- Michael Rickard II
Wrestling Ghosts of Christmas Past. Part Two of Two.
During the territory days, Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW) held Christmas shows at the legendary Omni Coliseum in Atlanta, Georgia. GCW was a NWA territory and featured visits by the touring NWA World Heavyweight Champion. In 1981, then champion Ric Flair retained his title against “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Other main events included Georgia favorite Mr. Wrestling II defeating Mr. Saito in a judo jacket match in 1980, Butch Reed defeating Buzz Sawyer in a hair vs. hair steel cage match in 1983, and Buzz Sawyer winning a “Lights Out” match against Paul Ellering. In 1985, the WWF decided to get in on the action and they ran a show in the Omni, despite the fact that it was GCW’s home base. The WWF show featured Hulk Hogan winning over Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff.
When GCW folded, Jim Crockett Promotions began running shows in the Omni and they kept the Christmas event alive until their last Christmas show in 1987 where Lex Luger won a Bunkhouse Stampede Match. When JCP was bought out by Ted Turner and renamed World Championship Wrestling (WCW), the Christmas shows returned and ran in 1991 and 1992 (not to mention the Starrcade ’92 PPV which aired on December 28). A Christmas show was scheduled for 1993 but cancelled due to poor ticket sales. No further Christmas shows would be held at the Omni and the building was demolished in 1997.
The World Wrestling Federation ran Christmas cards during the Rock and Wrestling Era. While they ran cards before this, they really didn’t seem to run Christmas shows until the national expansion days. One such card occurred in 1985 in Landover, Maryland at the Capital Centre with Hulk Hogan successfully defending his WWF championship against Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Hogan and Savage would work a historic program in Madison Square Garden beginning on December 30. Check out my Madison Square Garden Magic column for more details.
Just because it was Christmas didn’t mean that everything was full of holiday cheer. After all, we are dealing with the violent world of professional wrestling. One notorious Christmas incident was when Jake “The Snake” Roberts helped Kevin Sullivan send “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes packing in a Loser Leaves Town Steel Cage Match. Christmas Day 1982 saw Rhodes and Sullivan battle in the Bayfront Arena in St. Petersburg Florida. The see-saw battle ended after a man dressed as Santa Claus handed an object to Sullivan, enabling the diabolical wrestler to pin Rhodes and send him on his way. When Santa was revealed as one of Sullivan’s disciples, Jake Roberts, the fans knew that Sullivan had spoiled Christmas for Rhodes and his legions of fans.
By the 1990’s the territories were all but gone. One of the few territories that remained was Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling (SMW). A wrestling traditionalist, Cornette continued the Christmas show spirit during his company’s brief existence. Christmas events were held during the promotion’s run from 1992 through 1994. By the end of 1995, the promotion was in trouble and its Christmas show was cancelled after the promotion’s last live event ran on November 26, 1995.
No discussion of Christmas wrestling would be complete without mentioning Boxing Day, a holiday celebrated by my Canadian cousins (as well as those in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, and several other countries [even some of the old colonies in the southern United States]). Living near the Canadian border, I had access to the famed promotion Maple Leaf Wrestling (MLW). Every year the promotion would run a special Boxing Day event. My brother and I never could figure out how the sport of boxing and pro wrestling merged but if boxing was cause for a holiday, why not have a wrestling show to mark it? (Years later, we would discover what Boxing Day was all about . Maple Leaf Wrestling had Boxing Day events dating back to 1930. The promotion held many events on Boxing Day itself (December 26) and cards close to that date were advertised as “Boxing Day” events. MLW featured some of the biggest names in the industry and cards included main event matches featuring “Whipper” Billy Watson (a former NWA Heavyweight Champion), the Sheik, Johnny Valentine, Andre the Giant, and many other stars. These events continued when the promotion joined forces with the WWF.
Although the days of live shows on Christmas Day are a thing of the past, the WWE keeps the spirit alive with its special Tribute to the Troops shows. These shows feature the WWE traveling around the world to perform in front of United States Armed Forces personnel around the holidays, providing the troops with entertainment. While these shows are prerecorded, they typically air around Christmas (a few have aired on Christmas Day).
The days of live wrestling shows on Christmas Day are likely a thing of the past for the major promotions. With all of the competition for entertainment, it’s difficult to tell whether or not there would be enough demand to warrant such shows. The Wrestling Ghosts of Christmas Present doesn’t have much business, but as hope springs eternal, there may be work for the Wrestling Ghosts of Christmas Future.
I’d like to acknowledge the many wonderful wrestling sites out there that are treasure troves of information. Graham Cawthon’s www.historyofthewwe.com , the Mid-Atlantic Gateway , the Maple Leaf Wrestling site , and the good people at Kayfabe Memories .