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  May 7, 1999

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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 the money.

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 Don Frye.

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 met.

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 Baba
  • Nov. 19: The origins of today's WCW-WWF war
  • Oct. 5: Twenty-eight years was the reign

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