AS I SEE IT 3/30: Memories of venues
AS I SEE IT
This week 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.
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets
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...
Texas Chain Match Massacre, Terry Funk vs. Eddie Gilbert, June 19, 1993 - This show was the first ECW show sold on tape commercially, with what was then the largest crowd in the young promotion's history. These two gave the fans at the Arena an old school all-Arena bloody brawl of a kind not seen anywhere in Philadelphia, save Gilbert's own program in 1991 with Cactus Jack in the ECW's predecessor, the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance.
The Night The Line Was Crossed, Shane Douglas vs. Terry Funk vs. Sabu, February 5, 1994- The original "Three Way Dance" (although it wasn't referred to as such at the time) was a one hour long match that put the cartoon shows that masqueraded as professional wrestling of the time to shame. Between the blow-away effort of the three wrestlers, Heyman's booking had fans going with a match that told a story in creating the storylines that moved along the three pivotal characters of the golden era of ECW.
I also have to mention the match with The Sheik and Pat Tanaka beating Kevin Sullivan and the "Tasmaniac"; primarily for being one of the few times I got to see the Sheik wrestle live.
Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton crash the ECW Arena, April 13, 1994 - What was the single loudest, wildest, out-of-control crowd reaction in my memory of the six and a half years at the ECW Arena occurred when Bobby Eaton, then Arn Anderson ran in to conclude a two match multi-part angle involving Shane Douglas, Curtis Hughes, The Public Enemy, Tommy Dreamer, The Bruise Brothers, and Sabu. Seeing Anderson sent the crowd into some other level of sound.
Anderson and Eaton were always favorites in Philadelphia, because they were hardnosed and actually seemed to wrestle, a perfect counter to the cartoon show going on in the WWF and WCW during that era. So, when they hit the ring that night to set up the main event for When Worlds Collide the next month...it's another one of those "you gotta see it for yourself" moments.
The Public Enemy vs. Funk Brothers (Barbed Wire Match), Heatwave, July 17, 1994- In an building that was estimated by some to be as much as 120 degrees, PE and the Funks tore down the house, with an incredibly violent match, remarkable given the temperature, let alone any temperature at Dory and Terry Funk's ages.
Eddie Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko, 2/3 falls farewell match, August 22, 1995 - This may well have been the best match I've ever seen for the overall emotional experience combined with the actual match itself anywhere in wrestling. While Dean and Eddie worked better matches in ECW and in Japan, the sheer emotion of the toughest crowd in North America, with the "Please Don't Go" chants; not to mention the fans, locker room, and Dean and Eddie themselves in tears, accompanied by Joey Styles doing the match call of his life as Guerrero and Malenko worked their last ECW match.
If you ever get the chance to get a unedited DVD/tape of the ECW TV show that featured this match, it is a classic keeper. But I wish any of you reading this could have been there in person; because, as good a job as Styles's call and Heyman's editing did in communicating the feeling one had being there at the Arena that night, it could never do it justice entirely.
The Raven-Tommy Dreamer feud, March 1995 to June 1997 - In an era where storylines are non-existent, where feuds are dropped at the drop of a hat, and where fans are too "smart" to get emotionally involved, this two and a half year feud with ECW's ultimate babyface against the character that was the masterpiece of Paul Heyman and Scott Levy's careers was the most memorable feud in recent memory anywhere in wrestling...to this very day.
The feud has twists and turns; starting off with their "mutual girlfriend from summer camp" (now the real-life wife of Dreamer) Beulah McGillicutty; concluding with an actual payoff at the end at Wrestlepalooza in June, 1997 with Raven's departure to WCW.
Rey Misterio Jr. vs. Psicosis, Mexican Death Match, November To Remember, November 18, 1995 - This match gave fans another once in a lifetime experience to see Rey Misterio Jr. before injuries and being unmasked by Eric Bischoff took away some of his ability and mystique. Seeing these two go full blast was a thrill that I'll never get again, unless I get to see them in Tijuana. Even then, it may not be the same.
Shane Douglas vs. Chris Jericho vs. Pit Bull 2 vs. Too Cold Scorpio, Heatwave, July 13, 1996 - Jericho's mid-air rana out of a PitBull top rope powerbomb all in one motion still amazes me when I watch it on TV eight years later.
Great Sasuke/Gran Hamada/Masato Yakushiji-TAKA Michinoku/Dick Togo/ Terry Boy, Barely Legal, April 13, 1997 - For many, it was the first time they'd seen Japanese wrestling live. The incredible match combined with an unbelievable atmosphere among the fans so supercharged to even have that PPV at the ECW Arena, along with the added touch from many of the fans throwing streamers ala traditional All Japan created a helluva memory.
Sabu vs. Terry Funk, Born to Be Wired, August 9, 1997 - The almost psychotic violence of this match probably goes beyond even the Taipei Death Match at Hardcore Heaven 1995 with the Rottens. Even the bloodthirsty violent ECW Arena crowd of the time was shaking its heads at this one.
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 (really great time to start building, 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 black fan 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.
Since I last posted this column, the news came out that the Baltimore Arena will come down to build a new Arena. Proposals are being made to local government officials for the righjts to do so with a decision to be made mid-2009. 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 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 has been 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".
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.
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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