So here’s some fun information about me, my father has designed actual buildings. He’s a man who’s constructed some impressive local structures and is actually really good at designing wood furniture. We have a bench that he built almost twenty years ago that is still in perfect shape. I mean it could use a new coat of varnish but that’s really it.
So as his son, he took me with him to work every so often on the weekends. I’d spend most of the time while he worked reading Animorphs or Goosebumps books, but I would sometimes explore. I developed an appreciation for the different way to do the same simple things. I mean, it’s a hallway, why is this one so different? That’s when you notice the things like moldings. Are they flat? Custom? How’s the ceiling? Does it slope? Are there beams that you can see? Are they decorative? There are so many amazing ways to design a regular feature for a house or building.
That appreciation for design and differing styles lends itself to my two favorite past times; baseball and pro wrestling. With baseball it’s pretty obvious; just look at the field. Baseball is the only sport outside of golf that allows the team to design their fields. There are no specs, and no set rules. Want your center field wall to be 600 feet from home-plate? Want the right field wall to be 80 feet from home-plate? GO CRAZY AND DO IT! Want 40 yards of foul ball territory? It’s yours! Want 40 inches and then you’re nuts first into the crowd? GET THEM CUPS READY!
The way a club builds a team literally goes hand in hand with how they play at home. The Colorado Rockies invest in power hitters, because they know they’re going to put up some sick numbers. San Diego knows they need good pitching, because their ballpark is not a safe haven for hitters. And it’s not just how a team plays at the park that makes me happy, it’s also just the aesthetics of each ballpark. If it wasn’t for the giant logos on the courts, ice or fields, you wouldn’t really be able to tell where a team is playing in other sports. Most basketball arenas look just like every other once your inside. But in baseball, you can easily tell where you are just by looking at the outfield.
That’s baseball though, so what about pro wrestling? Well, every reason I love baseball stadiums can be attributed to various pro wrestling arenas. Now, most are just basketball arenas, or smaller halls, but some arenas are really unique. They immediately establish where they are the minute you see it. They’re iconic and almost as much part of the wrestling as the wrestlers themselves. These buildings have souls. These structures add ambiance. You know when you’re sitting in them that you’re going to be apart of history. These buildings mean something more than just a place to hold a show. They add to the legacy of a company, a title or a wrestler. The Greensboro Coliseum is more attached to Ric Flair, the NWA and eventual WCW than the NCAA Basketball Tournament. There are so many of these iconic stadiums, like Madison Square Garden, The Cow Palace, the Tokyo Dome, Arena Mexico and others. They play such a role in the history of pro wrestling that you can’t exclude them or forget about them.
However, we often forget about them today. We ignore the history of these buildings, and the matches that occurred in them. Part of this issue falls on the WWE. I’m not taking a shot here, this is an honest truth that they knowingly do; the WWE tries to make every arena they’re in look like every other one. That is Kevin Dunn’s desire. They want to make the show look like it never leaves one place. Why? Good question. They used to embrace the differing arenas, and would embrace the unique styles of the building.
Remember that whole ‘Shawn Lost His Smile’ promo? Without looking it up I can tell you exactly where it took place. The Memorial Auditorium in Lowell, Massachusetts. Where did Rey Mysterio defeat The Miz for the WWE title?
Why? Because it didn’t matter. There was no desire to embrace the arena, or the surrounding. That’s part of the reason why people were so excited for the Beast in the East special event a few years back. The fact that a WWE show was held in a non-major arena, that wasn’t shot or designed to look like every other arena, was fucking beautiful. Just looking at it made you tear up. Then you have Finn Balor win the NXT Championship there? That’s a touch of genius. That’s why, despite the show being below average, the event will always be looked at fondly. When’s the next time you’ll ever see the WWE hold a major show at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan? It’s rare. It’s beyond rare.
