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.
The pro wrestling event which was to be my first was the showing of WrestleMania III at Cedar Rapids’ Five Seasons Center. I was so excited about seeing what even to a teenager seemed like such a historic card. But a late-winter storm visited and my parents felt it was too dangerous.
So the first event was a show at Five Seasons in July of 1988. I was excited as this looked to be the best card Cedar Rapids had ever had. Randy Savage was defending the World title against Ted DiBiase. I wasn’t an anti-Hulk Hogan person, but had grown weary of him and his style of matches. I was almost giddy at the thought of seeing the athleticism of the two men in the main event.
I can’t remember much about the night other than realizing when we arrived this show was a Wrestling Challenge television taping. I found that a little odd as Superstars aired in this market. Still, I was thrilled as this wasn’t some run of the mill house show. The place was full or close to full. I don’t think many there were used to a TV taping. It’s one thing to watch the squashes from the same arena over three weeks. It’s another to stay almost until midnight to do the same.
As much as I had looked forward to Savage/DiBiase, I don’t remember a thing about the match. I do remember Tito Santana beating Joe LeDuc in a fun match. I believe this was one of Brother Love’s first appearances. For you youngsters, trust me, your memory will do funny things to you too when you’re my age. But I do remember having a wonderful time as did my parents. Our next show came 18 months later.
Ted Turner had bought Jim Crockett Promotions and at least creatively, the promotion had an outstanding 1989. Ric Flair/Ricky Steamboat, Sting/Great Muta, Lex Luger/Steamboat and Flair/Terry Funk made for incredible matches. Unfortunately, most of that was gone by the time WCW came to Cedar Rapids in April of 1990. Steamboat and Muta had left the company and Funk was only announcing.
Still, I was thrilled to see WCW in Cedar Rapids. I was a tremendously pro-WCW fan greatly influenced by the Pro Wrestling Illustrated family of magazines which had an anti-WWF bias. The card was not at Five Seasons but at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. VMC was located on an island on the Cedar River. Stepping into the building brought into focus how it was one of those “smoke-filled arenas” people sometimes say wrestling has evolved from. There was hardly any crowd there. History of WWE lists attendance as 300 and that might be generous. The site says Jim Cornette talked for 15 minutes at the show’s start to stall for time considering all the no-shows. Seeing how Vince Russo, Kevin Owens and The Young Bucks had yet to come into his life, I’m not sure what Cornette could’ve talked about for that long.
What I remember most about the night along with the building was the crowd. It was incredibly raucous and vocal-almost the same as an early ECW crowd. Mick Foley was being Cactus Jack. At one point, Johnny Ace broke out laughing and encouraged an “LSD” chant directed at Jack and started by the crowd.
The History site shows this card was another example of WCW incompetence. The company scheduled a television taping in Georgia the next day so I understand why wrestlers skipped a poorly scheduled Cedar Rapids trip. In 1990, I didn’t know what an indie show was, but in retrospect this night felt like an evening at an indie show instead of a card put on by a wrestling company owned by Ted Turner.
It was a much different WCW which came to Cedar Rapids in August of 1994. The company had recently signed Hulk Hogan and had a talented roster ranging from Ric Flair to Steve Austin. Coming off of Hogan winning the World title at Bash at the Beach, the second match in the series was held at Five Seasons Center as part of a Clash of Champions show airing on TBS.
My parents had been in the process of retiring as they were selling the cattle and machinery of their farm. This allowed them more time to relax and partly did so by watching pay-per-views with our neighbors John and Lynn Richter. We had wonderful times there and were happy to take Bobby Richter, soon to be a high school freshman, with us to the Clash.
The Five looked totally packed with what History of WWE says was 4,200 fans. It was a loud, but respectful crowd which didn’t go into business for itself. We sat in the upper section just to the left of the entrance curtain. Early in the show, Bobby noticed from out angle we could see WCW Commissioner Nick Bockwinkel behind the curtain.
This was a decent show which featured the famous Tonya Harding angle. Hulk Hogan was being interviewed when a masked man came from behind to club the World champ in the knee. While about seven months late, it made sense for WCW to do this in regards to being current. The previous winter network news broke into programming to tell the story of Nancy Kerrigan being clubbed in the knee by what turned out to be a henchman for fellow skater Tonya Harding. Pro wrestling’s version of the dirty deed was originally supposed to be Curt Hennig, but wound up being Brutus Beefcake.
The Ricky Steamboat-Steve Austin match was outstanding, The Nasty Boys and Pretty Wonderful contest was fine and Flair and Hogan had a solid match. The of History of WWE site shows 1994 still had plenty of cancelled shows and cards with less than 1,000 in attendance for WCW. But this was a different company than the one which ran a makeshift card four years earlier. While WCW was not yet in its Nitro glory days, it was on its way to being a legitimate national company.
My next post will take a look at some wonderful shows which deserved much larger crowds than they had. Some of my favorite pro wrestling times were at these 2004-05 NWA/IWA Mid-South No Limits shows.