The Delco Elbow Drop


Friday, December 20, 2013

The Arena reopens

This was a column I just did for The News of Delaware County and since I couldn't find it on our website anywhere, I figured I would post it here since it is very much pro wrestling related. At the end of the article I've also included a bunch of random memories from The Arena because I can.



The Philadelphia area has always been home to passionate sports fans. We support our professional, college and high school teams with similar intensity and fervor. And for as long as I can remember (even before I existed or started forming memories), Philly fans have also been incredibly supportive of and passionate about professional wrestling.

On the DVD “The Rise and Fall of ECW,” the creative force behind Extreme Championship Wrestling Paul Heyman noted that even before TV, companies like the NWA and WWWF would run competing shows on the same nights in Philadelphia because they knew wrestling’s fanbase in the city was so large and rabid. 

What’s always been special about the Philadelphia area when it comes to wrestling is its centralized location makes it easy for the best talent from up and down the east coast as well as from the Midwest to display their talents in front of an intense, knowledgeable crowd.

When I was in high school and college, my friends and I would attend a local company (Combat Zone Wrestling) month after month where we were treated to matches from local, homegrown talent as well as wrestlers from as far away as Canada and southern California. And back when we attended CZW each month, the shows were always held in what has become the Mecca of professional wrestling in the area – the Arena.

What was once a freight warehouse was given the name Viking Hall in the 1980s. During that time it was used as a practice area for a local chapter of Mummers as well as bingo games but Viking Hall began getting worldwide notoriety in the mid-90s thanks to ECW. Earning the nickname of “the most extreme bingo hall in the world,” Viking Hall eventually came to be known as the ECW Arena to wrestling fans.

Throughout numerous name changes and lease-holders, the venue has always been known as The Arena to hardcore wrestling fans. Hundreds of wrestling shows have been held there and scenes from the 2008 movie “The Wrestler” were even filmed at the venue during a CZW show.
However, in early 2012, the lease to the building was acquired by Arena Operating, LLC with plans to turn the well-known wrestling venue into a concert venue and what was billed as the final wrestling show in The Arena was held on Jan. 14, 2012. 

Fans not just from the area but all over the world were stunned to find out that a building with so much history in the sport would no longer be a viable venue. Despite the sport’s popularity in the city, there is really only one other venue (the National Guard Armory in the Northeast) where independent wrestling companies would run shows and local wrestling fans were forced to do without the sport they love or concede to travel further to see it.

For a long time, the situation seemed bleak for local fans. Word amongst fans was that Arena Operating, LLC had torn down most of the interior of the Arena and seemingly had no interest in finishing their renovations or allowing wrestling to be hosted again. 

But that changed last spring when Arena Operating was evicted from their lease after failing to complete their proposed renovations by the building’s owners. Now, for the first time in almost two years, the historic ECW Arena in South Philly will again host professional wrestling.

On Dec. 28, a promotion known as Extreme Rising, made up of former ECW legends and current rising stars, will be bringing wrestling back to the historic venue. I’m planning on attending the rebirth of the Arena as are hundreds, if not thousands, of other area wrestling fans. 

Like many fans, I have a lot of great memories of the Arena. Not just of the shows I’ve attended but of the people I’ve met and the great times I’ve had, thanks to professional wrestling and the Arena.
It has been too long since wrestling has been hosted within its walls, and though the interior of the Arena, located at Swanson and Ritner in South Philadelphia, may look different, the aura and mystique of that historic venue will never change. And now that the Arena is reopening, a whole new generation of fans can experience just how amazing live professional wrestling can be.


Arena memories:
-The first time I ever saw at show at the ECW Arena was CZW’s first Night of Infamy on November 9, 2002. I picked a pretty insane first indy show for me and my friends to go to, as CZW owner John Zandig was set to take on the Wifebeater in the main event I Quit match where Zandig’s career was on the line. But it wasn’t just an I Quit match – it was a no rope barb wire, 100 light tube, fan bring the weapons, no mat barb wire board death match. Yes, all those stips were completely necessary.

