• Michael Rickard II

Book Review: Holy Ground: 50 Years of WWE at Madison Square Garden (The History of Professional Wres


Holy Ground: 50 Years of WWE at Madison Square Garden (The History of Professional Wrestling)

For the first time ever, the entire history of the WWE at Madison Square Garden is compiled into one single publication! Including some of the top names in the industry as they speak about their experiences at "The World's Most Famous Arena" including "The Living Legend" Bruno Sammartino, "The Innovator of Violence" Tommy Dreamer, "The Mountie" Jacques Rougeau, Matt Striker, George "The Animal" Steele, Bill Apter, "The Genius" Lanny Poffo, Kevin Kelly, "The Boogie Woogie Man" Jimmy Valiant, Dr. Tom Prichard, PWInsider.com's Mike Johnson, "The Russian Bear" Ivan Koloff, Drew McIntyre, J.J. Dillon, and many more! Since 2002, The HistoryofWWE.com has served as the premiere online resource for the in- and out-of-the-ring histories of multiple wrestling companies. Now, for the first time in print, you have access to the thousands of dates, cities and ring results that comprise pro wrestling's past. You can now find the hidden gems, the main events that drew thousands and the ones that only drew flies. -Promotional blurb.

Graham Cawthon’s book 2014 Holy Ground: 50 Years of WWE at Madison Square Garden (The History of Professional Wrestling) is an excellent time machine for fans looking to visit the Mecca of Professional Wrestling’s various eras from the last fifty years. The book lists the cards at the Garden, usually with results and details such as attendance and trivia such as whether it was a wrestler’s first appearance in the Garden, the first type of match in the Garden, or a wrestler’s return after many years. It’s packed with photos from the Garden as well as reproductions of wrestling tickets, flyers, and programs. The book also adds a personal touch as it assembles the recollections of fans along with fans who ended up working in the business.

Reading Holy Ground provides a fascinating insight into the way Vince McMahon Sr. and Jr. promoted their cards, especially before the days of shows like Monday Night RAW and pay-per-views. Before this, house shows were the place to see big-name matches and see angles played out in the ring. Sure, you might see a title change or big name match on TV, but these were usually to entice you to buy a ticket to your local arena and see your favorite stars’ quest for a championship and/or revenge. Madison Square Garden was usually where programs started, moving around the “A” circuit (“A” being major cities like Boston, Toronto, and Philadelphia) and then the “B” circuit (cities like Buffalo and Rochester) later on. It was especially important because it was the place to wrestle. When Vince McMahon Sr. invited a wrestler to work at the Garden, it was considered an honor (as well as a nice payday), regardless of if they got asked back. For example, James J. Dillon discusses in his memoir Wrestling with Seagulls how he felt a sense of accomplishment having had the chance to wrestle in the Garden.

Vince McMahon Sr. used the Garden’s prestige to bring in big name talent. During the 1970’s from around the world, the WWWF had a cordial relationship with other promoters which meant you never knew who might show up at the Garden. It could be the NWA World Heavyweight Champion making a title defense or even a title unification match (as happened when Bob Backlund and Harley Race met) or a battle between the top star of another promotion and the WWWF. For example, Championship Wrestling from Florida lent its top babyface, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, to the WWWF, resulting in a fantastic series between Dusty and then-champion “Superstar” Billy Graham. Even when Vince McMahon Jr. broke the WWF away from other promotions, the Garden remained the Mecca of wrestling. If there was going to be a major event, chances are it would happen at the Garden. When McMahon aimed to take the WWF national, the Garden was the home base for many of the angles and matches that culminated in WrestleMania (and as we all know, that’s where the first ‘Mania was held). Wendi Richter’s WWF Women’s Championship win over the Fabulous Moolah took place in “The Brawl to End It All” at the Garden, as did “The War to Settle the Score,” Hulk Hogan’s confrontation with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.

Here’s an example of an entry from the book. In this case, it’s the first WrestleMania:

WrestleMania - New York City, NY - Madison Square Garden - March 31, 1985 (19,121) Pay-per-view bouts - featured Gorilla Monsoon & Jesse Ventura on commentary; included Gene Okerlund singing the National Anthem; Tommy Dreamer and Nunzio were both in attendance; featured Lord Alfred Hayes introducing the matches from backstage; included pre-taped backstage interviews by Okerlund with both Tito Santana and the Executioner, said to be undefeated, regarding their match on the card; featured Okerlund conducting pre-taped interviews with SD Jones and King Kong Bundy, with Jimmy Hart, regarding their match later in the show; included Okerlund conducting pre-taped backstage interviews with Matt Borne and Ricky Steamboat regarding their match later in the show; featured Okerlund conducting pre-taped backstage interviews with David & Bruno Sammartino and Brutus Beefcake & Johnny V regarding their match later in the show; featured Okerlund conducting pre-taped backstage interviews with WWF IC Champion Greg Valentine, with Hart, and the Junkyard Dog regarding their match later in the show; included Okerlund conducting pre-taped backstage interviews with Nikolai Volkoff & the Iron Sheik, with Freddie Blassie, and WWF Tag Team Champions Barry Windham & Mike Rotundo, with Capt. Lou Albano, regarding their match later in the show; featured Okerlund conducting backstage interviews with Big John Studd, with Bobby Heenan, about his bodyslam match later in the show against Andre the Giant; included Okerlund conducting backstage interviews with Cyndi Lauper and Wendi Richter and WWF Women's Champion Leilani Kai and the Fabulous Moolah regarding the women's title match later in the show:

Tito Santana defeated the Executioner (Buddy Rose) via submission with the figure-4 at 4:49 after the flying forearm (Rose's last appearance for 5 years) King Kong Bundy (w/ Jimmy Hart) pinned SD Jones at the 24-second mark with the Avalanche and a splash; the announced time of the match was 9 seconds (Grand Slams) Ricky Steamboat pinned Matt Borne with the crossbody off the top at 4:38 David Sammartino (w/ Bruno Sammartino) fought Brutus Beefcake (w/ Johnny V) to a double disqualification at 11:44 when Johnny slammed David on the floor, with Bruno then chasing Johnny into the ring and all four men then brawling until Johnny and Beefcake were cleared from the ring (Best of the WWF Vol. 3) The Junkyard Dog defeated WWF IC Champion Greg Valentine (w/ Jimmy Hart) via count-out at 6:55; Valentine originally won the match with both feet on the ropes for leverage at 6:00 but Tito Santana came out and told referee Dick Kroll what happened, with Kroll then continuing the match after Valentine had left the ring, with Valentine refusing to get back inside (Legends of Wrestling Collection, Legends of Wrestling: Jerry Lawler and the Junkyard Dog) Prime Time Wrestling - 4/16/85: Nikolai Volkoff & the Iron Sheik (w/ Freddie Blassie) defeated WWF Tag Team Champions Mike Rotundo & Barry Windham (w/ Capt. Lou Albano) to win the titles at 6:56 when Volkoff pinned Windham after Sheik hit Windham in the back with Blassie's cane; after the bout, Gene Okerlund conducted a backstage interview with Blassie and the new champions (Tag Team Champions, Legends of Wrestling: Andre the Giant and the Iron Sheik, Allied Powers) Andre the Giant defeated Big John Studd (w/ Bobby Heenan) in a bodyslam match at 5:53; pre-match stipulations stated Andre would win $15,000 if he was able to slam Studd and would retire if he couldn't do it within the time-limit; after the bout, Andre began throwing the money into the crowd until Heenan grabbed the money bag and ran backstage; moments later, Gene Okerlund conducted a backstage interview with Andre regarding his win (Andre the Giant VHS, Andre the Giant DVD) Prime Time Wrestling - 4/23/85: Wendi Richter (w/ Cyndi Lauper) pinned WWF Women's Champion Leilani Kai (w/ the Fabulous Moolah) to win the title at 6:14 when the momentum of a crossbody off the top by Kai put Richter on top for the win; after the bout, Gene Okerlund conducted a backstage interview with Richter and Lauper, with David Wolfe (Amazing Managers) WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan & Mr. T (w/ Jimmy Snuka) defeated Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff (w/ Bob Orton Jr.) at 13:33 when Hogan pinned Orndorff after Orton accidentally knocked Orndorff out with a double axe handle off the top, using his arm cast, while referee Pat Patterson was distracted; Billy Martin served as guest ring announcer for the match; prior to the bout, guest timekeeper Liberace danced in the ring with the Rockettes; Muhammed Ali served as the outside official while Patterson was the referee inside; former boxer Jose Torres was shown in the crowd during the introductions; Piper's team was escorted to the ring by a bagpipe band performing "Scotland the Brave;" after the bout, Piper and Orton left ringside, leaving Orndorff to be helped to his feet by Mr. T; a dazed Orndorff faced off with Hogan and T before eventually leaving the ring himself; moments later, Gene Okerlund conducted a backstage interview with Hogan, T, and Snuka; voted Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Match of the Year (Grudge Matches, Best of the WWF: WrestleMania, Hulk Hogan: The Ultimate Anthology, Born to Controversy: The Roddy Piper Story, The True Story of WrestleMania)

For me, one of the book’s best features are the anecdotes from fans and people in the business. There are so many great recollections of first-time visits to the Garden, witnessing iconic moments such as title wins or things like Jimmy Snuka’s dive off the steel cage. Many of these moments inspired people to work in the industry such as Bill Apter, A.J. Lee, Mick Foley, and many others. Others just brought fans together with family members or friends while some motivated fans from around the world to journey to wrestling’s Mecca.

Not only do you get match times, backstage segments, and trivia (such as the note this would be Buddy Rose’s last Garden appearance for five years), you also get a listing of where to find the matches, whether it’s on the classic Coliseum VHS tapes or the WWE’s DVD’s and Blu-Rays. It’s a great resource for fans looking to find key matches and events but it’s much more than just a list of what card took place when and who wrestled. While Graham Cawthon maintains a website (historyofthewwe.com) with the match results, this book contains a lot of extra information to make it worth buying. The book is packed with photos of wrestling advertisements for the Garden, wrestling programs, schedules for the Garden (including non-wrestling events like hockey), ticket prices, pictures, and news articles about big matches. It’s like having a scrapbook of the Garden on your book shelf or coffee table. This is a fun book for any wrestling fan and an important resource for any student of the game. The book is a 470-page trade paperback and lists for $34.95 on Amazon.com. It’s also available in e-format (Kindle) for $19.95 and free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.

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