When DC Was the Center of the Pro Wrestling Universe

From the Washington City Paper blog City Desk

This week’s Cheap Seats column was instigated by Brock Lesnar’s recent win over Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight championship.

Lesnar’s win thrilled me. Mainly because I thought it was great for pro wrestling — Lesnar is a former WWE performer — and I’ve always been far more intrigued by pro wrestlers than their mixed-martial arts counterparts.

I grew up with wrestling, for starters.

But, also, to my untrained eyes, a typical UFC beating isn’t any more artistic than the drunken bar brawls in Georgetown I used to love watching in my high school and college days.

To get over, wrestlers have to have as much size and strength and speed as MMA’ers, plus acting and microphone skills. Plenty of wrestlers can throw a punch as pretty as Chuck Liddell; nobody in MMA can showboat like Ric Flair.

Plus, I grew up with wrestling, and have always been peeved that DC doesn’t get enough credit for being the city that launched Vince McMahon, the greatest promoter in the history of the sport, or whatever you want to call it.

McMahon’s father, Vincent J. McMahon, was based here, and started the family wrestling empire now known as WWE more than half a century ago at Turner’s Arena on W Street NW.

While mulling over Lesnar’s win, I looked up this 1965 Washington Post article on the demolition of Turner’s Arena, written by the great and bought-out Post sportswriter, William Gildea. Going over building’s past, Gildea wrote that “every wrestler from Gorgeous George to Bruno Samartino” performed there.

Gildea’s article also reveals just how big wrestling once was in this town:

“According to [Vincent J.] McMahon,” Gildea wrote, “two regular wrestling fans via television were the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Mrs. Harry Truman. MacArthur, McMahon says, limited his Thursday night engagements so that he could watch the weekly shows.

“The late Edward R. Murrow on his ‘Person to Person’ show once asked Mrs. Truman, upon her return to Independence, what she missed most in Washington. ‘Wrestling on television,’ she replied.”

Alas, Laura Bush won’t ever give that answer.

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