MCNEILL'S TAKE McNEILL FACTOR: See You In St. Louis - The Biggest St. Louis Cards of the past 80 Years
May 7, 2013 - 1:22:29 PM
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By Pat McNeill, PWTorch columnist
On May 19, WWE will return to pay-per-view with its annual "Extreme Rules" show in St. Louis, Missouri. John Cena is defending the WWE Title against Ryback, there's a ladder match, and the first steel cage match between former WWE champions Triple H and Brock Lesnar. As these things go, it's a fairly big deal.
Some of you may not know this, but Saint Louis was once a hotbed of professional wrestling, and with good reasons. It was the home base of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) back when the Alliance dominated the professional wrestling industry. It was also the home base of promoter Sam Muchnick, who became the NWA President in 1950 and handled the bookings of the NWA World Champion for many years.
With all this in mind, we'll take a quick look at ten of the biggest wrestling events in the history of Saint Louis, in chronological order:
(1) February 10, 1926 - Stecher vs. Londos: While we don't have all the details, Joe Stecher defended the World Heavyweight Title against "The Golden Greek" Jim Londos at the Coliseum in St. Louis, in front of over 12,000 fans. Stecher won the two out of three falls match by capturing the deciding fall at the 158:10 mark. But don't worry about Jim Londos. He ended up winning the world title in 1938, twelve years later. And yes, there was an three-match undercard, on which former World champion Stanislaus Zbyszko defeated Jack Brissler.
(2) January 23, 1947 - Longson vs. Thesz: Over 15,000 fans packed the St. Louis Arena to watch Bill Longson defend the World Heavyweight Title for the 86th time against young whippersnapper Lou Thesz. (That's a joke. Thesz was a 12-year veteran at the time.) Longson was the favorite here, since he had the champion's advantage and was part owner of the promotion. The challenger brought his father to ringside with him for the bout. Normally, that would have guaranteed a title change, but Longson won the bout in 36:50 to keep the title.
There were a total of six matches on the show. The semi main event saw future world champion "Whipper" Billy Watson defeat Bulldog Wagner. Watson won the title from Longson the next month in St. Louis, only to turn around and lose the championship to Thesz in April. Yes, they had hotshot booking 65 years ago. The 15,000 attendance was the biggest wrestling crowd St. Louis had seen in years, and it wasn't seen again for several years after that.
(3) March 27, 1953 - Thesz vs. Gagne: Lou Thesz was the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. In 1952, Thesz defended the title against Minnesota's Verne Gagne, in a match that drew 12,000 fans. Gagne had just captured the Montreal version of the World Heavyweight Title. An estimated 13,000 fans showed up at the St. Louis Arena for the rematch. This could have been billed as champion versus champion, but it wasn't. Thesz scored the victory here.
This was another loaded six match card, featuring a midget tag team match. "Whipper" Billy Watson was scheduled to face Barney "The Chest" Bernard in another featured bout, but another former world champion, Bill Longson, was a suitable substitute, as he grabbed the victory.
(4) October 2, 1964 - Lou Thesz vs. Fritz von Erich: Lou Thesz had regained the NWA World Heavyweight Title in 1963. The main feud in St. Louis in 1964 saw Thesz turning back the challenges of hated German Fritz von Erich, the master of the Iron Claw hold. A reported 14,675 turned out at the St. Louis Arena for this one. Not only was the main event a two out of three falls bout, but former World Champion "Whipper" Billy Watson was the special referee. Yes, Thesz hung on and won the third and deciding fall.
Believe it or not, there were two other two-out-of-three-falls matches on the show. Dick The Bruiser, Big Bill Miller & Bobby Graham fought Wilbur Snyder, Johnny Valentine & John Paul Henning to a draw when the time limit expired during the third and final fall. In addition, Dory Funk Sr. & Dory Funk Jr. teamed up to beat Bob Geigel & Angelo Poffo in two straight falls, and the original Sheik fought to a draw with Lorenzo Parente.
(5) November 19, 1971 - Dory Funk Jr. vs. Jack Briscoe: Dory Funk Jr. was the NWA World Champion. Ten months earlier, Funk and Jack Briscoe fought to a time limit draw at the Kiel Arena. For the rematch, promoter Sam Muchnick booked the larger St. Louis Arena and drew an extra thousand fans. Those fans saw Funk and Briscoe go two-out-of-three-falls. The legendary rivals the full sixty minutes again, except with Funk winning one fall to zero.
