Wrestling's Long, Hot Summer
While WrestleMania is the WWE's equivalent of the Super Bowl, summertime always meant something special for wrestling fans. For many younger fans, summertime meant no school and more time to tune in to wrestling and attend shows.
For the truly lucky fans, the summer time meant outdoor shows, often star-studded affairs with some of the biggest matches possible (and in a promoter's eyes, necessary to sell a larger venue). Join me now as I look at some of wrestling’s biggest summertime events.
Summer time holds so many great memories, including professional wrestling. My earliest days as a fan (back during the Carter administration) date back to watching Jim Crockett Promotions’ Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling every Saturday at noon (until the WWF stole the TV spot, but that's another story for another time), and announcer David Crockett talking about the feuds going on at the time. Crockett predicted it was going to be a long hot summer, and it felt like it, as every week someone seemed to be jumping someone, stealing someone’s title, or seeking revenge. Just as crime seemed to be on the rise in the summer, heels seemed to be on their worst behavior during the summer months.
Before pay-per- view became commonplace, promoters sought to book the largest venues possible, seeking to maximize the amount of paying ticket holders. Naturally, a stadium show was ideal, but running a wrestling show in a stadium was costly. A promoter trying to fill a stadium could make considerable cash if the show sold well, but an event could put them in the red if they didn’t sell enough tickets. A crowd that would have been a sell-out at a smaller venue might not be enough to make a stadium show break even. As I discuss in my book Wrestling’s Greatest Moments, some of wrestling’s biggest shows were supercards held at stadiums.
Promoter Bill Watts ran supercards during the heyday of his Mid-South Wrestling promotion. Watts ran star-studded affairs (known as “The Superdome Extravaganzas) in New Orleans’ Superdome domed stadium, drawing substantial gates. Watts treated the Superdome shows as a special event where feuds were often settled, giving fans plenty of reasons for attending them. As business declined, so did ticket sales and Watts lost money promoting the shows in the Superdome.
Jim Crockett Jr. launched The Great American Bash in 1985, a stadium show that evolved from an annual show to a summertime tour to an annual pay-per- view. We discussed the first Bash, which was a cavalcade of stars.
The next year, JCP took the Bash on tour, promoting thirteen events in thirteen cities. The show continued when JCP was sold to Ted Turner and became World Championship Wrestling.
Further south, Fritz Von Erich promoted stadium shows in his Dallas-based World Class Championship Wrestling territory. Von Erich promoted a number of stadium shows including his Cotton Bowl shows and the historic Parade of Champions shows. However, the only ones held in the summer were his “Star Wars” Independence Day and Labor Day extravaganzas, held at the Fort Worth Convention Center or Reunion Arena.
Canada was no stranger to stadium shows with both Montreal and Toronto holding special events throughout wrestling’s various eras. Delorimier Stadium held several shows from the 1930s through the early 1960s, while Jarry Park held four summer shows between 1972 and 1973. Toronto’s Maple Leaf Wrestling held summer supercards at the Canadian National Exhibition including the memorable “Night of Champions” on July 10, 1983 and the follow-up “Return of the Champions” on July 24, 1983.
The CNE hosted wrestling’s largest outdoor event on August 28, 1986 when the WWF brought its “The Big Event” show to Toronto. With a main event of Hulk Hogan vs. Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff and a solid undercard of ten matches, the show proved to be an unexpected blockbuster, setting an outdoor attendance record for wrestling at the time (the record would be broken the following year at WrestleMania III).
The WWWF promoted its Showdown at Shea event during the summers of 1976 and 1980 (the 1972 edition was held on September 30, 1972, a time which in hindsight proved bad as cold weather reportedly diminished ticket sales). The Showdown at Shea events featured legendary matches such as Stan Hansen vs. Bruno Sammartino (1976) and 1980's Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko Steel Cage Match.
Summertime stadium shows continue to this day as the WWE appears to be trying to recreate the large attendance numbers of WrestleMania with SummerSlam. Whether or not this will be successful remains to be seen but you can be certain the summertime will always be a special time for wrestling promotions and its fans.