So that’s why today we’re looking at wrestling venues. It only took eight paragraphs to set this bitch up. Sounds about right. I’m a blowhard after all. We’re not looking at the classic iconic arenas, but the new additions. Some of you may roll your eyes but these arenas and the companies that run them all have iconic and classic matches held within them. They all need to be unique, have held awesome matches, and are embraced for their looks.
(*Side Note: We’re looking at arenas that became famous in North American within the last 15-20 years. So regardless of the regularity, this about when we North American’s started to take notice*)
Most Iconic Arenas in Modern Day Wrestling.
Arena Mexico (CMLL)
– Now put your pitchforks down! I said MODERN. This arena opened up nearly sixty years ago, and CMLL have been running shows in it for nearly it’s entire life cycle. But it is still iconic and needs to be given a head nod.
– The Barclays center has become really well known in recent years thanks to the pre-SummerSlam NXT shows. If we’re talking standout matches, Sasha Banks and Bayley really did some impressive work at the event a few years ago. It’s featured Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe breaking each other’s bones, Jushin Liger’s WWE debut, Asuka’s winning streak and…well…whatever they did for SummerSlam.
Staples Center (WWE)
– The WWE also ran shows at the Staples Center. Most were shit. But there’s a lot of them to pick from. So, there ya go.
Manhattan Center (WWE, IMPACT, ROH)
– The Manhattan Center in the 90’s was the first real home for WWE RAW, but in more recent years, ROH ran there. In fact it was home to the night Seth Rollins, then known as Tyler Black defeated Austin Aries for the ROH World Championship. IMPACT then came along, and had a night where Dixie Carter went through a table at the event, as well as the final interactions between The Hardy’s and Team 3D (The Dudley’s). Of course the WWE returned there for their 25th anniversary.
10) NXT – Full Sail University
– The talent that have risen to new heights within WWE’s developmental brand are extraordinary. While it’s also served as a learning promotion for top indy names, it’s primarly served as a training ground for many of WWE’s top names right now; like Braun Strowman, Alexa Bliss, Charlotte Flair and others. Most times when you see a Bobby Roode type in NXT though, it’s only to bring eyes to the band, not because he’s trying to get better. And with the TakeOver events removing the promotion from Full Sail’s grounds once a while, and there by removing iconic matches, it does take a drastic hit.
The other thing that should be noted is the very bland and plain looking set up. While initially it was something the fans loved, the fact they haven’t changed much of anything about the set up or stage in over 6 years kind of makes you feel like you’re watching the same show at times. It’s a very vanilla, yet simple look that does draw eyes to the action in the ring. While that’s a helpful thing, many more unique buildings have done the same job, while still holding their majesty and ambiance. The Fullsail ‘arena’ though is nothing more than a sound stage and is often used the other 3+ weeks for projects at the film school. Perhaps it’s time to build their own arena at the Performance Center. Though, that’ll probably be WWE’fied as well.
9) HOH – 2300 Arena
– Since ECW died, the 3200 Arena, aka the ECW Arena has played home to many promotions at a time, like ROH, Chikara and CZW. However, it’s been Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore that has returned to the venue to make it once again a hot spot. The promotion has had The Hardy’s vs. The Young Bucks, Rob Van Dam vs. Rhino, Penta el Zero M (Pentagon Dark) vs. Sami Callihan and more recently Tommy Dreamer taking on Nick Aldis for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship at this venue. The building itself though plays out like many of the promotions who’ve worked there; it’s dark, gritty, and foreboding. The vibe feels like you’re always about to get into a bar fight, inviting a more rowdy crowd
The venue attracts only a certain type of fan, just lie the promotions that run it. However, there is no more iconic ‘underground’ promotion in all of North America. While it’s only #9, that’s more so due to the rise in other indy venues.
