Requiem for the WWE at the Meadowlands: 1981-2015

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For old-school WWF fans, the arena originally made its mark as the site at which Bruno Sammartino originally retired as a full-timer on October 4, 1981, defeating George “The Animal” Steele.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.

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9 comments

  1. Pingback: Has the Barclays Center shoved Madison Square Garden aside for wrestling? | Boston Garden Balcony
  2. Frank

    Not to Hijack this post but since the previous post mentions other wrestling areas I remember when the area that I live in first went on-line with cable TV. (1978) There was a TV Station “SPN” (Satellite Programming Network) and on Saturday afternoon, It would air Florida Championship Wrestling (NWA, Gordon Solie would also identify the channel on occasion) This would precede another wrestling show called “World League Wrestling” which seemed to have been taped in a dining hall. I recall Lord James Blears as playing a part in that as well as Lars Anderson & Baron Von Raske I searched the internet tirelessly for the latter but cannot find anything on World League Wrestling.

    This station would also air Wrestling Legends (Paul Boesch promotion) on Thursdays and AWA Southewest Championship Wrestling from Houston prior to it moving to the USA network on Sundays.

  3. Joe Lowry

    Wow great responses in regards to the old arena’s in which were obvious important factors for us growing up in the era of Pro Wrestling. I too will be saddened a bit when the old New Jersey Meadowlands goes down for the count. I remember fondly reading in one of the Apter magazines in which the NWA held a wrestling card there. I was like “Whoa, the NWA came to the WWF’s backyard!” I recall the Meadowlands being somewhat of the undercard of the WWF. Whatever happened in between New York City and Boston and everywhere else usually happened at the Meadowlands. Similar to the old Spectrum in Philadelphia. I did not know the Omni in Atlanta is no longer with us. That was an NWA mainstay for years. It seemed whenever you watched Georgia Championship Wrestling each week they were at the Omni every other weekend. Another arena that comes to mind that has met its demise was the Old Sportatorium in Dallas, TX. Home of World Class Championship Wrestling. That building had a history alright. As for New York’s famed Madison Square Garden, I sincerely hope that building never meets its end. It would be an awful shame for that wrecking ball to destroy so many memories as well as records which have no doubt left its mark on Sports Entertainment.

    • Franl

      Yes I remember watching World Class from Sportatorium. It was WCCW when it was under the NWA. At that time it showed some of the better matches on TV. I remember the crowds being very loud but the construction of that building made it s such.

  4. frank

    I remember watching wrestling in Meadowlands several times. It was also the closest that NWA/AWA came to NYC. There was pro-wrestlingUSA card there circa 1985 that was so boring even though Backlund battled Zbyszko, Slaughter battled Kamala & “New” Samoans battled the Youngbloods. The identical card (with same outcome) happened the following week in New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum. There was supposed to be another Pro Wrestling USA at the New Haven Coliseum the month after but it was cancelled do to poor ticket sales. Excellent post!!!! Lots of memories

  5. david

    I grew up in the Boston area spent 42 years of my life there, I moved to North Carolina 8 years ago for Business what a dream for a old time wrestling fan as a lot of the old history is still as is the Greensboro Coliseum
    still pretty much the same,The Dorton Arena is down the road from my house I can walk in there and just see the old images of Flair,Steamboat,Rhodes the studio were the old nwa tv show was taped is still there they do the local news out of there it is right across the street from NC State.

  6. Michael Libman

    Yet another memory will be extinguished. Here in Philly back in the mid-80s (before cable was available), I would tune into WWF wrestling on WOR-TV channel 9 (albeit to a fuzzy picture) and they would do promos for Meadowlands arena house shows.

    • frank

      Yes channel 9 (WOR)would do promos for that as well as MSG, Nassau (LI) coliseum, & New Haven Coliseum. Do you remember the “voice over promos” toward the beginning of a match? On Channel 9 they covered Cincinnati,OH to New Haven, CT. I remember each year hearing a voice over advertising the “Allentown Fair” wrestling event every August. Good memories

  7. david

    Another old wrestling arena with some great memories no longer with us is the Omni in Atlanta. some of my memories of the meadowlands is the awa- nwa teaming up to do Starwars there were some great matches on those cards, and that is were Randy Savage started his downfall with the wwf for not letting his dad in the old timers battle royal .

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