In what historic arena did The Rock win his first World Wrestling Federation singles title?
Madison Square Garden?
Joe Louis Arena?
Try… Lowell Memorial Auditorium.
On February 13th, 1997 Rocky Maivia (prior to becoming Hollywood megastar, The Rock) defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley (prior to becoming Vince McMahon‘s son-in-law Triple H) right here in Lowell on a special Thursday night edition of WWF Raw to capture the first intercontinental championship of his storied career.
Lowell’s ring-based sporting history is of course famously tied to boxing, from which its produced major annual traditions, award-winning films, and politicians who didn’t mind mixing it up either inside or outside the ring. Still others’ thoughts about the terms “Lowell” and “wrestling” inevitably lend themselves to George Bossi and the dynastic success of the Lowell High School (amateur) wrestling team. But in addition to its status as a hub of the sweet science and competitive mat grappling, the Mill City has also been home to some classic moments in the bizzaro world of “sports-entertainment.” With the biggest day of the wrestling calendar Wrestlemania 34 set to occur this weekend, what better time is there to take a look back at Lowell’s own place in the professional wrestling history books?
The earliest recorded professional wrestling match in Lowell was held on December 9th, 1904 when former welterweight champion of the world Harvey Parker defeated Eugene Trembley in a 2 out of 3 falls match–that took one hour and 40 minutes. The wrestling of the early 20th century was not the entertainment spectacle it would later become–although the matches were said to be no less predetermined even in its earliest days. Although shows would occur among various local promotions through the years, the arrival of World-Wide Wrestling Federation in the 1960’s ushered in a new era for Lowell wrestling.
Many of the major moments in Lowell’s pro-wrestling history took place in the Lowell Memorial Auditorium–a staple of WWF live event tours for decades. A November 20, 1970 story in the Lowell Sun exclaimed: “the fastest growing sport in the area is professional wrestling!” The article went on to hype an upcoming “grudge match between the despicable ‘Crusher’ Verdu and the fan’s favorite, Chief Jay Strongbow.”
Other wrestling greats of this era to appear at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium include Pedro Morales, Stan “the Man” Stasiak, King Kong Bundy, and Ivan Putski.
In most cases, these non-televised live events sought to entertain the crowd in attendance but were mostly inconsequential in the bigger picture. What really mattered was what happened when TV cameras were rolling. Lowell was the site of numerous television tapings in the 1990’s with Monday Night Raw, WWF Superstars, and WWF Wrestling Challenge all airing nationally from the Mill City.
Lowell’s most infamous wrestling moment took place at the same February 1997 Auditorium show as the Rock’s title victory. WWF Champion Shawn Michaels forfeited his title belt because of a knee injury and that through the stresses of the wrestling world, he had “lost his smile.” Michaels’s decision to relinquish the title and temporarily “retire” (and thus skipping a rumored Wrestlemania 13 rematch with Bret “the Hitman” Hart) was a key incident on the road to the most controversial night in wrestling history nine months later in Montreal.
Even Wrestlemania I was held at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium….via the closed circuit TV big screen.
Although the Lowell Memorial Auditorium is undoubtedly the most prominent venue for professional wrestling in the city, its not the only local setting that has played host to pandemonium in the squared circle. Lowell Sun articles in the 1970’s point to matches held at the Janas Rink in Belvidere. The historic Rex Center played host to the matches of its day prior to burning down. The Paul E. Tsongas Arena began hosting WWF shows in 1998. Even LeLacheur Park got into the act in 2015 with “Wrestling Under the Stars,” a first time ever outdoor wrestling extravaganza–although the ballpark concourse had seen its own share of some high flying action before.
In an interview with the Lowell Sun in 2012, two-time WWE Heavyweight champion CM Punk noted, “There are a lot of places in the Northeast that have always been WWE towns. Lowell is one of them.” Throughout the organization’s rise from regional territory to worldwide powerhouse, the WWE has had a regular presence in Lowell, but other wrestling companies have promoted events in the city as well. World Championship Wrestling, rooted in the southeastern United States, had one show in town during its run, a 2000 Live Event at the Tsongas Arena. Total Nonstop Action hosted Lowell’s first Wrestling Pay-Per-View with 2008’s Lockdown. More recently, Ring of Honor chose the LMA as the spot to hold its 2017 Best in the World PPV, and that promotion will be co-hosting an event with New Japan Pro Wrestling at the Auditorium in May.
Smaller independent wrestling companies such as Northeast and Chaotic Wrestling also have had a footprint in the area. Four-time WWE Women’s Champion Sasha Banks described her December 2016 Tsongas Arena live event show a homecoming, recalling her matches down at the P.A.V. (Polish American Veterans) club prior to hitting the big time.
Another superstar who should have a soft spot for the Mill City is Nuufolau Joel Seanoa, or as he is better known, Samoa Joe. Joe won his first TNA World Heavyweight championship by defeating Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle in a a “six sides of steel cage title vs. career match” at the Lockdown PPV on April 13th, 2008. Eight years and eight days later, Joe shocked the wrestling world by defeating Finn Balor for the NXT Championship at an untelevised house show at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. (An added piece of trivia: Samoa Joe is the only wrestler to compete at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, Tsongas Arena, and LeLacheur Park, according to ProFightDB.)
But to the knowledge of this blog at least, Stone Cold Steve Austin holds perhaps the most interesting unique local distinction. On September 1st, 1998, he became the first professional wrestler to have a street in Lowell named after him–at least for one day. In advance of the first World Wrestling Federation event at the new Tsongas Arena, the roadway leading to the arena, John F. Cox Circle was renamed “Stone Cold Way” in a ceremony featuring the then WWF champion wearing a New England Patriots 3:16 jersey alongside Lowell Mayor Eileen Donoghue, city manager Brian Martin, city councilor Armand Mercier and a host of other local dignitaries.
Although Lowell admittedly may not be the world’s most famous wrestling city, its certainly seen its share of memorable moments. And that’s the bottom line because Stone Cold said so.