By Brandon Caldwell Dallas' wrestling begins with the Sportatorium.
The building itself may no longer exist, its space in downtown Dallas near the Interstate 35E/I-30 exchange resembling nothing like the barn with the neon sign that lit up whenever wrestling became the center of the city. Its capacity was 4,500 people. Its heyday came in the 1980s with World Class Championship Wrestling, where the Von Erichs reigned supreme. Where The Fabulous Freebirds antagonized fans with their Southern bad boy charm, especially the Von Erich family. Where Ric Flair came to town and tried to woo every woman in attendance. Where a young Heartbreak Kid and arguably the greatest in-ring talent, Shawn Michaels, broke through. Where a brash young buck with blonde hair named "Stunning" Steve Austin got his first shot, before he went on to become the most popular wrestler in history -- a "Stone Cold" one at that.
That is the short history of Dallas' wrestling, a history connected to some of the greatest names in the wrestling business, from The Undertaker, Paul Bearer, Jake "The Snake" Roberts and more. Last month, another patch of history was added. On the same week that Sting, a cornerstone of the now defunct World Championship Wrestling, made his 2015 television debut inside American Airlines Center, World Wrestling Entertainment finally could exhale and reveal to the world its next step.
WrestleMania, the signature event of World Wrestling Entertainment for more than 30 years, is heading to Arlington in 2016.
"April 3, 2016, will be the biggest event in the history of WWE," John Cena told the crowd at a press conference. He, the muscular and square-jawed face of the WWE, wouldn't reveal much else in what could happen a year from now considering that the company is still ramping up efforts to promote this years WrestleMania in Santa Clara, California, at Levi's Stadium.
The original plan for WrestleMania was for it to arrive in 2011, a year after the NBA All-Star Game set attendance records when it arrived at AT&T Stadium. The wait made sense. AT&T Stadium has never felt more like the end-all-be-all for any major event in human existence and the WWE will stop at nothing to make WrestleMania the end-all-be-all for professional wrestling. (WrestleMania's estimated economic on Santa Clara is around $100 million, though in the nature of such estimates, that number could be off anywhere between $100 million and infinity.)
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Dallas' stranglehold on professional wrestling may have been brief, yet it inspired plenty of young grapplers to get in the ring to do what they though they were "born to do". "Every Friday night me and my buddies would drive down from Denton to the Sportatorium to see the Freebirds versus the Von Erichs," Austin remarked in a DVD chronicling his life in and outside the ring for the WWE in 2011. "And they used to tear the house down."
Wrestling, in keeping with many of Dallas' larger-than-life personas, may be the one form of entertainment where being bigger than your daily self is welcomed. You could spout numerous comparisons between Dallas' biggest entity, the Cowboys, and the WWE and most of the parallels would fit. Jerry Jones and Vince McMahon are like peas in a pod, holding down companies that skyrocketed during boom periods and steadied the course during lulls.
The moment WrestleMania 32 was announced, fans from all over the globe started planning and plotting a way to get to Dallas. It's one of the few acts of entertainment that operates as a unifier for every walk of life, from young kids who sat on their dad's shoulders to see the likes of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage to adults today who root for the indie darlings and the guys whom they connect with. Wrestling is weird, it is glorious and it's theater of the highest order, the only show in town that "is determined by the reaction of the crowd every single night," as WWE chief operations officer and semi-retired grappler Triple H says.
WrestleMania coming to the Dallas metropolitan area truly means one thing, a giant tip of the cap to the heritage and legacy the old World Class Championship Wrestling left behind.