8) CWFH – Oceanview Pavilion
– If you’ve seen Lucha Underground, you’ve seen most of their major names. The names who competed for years at the Oceanview Pavilion include Eli Drake, Brian Cage, Joey Ryan, ROH’s Scorpio Sky, Colt Cabana, Willie Mack and now Johnny Goodtime. While the promotion is more akin to the West Coast’s Ohio Valley Wrestling, a developing ground for guys to be scooped up by bigger companies, the promotion has been known for some pretty good matches, most notably the Adam Pearce and Colt Cabana NWA Title feud back in 2011.
The venue itself though earns its name. The entry way comes out of the side, and the ring quite literally takes center stage; giving everyone in the audience the best seat in the house. The comfortable theater chairs (as opposed to steal folding chairs for most venues) offer a nice and more relaxing atmosphere for you to sit back and relax while grown adults beat the hell out of each other.
7) Lucha Underground – The Temple
– While Lucha Underground has left the The Temple for a new version of the arena, the original played home to many a major matches and some incredibly impressive nail biting moments. Sporting a mix of athletes from AAA, CWFH and the indies of SoCal, the promotion developed a high octane style, with telenovela drama, and supernatural lore. The promotion featured amazing matches between Fenix and Mil Muertes, Vampiro and Pentagon Jr., as well incorporating mixed-
wrestling involving men and women battling one another. However, the moment of the promotion still belongs to Angelico’s leap of faith off an indoor trailer next to the pro wrestling ring, that served as the ‘office’ to the promotions figure head.
The arena was built out of an old factory and it sure looks it. Despite the renovations to make it tenable, they never put in so much money that they took away from the dark underground vibe that the venue wanted you to take away from each show. The risers help the audience see the insane, and hardcore action, while also offering a walk way at the top, which will offer you far more action than you’d ever expect. The venue, much like other amazing locales, makes you feel like you’re stacked up on top of one another, but however gives the wrestlers plenty of room to work, with minimal risk to fans. A plus for me and would of earned it a much higher ranking had they not left the Temple for Season 4 of their series.
6) NOAH – Korakuen Hall
– To lay out a list of iconic matches at this venue would be long and impressive. The types of talent that came out of Korakuen Hall are numerous and don’t just belong to NOAH, though they arguably run the venue the most. In fact, Keiji Mutoh, otherwise known as The Great Muta, wrestled what appears to be his final match under his real name at the venue, performing his 2nd to last ever moonsault at Korakuen Hall. He’d wrestle one more time as The Great Muta, at Ryoguko Kokugikan. NOAH’s run with Korakuen Hall has played home to Kenta Kobashi, KENTA (Hideo Itami), and as home Eddie Edwards winning the GHC Heavyweight Championship at Nakajima at NOAH’s Summer Navigation 2nd Volume’s Tag 8 event. The win made Edwards not just the first Gaijin to ever win the GHC Heavyweight Title, but also the first Gaijin to win said title, in Korakuen Hall.
The building is like touching history the moment you step in it. Whether you get one of the rare floor seats or take your place on the risers with the rest of the audience, you can see the action as clear as day. The venue very rarely is changed, and most shows allow the venue itself to not be covered up; allowing for it to be every part of the show as the fans and wrestlers.
5) Chikara – The Wrestle Factory
– Chikara made a lot of bingo hall, bars and gymnasiums home for many years, but now they have their very own, home built venue – The Wrestle Factory. The promotion has largely moved around for years, before settling down more and more in 2015 and thereafter. Now that Chikara has their own streaming service, they’ve used the Wrestle Factory more than just shooting events for their service Chikaratopia, but to also as home for Chikara’s wrestling school. The event’s biggest shows like King of Trios are still held elsewhere but the fact that their school, who has trained some of the finest talent in the world, now resides in the same building that the top Chikara stars can be seen in nearly every week is a pretty special thing. With top talent trained by Mike Quackenbush and Chikara’s staff including WWE’s Cesaro, Alister Black, Drew Gulak, ROH’s Cheeseburger, and top indy stars like Gran Akuma, Madison Eagles, Eddie Kingston among others, while also serving as another place for top stars like AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Rockstar Spud (Drake Maverick), Chuck Taylor and others to wrestle for, it’s certainly a place to watch because you never know who’s coming out of the company, and the Factory, next.
