2017 saw the professional wrestling industry experience success on multiple levels. WWE's annual WrestleMania weekend drew over 75,000 fans to Orlando, Florida for what is essentially Coachella for wrestling nerds. New Japan Pro Wrestling, that nation's largest professional wrestling organization, made in-roads into the American market with live shows and its own streaming service. The independent wrestling scene is also thriving in cities across the country, including Los Angeles.
Wrestling fans in our city have been fortunate enough to witness some of the most historic – and infamous – moments in the history of the art form, dating back to early exhibitions at Wrigley Field in the 1930s. The moments below impacted multiple generations of Angeleno wrestling fans, from those that love current favorites of the WWE Universe to those that had front row seats at the Grand Olympic Auditorium during the city's 1970s heyday as one of the hottest regional wrestling scenes in the country.
10. The Bloodiest Match in WWE History: Eddie Guerrero vs John Bradshaw Layfield
“WWE Judgment Day”
May 16, 2004
Expectations had been fairly low for Latino superstar Eddie Guerrero's first defense since winning the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XX. His opponent – burly Texan John Bradshaw Layfield - had transitioned rapidly from mid-card face to main-event heel, taking many fans by surprise. The match ended up being a wild brawl vividly remembered to this day by those that witnessed it. Guerrero bladed his forehead after Layfield hit him with a chair. The champion accidentally cut himself too deep, and was drenched in his own blood within seconds. The bout continued for another ten minutes until its scheduled finish, by which time the mat was also drenched in Guerrero's blood. The champion lost the match by disqualification, but the night ended with the enraptured crowd chanting “Eddie! Eddie!”
9. Lucha Underground Opens The Doors To Its “Temple”
Television Premiere: Oct. 29, 2014
Boyle Heights, CA
While WWE remains the mainstream leader in professional wrestling, there is a vocal contingent of fans in search of an alternative. Since its October 2014 premiere on the El Rey Network, Lucha Underground has fulfilled those cravings with a gritty and bloody presentation worthy of airing alongside repeats of From Dusk 'Til Dawn. The in-ring product is a hybrid of traditional Mexican lucha libre and ECW-style hardcore brawling, with outside-the-ring “mini-movies” enhancing the characters of Lucha Underground's roster. The program – shot in a converted Boyle Heights warehouse dubbed “The Temple” – revitalized the careers of ex-WWE performers such as Rey Mysterio Jr. and Johnny Mundo, and provided a platform for lucha libre stars such as Rey Fenix and Penta el Zero M to gain cult followings among American wrestling fans.
8. Rowdy Roddy Piper Plays “The Mexican National Anthem”
The Grand Olympic Auditorium
Years before “Piper's Pit” premiered on WWE television, Rowdy Roddy Piper had his first run as a main event attraction here in Los Angeles. The arrogant heel's antics enraged audiences that watched weekly televised wrestling broadcasts from The Grand Olympic Auditorium, most notably during his year-long feud with the beloved Chavo Guerrero. Footage does not exist of Piper's most infamous Los Angeles moment. The rowdy Scotsman often poked at the Latino heritage of his opponent and fans. One night, Piper swore to the fans that he saw the errors of his ways, and offered to apologize by playing the Mexican National Anthem on his bagpipes. Piper then shocked the fans by playing “La Cucaracha.” It was an appalling un-P.C. act, but fans came back in the weeks that followed to see Guerrero get his revenge.
7. Bryan Danielson Wins the PWG Title Before Going to WWE
“PWG Guerre Sans Frontieres”
Sept. 4, 2009
American Legion Post #308 (Reseda, CA)
Local independent promotion Pro Wrestling Guerrilla packs hundreds of die-hard fans shoulder-to-shoulder into a tiny American Legion Hall in Reseda for its monthly showcase of the best unsigned wrestlers in the country. One of the most emotional nights in the league's history was Bryan Danielson's final PWG match before signing his WWE contract in 2009. His last trip to Reseda was for a shot at the PWG Championship, then held by Chris Hero (now Kassius Ohno in WWE's NXT). The overflow crowd that evening received a helluva going away gift from Danielson, who put maximum effort into a 43-minute classic with Hero. The crowd erupted as Danielson was victorious, and shed tears as he gave an emotional post-match speech. Five years later, Danielson – now known as Daniel Bryan – claimed the WWE Championship in the main event of WrestleMania XXX.
6. Rowdy Roddy Piper and Terry Funk Brawl at WrestleReunion
“PWG Kurt RussellReunion 2: The Reunioning”
Jan. 29, 2011
Despite each wrestler's status as a main event wrestler spanning across the '70s, '80s, and '90s, WWE Hall of Famers Rowdy Roddy Piper and Terry Funk had only stood on opposite sides of the ring one time, for an untelevised match in Toronto in 1983. The highlight of 2011's WrestleReunion convention was a Legends Royal Rumble featuring twenty iconic favorites from the past. As bodies emptied over the top rope, the crowd exploded when it realized the final two competitors in the ring were Piper and Funk. Funk – bleeding profusely – grabbed a microphone, and asked Piper to join him and the fans in a prayer dedicated to their in-ring peers that had passed on. He then smashed Piper in the head with the mic. The two legends brawled all over the LAX Hilton ballroom, with Piper eventually getting the upper hand and winning the match.
