As a wrestling fan, it’s been sad to hear about the closing of yet another major arena that played such a big part of the sport’s history in the 1980s.
The New Jersey building currently called the Izod Center, but known by many as the Meadowlands, will close at the end of the March after losing its major tenants to competing, more modern arenas in the New York City area. The WWE had planned to hold this year’s SummerSlam at the Meadowlands, but now is on the search for another arena.
For old-school WWF fans, the arena originally made its mark as the site at which Bruno Sammartino originally retired as a full-timer on October 4, 1981, defeating George “The Animal” Steele.
The high point in the ’80s likely came with SummerSlam 1989. I’ve written earlier about the pandemonium on my parent’s couch that this show caused when Ultimate Warrior defeated Ravishing Rick Rude to regain the Intercontinental Title at this pay-per-view. The main event saw Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake beat Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Zeus.
SummerSlam 1989 at the Meadowlands also holds the honor of hosting the biggest WWF blooper ever, when Mean Gene Okerlund dropped an F-bomb after a piece of stage scenery fell during an interview. Hilarious stuff.
Other memories I have of the Meadowlands arena (which at various times was also known as the Brendan Byrne Arena and the Continental Airlines Arena):
- Rowdy Roddy Piper hosting a 1984 live house show Piper’s Pit with guests Cowboy Bob Orton, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, and … Salvatore Bellomo. The back and forth between Piper and Bellomo is so great, although it’s also steeped in racism, including Piper calling Bellomo a “dumb wop” at one point.
- At that same house show, much of which aired on Prime Time Wrestling, Howard Finkel took a break from ring announcing to handle color commentary duties alongside Gorilla Monsoon. That may have been the only time the Fink ever served as a commentator.
- Demolition debuted for the WWF at the Meadowlands during a TV taping in January 1987, which was notable because Randy Colley (a.k.a. Moondog Rex) was the original Smash, not Barry Darsow.
- During that same TV taping, the first seeds were planted during a series of Piper’s Pits for the huge Hogan vs. Andre the Giant match at WrestleMania III later that year.
So the Meadowlands at some point in the near future will join the old Boston Garden, New Haven Coliseum, Philadelphia Spectrum, Pittsburgh Civic Arena, and the Capital Center in becoming a pile of rubble. It’s crazy to think all of these arenas were on the WWF monthly house show circuit when I was growing up in the 1980s, and now are parking lots, malls, or other less interesting destinations.
And I can’t help but think the current iteration of Madison Square Garden is next.