The Wrestle Factory is probably the only venue that doesn’t serve a second or third function outside of just being used for pro wrestling. So the ring and the entrance way never have to come down, unless the ring is needed for a tour someplace. This allows the group to rely on improving things within the building itself. While the atmosphere is always close and tight in Chikara, the building is able to be used in a way that highlights the shows strength, it’s wrestling and character appeal.
4) PWG – American Legion Post #308
– I wrote this list out a few weeks ago to get started. However the news that PWG was leaving their long time home at the American Legion Post #308 later this spring inspired me to finally start working on this list. The promotion was first known for it’s Southern California ties, and use of local talent like Joey Ryan, Scorpio Sky, Frankie Kazarian and others. But in more recent years they’ve become an All-Star promotion, funneling talent into their promotion who have gotten over elsewhere, like Lucha Underground’s Jeff Cobb, or NJPW’s Ricochet. With the dearth of talent involved, being involved in one of these matches, in this iconic venue is a badge of honor all it’s own. While I generally don’t enjoy a lot of their spot based wrestling, the facts speak for themselves; this venue is the promotion. The fans reaction to the news have been pretty passionate. With many lamenting the end of an era. You don’t get many fans to react that way when the WWE stops running a certain venue, but with PWG fans, the venue was like a second home. The venue also contributed to the rise of the brand, with the place only holding a few hundred fans, it was easy to hype shows and drop the whole “…had to turn fans away at the doors” line. Could PWG thrive in bigger venues? Could the feeling of it being cool and edgy continue on when the fear of an empty seat now existing? We’ll see, now that they’re moving on. However, the names who helped build this venue are as iconic as the venue themselves. So we tip our caps to the venue, for fostering and helping so many wrestlers.
The layout for the building though is so iconic. The fixed camera angle has appeared to have never changed once that I know of, always pointing directly at the back (or front?) of the building and allowing for wrestlers to have a known place to play off of. The venue is draped in things you’d find at any VFW Hall, which adds to it’s almost kitsch like design. The decor makes you feel like you’re watching a local indy fed, with nobodies but then the A+ level talent reminds you that this isn’t anything like what you expected. The quintessential “don’t judge a book…” type venue.
3) ROH – Hammerstein Center
– ROH has taken ECW’s place as this iconic venue’s home for major events. Men like Kevin Steen, Davey Richards, Dalton Castle, Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks, and countless others have performed in this venue and helped carry on the legacy of iconic wrestlers and matches being seen here. While not ran often, ROH does use it for it’s bigger event. Most notably it’s year end Final Battle event. While they’ve ran other shows at this venue, Final Battle has become it’s de-facto major event every year. Other companies have ran this venue, like IMPACT Wrestling back in the day, but in more recent years the venue seems reserved for ROH, while it’s sister venue the Manhattan Center, has been more frequented by other companies over the same time period.
The Hammerstein though used to be a ballroom, designed for a big band, a stage and ample room in the center for a dance floor. Now the design of the venue better serves pro wrestling, as almost every inch of the venue now occupies a seat for the show. Even the stage itself often is home for some lucky fans. The entry way is always short and tight, putting the fans as close to wrestlers as you can get, and the intimate nature of the seating adds a unique effect. Unlike most buildings, where seats lead to risers, that go up and out, the seating in Hammerstein is on several levels, all over looking the center of the building. This gives a unique effect, where it truly makes you feel like the fans are on top of one another all the way to vaunted ceiling. The use of space, the close quarters of the fans and the marvelous deign work in the molds and plasters seen around the balconies, define the venue so well that viewing a show here just once will make it recognizable for life.