-It was also at Night of Infamy where CZW did an angle outside in front of the crowd before the doors opened where several wrestlers brawled on the street, with one being smashed onto the roof of a parked car, denting it pretty good. My friends and I just assumed it was a wrestler of staff member’s car. That turned out to be false when a guy came out of the neighboring Forman Mills asking the line, “What happened to my car?!”

-We were back the next month for Cage of Death IV. Overall it was a good show – Zandig beat Lobo in the Cage of Death match (which opened the night, more on that) and Messiah defeated Justice Pain in a great match to win the CZW World title. What I remember most from this night was how bell time for the show was 7 or 7:30 and not being let into the building until almost two hours later. I guess because they were setting up the cage but that still begged the question of why they did the COD match first? The world may never know.

-I’ve seen lots of brutal matches. I’ve been to deathmatch tournaments and hard-hitting, bloody contests doesn’t exactly make me squeamish. But I can tell you with no exaggeration that Necro Butcher vs Samoa Joe from IWA: MS “Something to Prove” in June, 2005, was one of, if not THE most hard-hitting, brutal matches that has ever taken place. Not just that I’ve seen – that’s ever happened. From bell to bell, Joe and Necro hit each other with everything they had and still kept coming at each other. Joe busted open Necro from headbutts ALONE. You can check the highlights from this match at this link - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jMptSROgVc – but unless you don’t mind blood and terrible heavy metal, watch at your own risk.

-Mike Quackenbush won CZW’s Best of the Best 5 in 2005. After defeating Arik Cannon and Claudio Castagnoli to reach the finals, Quack then defeated B-Boy, Kevin Steen and Super Dragon in the finals to claim the tournament championship. But what I’ll always remember from that day was seeing Steen, Sexxxy Eddy, DJ Hyde, and unmasked El Generico and Super Dragon in Wendy’s prior to the show where Kevin Steen told me straight up that he was going to win Best of the Best. And that day I found out Kevin Steen is a liar.

-Me and my friends thought that the COD IV shenanigans of waiting hours and hours for the doors to open would be the worst decision CZW ever made when it came to a COD match. At Cage of Death VIII, they proved us wrong. So very, very wrong. Usually the COD itself is made of black metal supports with yellow wires in between. The cage at COD VIII was made out of wood. Yes, wood. My friends and I were sitting front row at COD VIII and during the entire construction process were not so much heckling the CZW staff building the unfortunate contraption, but being completely serious when shouting things like, “Oh my god, how do you guys think this will be a good idea??” CZW seemed determined to make the shows tag line “Coming Undone” happen for reals. Somehow it didn’t completely and immediately fall apart but there were several times, if memory serves, where it seemed a legit possibility.

-But my favorite, MY FAVORITE, all time memory at the Arena had nothing to do with wrestling. Even better than the time Franky the Mobster gave me the finger for daring to recognize him and point him out to my friends. We were waiting in line between a double header one Saturday afternoon (CZW and IWS or it could’ve been with IWA: MS) and a lady from the Forman Mills next door, got into her minivan and proceeded to back directly into one of the cars parked at the curb out front of the Arena. After the entire line finished chanting “You f*cked up” at her, some people at the front told her they knew the owner and it was totally cool if she left. And she did! I still to this day don’t know why she listened to some random guys in line for a wrestling show after getting into a car accident but I guess the lesson is never underestimate how dumb some people can be.

(Image from Onlineworldofwrestling.com)

1 Comments:

Blogger Bryan Myers said...

Lol the hit and run was by far the best, but we had so many memories from that place. It was a shame they shut that place down the way they did, but I'm glad to hear there is a little bit of a comeback scheduled. " Do you have insurance!?" " I didn't hit you!" Good times.

December 21, 2013 at 1:53 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

My Photo
Name:

An avid gamer and long-time pro wrestling fan, stay tuned to Grizzly Gaming and the Delco Elbow Drop for game reviews and pro wrestling news.

Powered by Blogger

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]