5. The Feud Between Freddie Blassie and John Tolos Outgrows The Olympic Auditorium
Aug. 27, 1971
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
After its initial run as a prime-time favorite during the early days of television, professional wrestling entered the 1960s as a more regional-based product. Classy Freddie Blassie was the lead villain of the Los Angeles wrestling territory for most of the '60s, his bloody battles drawing fans in droves to weekly shows at the Grand Olympic Auditorium. As happens to most of wrestling's great bad guys, Blassie ended the decade as a fan favorite. Fans rallied to his side after he was blinded in a vicious attack by fellow villain John Tolos. Blassie's quest for in-ring vengeance drew sellout crowds at the Olympic, inspiring promoters to take their box-office bonanza to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The crowd of 25,847 fans that showed up to see Blassie win was not close to a sell-out, but it still remains the second largest crowd to witness a live professional wrestling event in California.
4. Lucha Libre Goes Mainstream: When Worlds Collide
“AAA When Worlds Collide”
Nov. 6, 1994
Los Angeles Sports Arena
Mexican lucha libre has been a major attraction for audiences in that nation dating back to the early 1900s. Masked wrestling stars such as Mil Mascaras achieved success in American wrestling promotions throughout the '70s and '80s with their high-flying moves, but it was not until the '90s that entire leagues such as AAA made overtures towards American wrestling markets on the back of the growth of Spanish-language television. AAA's efforts were most successful in Los Angeles, resulting in our city being home to the first nationally-broadcasted lucha libre pay-per-view event. A joint venture with American promotion World Championship Wrestling, the show was a breakout showcase not just for the art form, but for future WWE Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero, who nearly incited a riot alongside tag team partner Art Barr before they lost an epic hair vs. mask match against fan favorites Octagon and El Hijo Del Santo.
3. Brock Lesnar Takes John Cena to Suplex City
Aug. 17, 2014
There was massive fanfare in 2013 for former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar's return to WWE after a nine-year absence. That buzz was tempered throughout his first year back, thanks to erratic booking that saw him lose as many matches as he won. WWE began rehabbing Lesnar's image as a monstrous force by having him break The Undertaker's undefeated streak of WrestleMania wins in April 2014. Brock Lesnar's revival as a vicious brute was completed with his main event bout against lead fan favorite John Cena at SummerSlam. Lesnar avenged a loss to Cena at the previous year's Extreme Rules event in spectacular fashion. Unlike other WWE main events of the era, the match was laid out as a complete decimation. Cena barely attained any offense in the match, instead falling victim to multiple German suplexes at the hands of Lesnar as Cena's fans sat in stunned silence.
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2. John Cena and Dave Batista Ascend To The Main Event
“WWE WrestleMania 21”
April 3, 2005
The glory days of WWE's vaunted “Attitude Era” had faded by the time WrestleMania – WWE's most celebrated show of the year – made its way to Los Angeles. Iconic superstars such as The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin had rode off into retirement. Luckily for WWE, efforts that began five years earlier to breed the next generation of main event stars with their in-house developmental league – Ohio Valley Wrestling – started to pay off. New charismatic performers such as John Cena and Dave Batista gained popularity; their ascensions to the main event capped off WrestleMania 21. John Cena rode his wave of being a hero to kids by defeating John Bradshaw Layfield for his first WWE Championship. Muscular bruiser Dave Batista emerged victorious over his former mentor Triple H to claim the World Heavyweight Championship. Each wrestler went on to attain crossover celebrity status in film and television, but the pavement on the roads ahead of them began on this night.
1. Randy Savages Lose Retirement Match and Reunites with Miss Elizabeth
“WWE WrestleMania VII”
March 24, 1991
Los Angeles Sports Arena
Heading into their seventh WrestleMania spectacular, WWE's flagship event looked to be a damaged brand. An ambitious attempt to run their annual supercard at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum had failed, with ticket sales cratering and the show getting moved to the smaller Los Angeles Sports Arena. The main event program pairing patriotic superhero Hulk Hogan against Iraqi sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter in a Gulf War analogue failed to capture the attention of wrestling fans.
On the day of the show, it was the semi-main event pitting crazed lunatic Macho Man Randy Savage against face-painted wild man The Ultimate Warrior that made the event a memorable one. Their rivalry had built to the point where each man declared that if he could not beat his opponent, he would retire from professional wrestling. The 20-minute spectacle was one of the most dramatic WWE matches of its era. After losing the bout, Savage sat crestfallen in the center of the ring. His manager/valet, Sensational Sherri started berating and slapping Savage. His former manager, Miss Elizabeth, entered from the live audience and pounced on Sherri, driving her away from the ring. Savage and Elizabeth embraced in the center of the ring after two years apart from each other, to a roaring – and emotionally tearful – audience response.