Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The History of Wrestling in North Carolina

Wrestling has a long and storied history in North Carolina, dating back to the early days of the business. The state has produced some of the most famous wrestlers in the industry today, such as AJ Styles, Jeff Hardy, and Cody Rhodes. North Carolina is the state of origin of wrestlers who were in major promotions and later also became stars on the independent scene, including former WCW star The Stro (then known as The Maestro), former WWE star Shannon Moore, and former Impact Wrestling star Andrew Everett. It's the birthplace of Vince McMahon, one of the most powerful executives in the industry. North Carolina is the birth state of wrestlers who were very popular during the first wrestling boom in the history of American wrestling, such as Junk Yard Dog, Stan Lane, and Rockin' Robin. It has also been home to one of the most important wrestling promotions, Jim Crockett Promotions, which later became World Championship Wrestling.

The first pro wrestling match on record took place in 1923 in Greensboro, North Carolina. One wrestler featured in the match was Renato Gardini, an Italian Greco-Roman wrestler who competed in the 1912 Olympics. This was an independent event, which was followed by another one in 1929, this event featuring Gus Sonnenberg defending the AWA World Heavyweight Championship and World Heavyweight Championship. Wrestling returned to North Carolina in the 1930s via Eastern States Championship Wrestling (ESCW), promoted by Jim Crockett Sr.- this was the original name of what is best known as Jim Crockett Promotions/WCW.

ESCW introduced North Carolinians to wrestlers when they were early in their careers and before they found championship success, such as Joe Savoldi who later became NWA Rocky Mountain Heavyweight Champion, Jim Henry who later became a two-time NWA Alberta Tag Team Champion, and Chris Davros who later became an NWA Southern Tag Team Champion (wrestling as, "Bob Zaharias" by that time).

One of the most popular promotions in the United States during this period, ESCW events could draw 4,500 fans to an armory, which was considered a very big crowd for a wrestling show in the 1930s, when an armory-auditorium had a capacity of 3,000 and the average attendance for a wrestling show was around 1,000 fans. Already drawing impressive crowds in North Carolina without any name talents on the cards, ESCW could draw 5,000 fans in February 1935, presenting an event featuring five-time world champion Ed Lewis in the main event.

In 1948, the NWA was formed, acting in the role of a governing body for regional wrestling promotions. ESCW joined the NWA in 1950, and changed its name to Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) in 1952. JCP proved to be a valuable representative of the organization in North Carolina, going as far as drawing 6,919 fans to a November 1959 event at Charlotte Coliseum. The card included a match between Ethel Johnson and Marva Scott, two important figures in wrestling history who were appearing in North Carolina for the first time in their careers. Sisters, Johnson and Scott were two of the first African-American women to become professional wrestlers (preceded only by their sister Babs Wingo), during a time when segregation still existed in the United States.

Although the nationwide wrestling boom of the 1980s had not yet arrived, North Carolina was experiencing its own individual golden age in the 1970s. This was a time when the state was being visited by big names such as Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes, and Harley Race. These wrestlers drew huge crowds to venues across the state and helped to make wrestling a major cultural phenomenon, the largest crowd being at a November 1975 Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling event at the Greensboro Coliseum, where 15,076 fans filled the venue to see the three men and 13 others compete in a tournament for the vacant NWA United States Heavyweight Championship, which was won by Funk. Also, JCP began producing "World Wide Wrestling" in the 1970s, broadcasting North Carolina wrestling action on television nationally.

When wrestling reached its peak of popularity in the United States in the 1980s, television was becoming more popular as well, and wrestling matches that took place in North Carolina could be seen by millions of people around the world, via shows that continued to be broadcast by JCP (which became known as WCW by the end of the decade), as well episodes of, "WWF Superstars" that were taped at Winston-Salem Coliseum in 1988.

Meanwhile, live attendance continued to thrive in North Carolina. NWA The Great American Bash 1985 drew 27,000 fans, making it the most attended JCP/WCW show in the 1980s. The event featured Ric Flair defending the NWA World Heavyweight Championship against Nikita Koloff, and Tully Blanchard defending the NWA World Television Championship against Dusty Rhodes in a, "Steel Cage" match.

In recent years, North Carolina has continued to be a great state for wrestling, as independent promotions have increased in popularity. There are two different promotions in the state. One type is the promotions that continue the tradition that JCP started, of bringing name talent into North Carolina. These promotions include WrestleCade Entertainment, America's Most Liked Wrestling, Revolution Wrestling Authority, Tarheel Championship Wrestling, DEADLOCK Pro-Wrestling, Hit Club Pro, Let Wrestling Live, and United Pro Wrestling.

The other type of promotion focuses more on giving wrestlers who live in North Carolina and its surrounding area more opportunities to showcase their talents. These promotions include AIWF Mid Atlantic Wrestling, Allied Independent Wrestling Federations, Ring Wars Carolina, Premier Wrestling Federation, World Class Elite Wrestling, United Pro Wrestling Association, Xtreme World Wrestling, GOUGE Wrestling, Pure Pro Wrestling, Fire Star Pro Wrestling, Fantasy Super Cosplay Wrestling, Alternative Championship Entertainment, Icon Pro Wrestling, and See No Evil Wrestling.

Before I moved to Japan, I lived in North Carolina for two years and still have ties there. I like what I'm seeing from wrestling promotions in North Carolina these days. With 80% of North Carolina residents living in a household with internet, and the average person using the internet for six hours and 57 minutes every day, I hope to see promotions there publicized as effectively as possible. If they are, the promotions will grow even more in visibility, show attendance, and streaming consumption, showing more fans both within and outside of North Carolina what the state offers. North Carolina has a rich history of wrestling, and if the right people are involved, the industry will continue to be popular and successful in North Carolina for many years to come.

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