by Don Carpenter
Editor’s note: Pro Wrestling Iowa Time Machine will be a recurring feature on the site where Don discusses the history of professional wrestling in Iowa and the surrounding area.
I was an eighth-grader living on a farm three miles north of Earlville when I became a pro wrestling fan. Wrestling everywhere was booming, but the Rock and Wrestling Connection was making its way to televisions in eastern Iowa. A commercial aired one weekend asking if the viewer had heard of the names which were scrolling upwards. For some reason, I recognized Nikolai Volkoff’s name. Out of all the names being shown to announce Waterloo NBC affiliate KWWL airing Superstars of Wrestling, I noticed the Russian with no memory why I did so.
Superstars had a great run on KWWL, airing at 10:30 every Sunday night from 1985 until the early 1990s. That’s a pretty impressive lifespan for a syndicated program featuring what few would consider a mainstream product. With such a strong viewership, the WWF ran its first Waterloo show at McElroy Auditorium in June of 1985. According to the History of WWE website, the card was headlined by Greg Valentine defending the Intercontinental championship against Tito Santana. Waterloo became Tito’s town as the new I-C champ defended his title against Randy Savage in September and Jesse Ventura in November. Cedar Rapids’ Five Seasons Center hosted shows featuring Big John Studd in September and October.
A bunch of cards were held in the KWWL area in 1986. Waterloo hosted on January 30 (Junkyard Dog and Terry Funk), July 8 (Santana and Steamboat versus Savage and Jake Roberts in an elimination match) and October 30 (JYD and Roberts). Cedar Rapids hosted in January, February and June.
1987 saw the WWE concentrate on Waterloo during the first six months and Cedar Rapids the second. The March Waterloo show featured a six-man tag between Roddy Piper/Junkyard Dog/Jake Roberts and Adrian Adonis/Harley Race/Honky Tonk Man. I remember thinking how cool it was the participants in three of WrestleMania III matches were in one match in Waterloo. The July card had a far less memorable main event in George Steele and Kamala.
The June Cedar Rapids show featured Greg Valentine and Dino Bravo and the August card had Ken Patera taking on Harley Race in a whipping match with Superstar Billy Graham and Bobby Heenan handcuffed to each other. September was headlined by the Hart Foundation defending the tag team titles against the Killer Bees in a steel cage match. The promo the Harts did for this match was incredible. They had a fence of steel mesh with them. Jim Niedhart had a nervous breakdown at the thought of getting into the cage while Bret Hart blamed Gene Okerlund for everything. The November show was highlighted by Honky defending the I-C title against Savage.
Major changes came to eastern Iowa television in the autumn of 1987. Along with Superstars, KWWL started airing Jim Crockett’s UWF program as part of The Wrestling Network. I was thrilled as this was my first time watching Crockett’s product. Throw in an opportunity to see Steve Williams, Eddie Gilbert and Terry Taylor and my VCR was busy recording every Sunday night.
I believe it was KWWL which also broadcasted the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling that fall. I don’t remember which day it was on, but I know it became a little bit of a cult hit at my high school.
The UWF show only lasted only a few weeks after the November Starrcade show, but Crockett made a return to eastern Iowa in the summer of ’88 with Worldwide on ABC affiliate KCRG. This lasted until summer 1990. Worldwide returned on KGAN in the autumn of the same year. Memory tells me it lasted until the summer of 1991, but I couldn’t give you a citation on that.
After Superstars left KWWL, KFXA started airing Wrestling Challenge which lasted from 1993-94. It also aired WCW Worldwide during the early MGM studio days. The last syndicated program I recall was the American Wrestling Federation in 1996. The promotion which featured rounds for its matches stayed for only a short time.
As far as Cedar Rapids and Waterloo shows from 1988 on go, I’ll talk more about them in my next post. The article will feature a look at three Cedar Rapids shows I attended in the July 1988 Wrestling Challenge taping, the April 1990 WCW house show and the August 1994 Class of Champions which featured the Hogan/Ric Flair World title rematch.