"The Mecca of Professional Wrestling"
Originally presented at Canadian Bulldog's World
Wrestling announcers are known for their hyperbole. Whether it’s someone saying “a main event in any arena” or “the fans are hanging from the rafters”, wrestling announcers can often rightfully be compared to used car salesmen. One that was not hyperbole was that Madison Square Garden was the “Mecca of professional wrestling.”
Madison Square Garden (MSG) has a storied history, dating back to the late 19th century when it was first built. From there, it has had three more incarnations with the last opening in 1968. Wrestling has been an integral part of Garden activities due to the legendary promoting dynasty of the McMahons. First generation Irish-American immigrant Roderick Jess McMahon would begin promoting professional wrestling followed by his son Vincent Jesse McMahon and his grandson Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Each subsequent McMahon would take the wrestling business to new heights of success. The Garden would be an important part of their promotion and eventually become its center.
One of many magical MSG moments!
MSG is by no means the only famed arena in wrestling. Fans of the territory era recall famous sites such as San Francisco’s Cow Palace Arena, Maple Leaf Gardens, the Dallas Sportatorium, the Greensboro Coliseum, the Chase Park Plaza Hotel (home of “Wrestling at the Chase”), the Omni in Atlanta, and the St. Paul Civic Arena (to name but a few). Many historic matches took place there and fans that went there have many treasured memories of wrestling in those arenas.
As Tim Hornbaker details in his book Capitol Revolution: The Rise of the McMahon Wrestling Empire , MSG was not always the hub for the McMahons but it was an important city nonetheless. Under the guidance of Vincent Jesse McMahon, MSG would become the star which the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) and World Wrestling Federation (WWF) would revolve around.
While there are plenty of legendary venues for professional wrestling, there is something extra special about MSG. First, it is based in New York City, arguably the greatest city in the United States. New York City stands head and shoulders above other cities whether it relates to business, culture, or sports. Home to Wall Street business district, New York is where the nation (and much of the world) does business. Broadway (or the “Great White Way”) is where the biggest theatrical plays vie for the spotlight. New York’s sporting teams are heralded as well with the Yankees laying claim to the most titles in professional sports in North America. Simply put, New York City is where things happen.
The second reason for MSG’s importance and prominence is because promoter Vince McMahon always tried to bring in the biggest names to his company. McMahon was constantly looking for ways to keep the fans interested in his shows and while he always maintained an enticing roster of his own, he used the Garden as a way to introduce fans to wrestlers outside of the WWWF.
Third, it was considered an honor to be invited to perform in MSG. The prestige of wrestling for a big promotion such as the WWWF as well as in New York City itself appealed to many wrestlers. Wrestlers could catch the attention not only of the McMahons but of other promoters throughout the country that followed the industry. Simply put, a shot in the Garden could be a steppingstone to bigger things.
Fourth, MSG has been home to an extraordinary number of historical events. The various incarnations of MSG have hosted epochal events such as political rallies, concert performances, religious revivals, sporting events, and of course wrestling events. The number of WWWF (and WWF) title changes that took place in the Garden are incredible. Bruno won the belt from Buddy Rogers in the Garden then held onto it for a record reign of over seven and a half years before dropping it to Ivan Koloff there. Three weeks later, Pedro Morales would capture the belt from Koloff in MSG. During the 1960’s, 1970’s, and into the early 80’s, most WWWF title switches took place in the Garden. When Bruno won his second WWWF championship, it would be in MSG. Bob Backlund would win the title in MSG, drop it to the Iron Sheik in MSG, and then history would be made when Hulk Hogan won the belt from the Sheik, launching the Rock-and-Wrestling Era. Amazingly, the belt would not change hands in MSG for ten years until Bret “The Hitman” Hart defeated Yokozuna at Wrestlemania X to win the belt.
Bruno Sammartino's many main events in the MSG built his reputation and the WWWF
Finally, MSG’s prominence made it the spot where wrestling programs started in the WWF. Long before PPV’s, house shows were where the fans went to see wrestlers grapple one another to settle a feud and/or go after a belt. A program between two wrestlers (or two teams) was usually set up on television and then the fans would have to go to their local arena to see the matches. The WWWF traditionally started these programs in MSG and then ran them in other venues. Fans in smaller markets would often see these programs months after their debut in MSG. Oftentimes, fans would see the exact same match that took place in another arena when it came to their town. Since there was no Internet and wrestling magazines were months behind in reporting news, very few fans noticed this.
MSG has seen many, many historic wrestling events whether it was titles changing hands, feuds being settled, or the industry itself being changed (such as the debut of the first WrestleMania). Join me in the coming weeks ahead as I look at some of the most magical and memorable moments in the squared circle at Madison Square Garden.
Weiss, Lois. "Madison Square Garden’s many incarnations — and locations." New York Post. Real Estate. 24 Oct. 2013. https://nypost.com/2013/10/24/madison-square-gardens-many-incarnations-and-locations. Accessed 4 Aug. 2018.
"Step Back in Time to Uncover the History of Madison Square Garden." USTravelia. http://www.buzzle.com/articles/history-of-madison-square-garden.html. Accessed 4 Aug. 2018.