2) IMPACT – Impact Zone
– Whether it’s iconic names from Pro Wrestling’s elite past, like Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan or Sting, to names that helped build TNA/IMPACT like Jeff Jarrett, AJ Styles, Kurt Angle or Samoa Joe, to the new crop of names the promotion has developed and put out like Ethan Carter III, Beer Money, Rockstar Spud, Jade and Eli Drake; the IMPACT Zone has largely played a part in all of that. The promotion has made sound stage their home in Universal Studios for the most part since 2004, and has even occupied several different sound stages during it’s run with the venue. The promotion has once again settled into a grove in the production stage, as IMPACT made Soundstage 19 home before spending nearly a decade at Soundstage 21 and then for some time with Soundstage 20. Back in #19, the venue has played home to IMPACT’s revival. While iconic matches like the Unbreakable 3-Way, Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe, and Austin Aries vs. Bobby Roode, it also has seen amazing moments, like Elix Skipper tight rope walking a cage, Sting and Hulk Hogan debuting, and more. In Studio 20, we saw Jeff Jarret return to the promotion to be inducted, Drew Galloway’s rise to main event status and the debut of new wrestler Eli Drake. Their current home, Soundstage 19, is just beginning it’s legacy, with modern day classic moments involving Sami Callihan brutalizing Eddie Edwards, the return of LAX to the promotion, and Allie becoming Knockouts Champion. This iteration of the IMPACT Zone also has served home for the re-invigoration of the local Orlando area fan-base, long thought to be one of the issues with the product.
While the venue has changed locations in the venue, it’s first home remains it’s most iconic. It featured at first a duel entry way, one on each side of the building, for wrestlers to come down on. It had a close pit on both sides of the ring, with bleachers surrounding the back of the pit and stretching to the entry ways. It was unique and different which captivated the audience. The wrestlers also rose from the entree ways, almost as if being summoned to battle, which is also distinctly their own signature. The venues, much like Full Sail are nothing more than a soundstage to build sets on, however unlike Full Sail, the folks at IMPACT have always found new ways of goosing up the look. While most modern iterations have a more pedestrian designed compare to years past, the new entry way, which comes out through the video screen adds a unique twist to a modern classic.
1) NJPW – Tokyo Dome
– If you’re anyone, who’s anyone in pro wrestling, you’ve always wanted to work or attend a show at the iconic Tokyo Dome. With names like The Great Muta, Masahiro Chono, Yuji Nagata and now modern names like Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada and Minoru Suzuki all taking that bold first step onto that long entry ramp. The venue has played home a time or two for many modern wrestling legends from the states, like Hulk Hogan, Sting, The Steiners, Cody Rhodes, AJ Styles, and Kurt Angle. The list of iconic matches are so many, that to even list a few would be an insult but the one that deserves mentioned is the modern wrestling classic from the 2017 Wrestle Kingdom event that featured Kenny Omega trying for Okada’s title. A belt Okada has still not lost yet, as of March 30th, 2018.
The reason this is number one though is due to a certain love affair that tops my pro wrestling fandom; my love of baseball. The Dome has played home to men like Sadaharu Oh, Eiji Sawamura, Koji Uehara and most notably former Yankees legend, Hiedki Matsui. The long walls and soft ground plays the perfect home for a pro wrestling ring. The audience takes up residence in the baseball stands, as well as on the field, where the announcers and production crew gather. With the ability to hold 80,000 or more for wrestling, the room is ample and because of this offers up the largest ringside area for any event of the year form a major promotion. The tall ceiling may make it harder for sound to gather and cause those great, and glorious wrestling pops but the Japanese faithful gather all their energy and really create a vibe that has never been replicated anywhere else outside of Madison Square Gardner. The venue always sees elaborate entrances these days for their biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom and because of that and the quality of wrestling that comes with it, sets the table for an experience like few others. While WrestleMania matches, if not surpasses the pageantry; they can’t touch the wrestling itself. And for me it’s also cool as hell to see wrestlers emerge from the baseball dugouts for the annual Wrestle Kingdom event, the New Japan Rumble.