’t be set up no matter how hard you try…and showed what a skilled director and camera operator can do to paint a picture and to tell a story without a word’s being said.
Since I last posted this column, the news came out that the Baltimore Arena will come down to build a new Arena. Under current plans, this would leave the Baltimore market without a venue for wrestling, music and other events for as long as three years, as the new venue would be built on the site of the old Civic Center. The closest venues to Baltimore for the remainder of the decade and beyond would be in Towson, MD and Washington, D.C.
I was scheduled to go on vacation in San Francisco, CA in 1996 (where I am this week on vacation) when I saw an ad for upcoming shows on WWF TV, and saw they were running the Cow Palace. Needless to say, I was going regardless of the show, even if just for the historic value of going to a venue that saw Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson, Leo Nomellini, Angelo Mosca, Kenji Shibuya, Wilbur Snyder, The Sheik, Andre the Giant, and Verne Gagne.
I’ve told the story before about going to the show and standing around the parking lot, waiting for the doors to open with the locals and kids milling around…and a car screeches to a stop, and goes into rapid reverse. The door opens, and it’s Chris Candido and Tammy Sytch (who had already broken up in storyline, but even the kids in the parking lot knew better than to ask) with a collective “What are YOU doing here!?!?!” We said our hellos and they drove into the building. Until the doors to the Cow Palace opened, I then had to listen to at least a hundred kids screeching at me without end…”You know Sunny?!?!?”.
Somehow, I can imagine Chris getting a chuckle from a far better place at that, even today.
Since I last posted this column, San Francisco’s landmark wrestling, sports and entertainment venue had to fight for its life in 2008 as California State Senator Leland Yee sough to tear down the venue create “badly needed” shopping and commercial space (guess I only thought I saw that retail strip across the street from the Cow Palace years ago when attending WWF shows).
A compromise plan was approved that will allow a overflow parking lot next door to be sold. Daly City (the Cow Palace is technically located there) still wants to use the parking lot for development that would include a supermarket, businesses and housing. Even after the defeat of his proposal, Senator Yee still continues to refer to the Cow Palace as “a dilapidated structure [he hopes] can be rehabilitated”.
Now, with California’a budget crisis, there have been rumblings again about selling State properties in order to raise money to erase a massive Califronia budget deficit…including the Cow Palace. So stay tuned on this one.
My brother and I took the long ride from South Jersey to ECW’s house show up at the old Hamburg Fieldhouse, more to see the place where the WWWF TV tapings had occurred for years than any other reason.
The show wound up featuring Cactus Jack vs. Sabu in an almost sickening hardcore match that Mick Foley described in his book (and the story of having to hand off his young son to ECW’s 911 to quiet him down while Foley went out to the ring for this match). During the match, Sabu cracked (or outright broke) his ribs after landing on the guard rail doing a Asai moonsault, but went on. Cactus Jack also got nailed with a (apparently) non-gimmicked beer bottle by Sabu at least 6 to 8 times before it broke. The “clank” of the beer bottle echoed throughout the Fieldhouse.
Until next time…
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