A history of crowds
By CHRIS SCHRAMM -- For SLAM! Wrestling
"For the thousands in attendance and millions watching around the world"
is a familiar phrase shouted by announcer Michael Buffer each week on
wrestling's "WCW Monday Nitro." That word attendance seems to stand out
to the promoters because they search for that large crowd to bring in
Ninety-three thousand one hundred seventy-three (93,173) is probably the
most familiar number of any wrestling crowd. That was the announced
crowd for the March 29, 1987 event in the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac,
Mich., for Wrestlemania III. The main event saw Hulk Hogan defeat an
aging Andre the Giant to hold onto the WWF World title. The live gate
was estimated over $1.6 million on ticket sales alone.
Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant face off at WrestleMania III.
Most wrestling fans, unless they follow the sport closely, would believe
that Wrestlemania III was the largest crowd in wrestling history. Some
others might recall a record two-day event on March 28 and 29, 1995 in
Pyongyang, North Korea. The events in the Mayday Stadium saw estimated
crowds of 150,000 and 190,000, respectively. The second night saw
Antonio Inoki defeat Ric Flair in the first meeting of the two legends.
The gate for the two dates was well over $15 million American.
Lahore, India in 1945 is long forgotten outside India. No one quite
remembers this event, but over 200,000 people saw King Kong and Hamida
Pehelwan wrestle each other. In fact, it is said King Kong, whose real
name was Emile Czaja, wrestled in front of crowds over 100,000 quite
frequently. He is arguably the largest attraction in sports history.
Actually, the Wrestlemania III site was picked after success by the WWF
the summer earlier. On August 28, 1986, Paul Orndorff and Hulk Hogan
wrestled outside in Toronto, Ontario, to the roar of over 74,000 fans.
The WWF had another international frenzy when 80,355 marched to Wembley
Stadium in England for Summerslam '92. The August 29 event saw a live
fate just under $3 million with hometown hero Davey Boy Smith winning
the WWF Intercontinental title.
Large crowds always bring about controversy by critics. Most notably is
Wrestlemania VI. The pumped up match between the Ultimate Warrior and
Hulk Hogan at the SkyDome in Toronto, Ontario, was announced seen by
67,678. Some question the legitimacy.
Michael Bochicchio, who runs a wrestling merchandise store out of
Charlotte, NC, looked at the possibility of lying about crowd numbers. He
said, "I am sure they do it, but it's called good public relations; good
for newspapers, good for advertisers, good for the venue's community. It
goes far beyond wrestling."
The Wrestlemania III venture is in the Guinness World Record Book as
93,173, but some like David Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer question
this number. Meltzer has written about number stretching in his
newsletter and believed the crowd to be under 80,000.
"I know that building," said Mike Ryan, who attended many events at the
Pontiac Silverdome including the Wrestlemania III event. "Every seat
seemed filled, and I know they have fit 100,000 in there for rock
events. The crowd was under-counted if anything."
The most infamous site for large crowds has to be the Tokyo Dome in
Japan. Just one year ago, the largest crowd in Japanese history saw
Antonio Inoki retire from the ring. The April 4, 1998 event brought in a
gate of $6 million for New Japan with 70,000 seeing the legend defeat
Exactly three months earlier, New Japan had 65,000 fans for the
departure of Riki Choshu. The event brought is a gate of $6.5 million.
Crowds of 60,000 seemed regular throughout the 1990s in the Tokyo Dome.
It happened over 10 times, and it looks like there is no stop in site
for Japanese wrestling fans.
Crowds within inside stadiums seem quite common nowadays, but outside
stadiums have also seen large crowds. In 1984, Ric Flair and Kerry Von
Erich wrestled in front of 43,517 fans in Irving, Texas, where Von Erich
captured the NWA World title. New York's Shea Stadium was also a place
for large crowds. In 1976, 42,000 saw Andre the Giant defeat boxer Chuck
Wepner. An interesting side note, Wepner was the inspiration of the
famous Rocky movies. On August 9, 1980, 40,671 saw Bruno Sammartino
defeat Larry Zbyszko at Shea Stadium.
Older fans might recall the 1961 bout where Buddy Rodgers won the NWA
World title over Pat O'Connor in front 38,622 fans at Chicago's Cominsky
Park. Also, on September 20, 1934, Jim Londos defeated Ed Lewis in front
of 35,265 fans at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Last July the WCW had over 40,000 see Bill Goldberg win the WCW World
title in Atlanta, Ga. This says that big crowds are not disappearing,
although others might believe so.
"Big events are hard to draw crowds," said Amber Jackson, longtime
wrestling fan. "Monthly pay per views, weekly television shows, makes it
nearly impossible to build up a match or card in the United States. If
they do, they are fillers and giveaways."
As both major promotions try to build larger crowds each week, it might
turn out better the current way. The large crowds were built around a
promotion maybe hitting a city once a year. Promotions now tour cities
three times a year or more. The glamour of a big event just can't be
The WWF or WCW might have to look to a place where wrestling has been
missed. Somewhere where fans have been waiting almost 20 years for major
stars to come to their country. WCW might have found the answer when
they began negotiating bringing their product to Australia.
Higher ticket prices, lack of key match-ups and over exposure has
diluted the possibility of a large crowd happening in the United States
again. "Building up a PPV needs to be done in a few weeks," said
Jackson. "This build up is not enough to bring in a large crowd."
Chris Schramm is from Lawrence, Kansas. He's written other excellent historical columns for us, including:
Apr. 1: Happy Humphrey was the giant
Mar. 12: Back to Hogan's darker days
Feb. 3: The legacy of Giant BabaNov. 19: The origins of today's WCW-WWF war
Oct. 5: Twenty-eight years was the reign