Back in the day, Gorilla Monsoon used to remind us that Madison Square Garden was the “Mecca of professional wrestling.” And for good reason: In the 1970s and ’80s, many of the WWF’s singles titles changed hands in the arena, and some of the biggest bouts of that era occurred there.
But it’s been a long time since MSG hosted any major angle or title change, and this past weekend’s SummerSlam extravaganza at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn — three sold-out nights there — has perhaps cemented that building as the new home base of the WWE in New York City.
I’m not sure how I feel about that. Matches at MSG had a certain aura about them — from the way the bell rang, to Howard Finkel’s microphone lowering from the ceiling, to the shorter aisle to the ring. And events like the Brawl to Settle it All, the War to Settle the Score, the debut of WrestleMania, and yes, the first SummerSlam, all emanated from MSG.
But the shine has long worn off MSG from the WWE’s point of view. The federation hardly runs there anymore — the WWF used to make almost monthly stops to MSG from the 1960s through the late ’80s. In 2013 and 2014, the WWE held cards only one time each year at MSG. Meanwhile, there is controversy in New York about whether the arena will be allowed to remain in its current location over Penn Station amid plans to renovate the station.
It sure seems like the introduction of the Barclays Center has sent a warning shot to the older arenas in the New York area. Already we’ve seen the Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey stop hosting events (this is also partially due to the newer Prudential Center arena nearby) as has the old Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, both of which were once frequent stops for the WWF along with MSG.
And yet there’s a monkey wrench for MSG. The WWE Network announced a special centered on Brock Lesnar’s return to the arena’s as a house show on October 3. Surely many of us who grew up in the 1980s watching MSG house shows will welcome the chance to do so again, even if it’s just one night. But it also seems like a prime time to shoot a major angle for either WrestleMania or a sooner event.
Clearly the Barclays Center is a modern facility that is willing to play ball with the WWE to produce huge multi-show events. By comparison, MSG is old and gray. I just hope the glowing success of this month’s SummerSlam doesn’t dig the grave deeper for Madison Square Garden.