Also on the show, Dick the Bruiser, Pat O'Connor, and Rufus R. Jones defeated Baron von Raschke, Hans Schmidt, and Blackjack Lanza in a six-man tag. Lanza had his manger, Bobby Heenan, with him at ringside. Boxing legend Joe Louis was guest referee as Dory Funk Sr. & Terry Funk defeated Big Bill Miller & Bennie Ramirez, and Harley Race defended the Central States title with a win over Jerry Briscoe. Not a good night for the Briscoe Brothers.
(6) January 1, 1982 - Sam Muchnick's Farewell: Over the years, wrestling promoters have made stipulations, only to go back on them later. This was billed as Sam Muchnick's last show as a wrestling promoter, and Muchnick never promoted again. The show at the Checkerdome set the St. Louis wrestling attendance record, with 19,819 fans in attendance. And it was the beginning of the end for the St. Louis Wrestling Club and the National Wrestling Alliance.
In the main event, former NWA Champion Gene Kiniski was the special guest referee as Ric Flair defeated Dusty Rhodes in two-out-of-three falls to keep the NWA World Title. David von Erich & Rufus R. Jones fought Harley Race & Greg Valentine to a double disqualification, Pat O'Connor returned to bet Bob Sweetan, and Dick the Bruiser beat Ken Patera for the NWA Missouri Title.
(7) January 1, 1986 - Head to Head: For the first time, the World Wrestling Federation went head-to-head with the National Wrestling Alliance, running against the traditional NWA New Year's Day show at the St. Louis Arena. The Fed sent in their big guns, with Hulk Hogan defending the WWF title against former NWA Champion Terry Funk, plus the Dream Team defending the WWF Tag Team Titles against the Killer Bees, and Ivan Putski against "Cowboy" Bob Orton Jr.
Jim Crockett Promotions, which had taken over the NWA concession in St, Louis, countered with Ric Flair against Harley Race and Dusty Rhodes teaming with the Road Warriors against Ivan Koloff and the Minnesoat Wrecking Crew. But, JCP also had a New Year's Day matinee show at the Omni in Atlanta, which meant that Flair, Dusty and the gang had to fly halfway across the country between shows. Both shows drew poorly. That set the tone for St. Louis wrestling in 1986, where neither Crockett nor Titan Sports had a single sellout that year.
(8) October 5, 1997 - Hell In A Cell. The World Wrestling Federation finally ran a pay-per-view in the Gateway City. The company broke the St. Louis wrestling attendance record, cramming over 21,000 fans into the Kiel Center. It was also one of the darkest days in wrestling history, as Brian Pillman was found dead in his hotel room before the show. Vince McMahon gathered the wrestlers before the show to talk about Pillman's death. Some people, including Mick Foley, point to Vince's talk and the following night's episode of Raw as the start of the "Attitude Era" in the World Wrestling Federation.
If you're going to have a one match show, your one match needs to be spectacular. It was. On a night where Steve Austin was still sidelined with an injury, Mick Foley's match had been cancelled, Bret Hart was trapped in a tag team flag match and nothing else seemed to click, the first "Hell In A Cell" cage match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels tore the house down, with Kane making his debut and costing Undertaker the victory.
(9) December 21, 1998 - The Biggest Night In The History Of Our Sport: Only 13 months after WWE broke the St. Louis attendance record, World Championship Wrestling shattered the mark. 29,000 fans attended the WCW Monday Nitro, the final episode before the big "Starrcade '98" pay-per-view.
That was the good news. The bad news? WCW was running the TWA Dome, (now Edward Jones Dome) an American football stadium designed to hold 67,000 people. In this case, the dome was half-full. Eddie Guerrero defeated Rey Mysterio in a very good match, while WCW Champion Bill Goldberg beat Scott Hall in the main event. World Championship Wrestling made its final descent shortly thereafter.
(10) January 19, 2012 - WWE Royal Rumble 2012: It seems only fair to point out the biggest WWE event to take place in St. Louis. Over 18,000 fans at the Scottrade Center saw C.M. Punk outwit special referee John Laurinaitis and defeat challenger Dolph Ziggler, while Sheamus won his first ever Royal Rumble match. What's next? Stay tuned.
Thanks to the Legacy of Wrestling, The History of WWE, and Wrestling Classics websites, for providing invaluable research material. Also, if you ever attempt a discussion about St. Louis wrestling, go ahead and read Larry Matysik's excellent books on the subject BEFORE you start writing. Trust me on this one.
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