Aug 24, 2007

Hazleton's Pro Wrestling Mecca

World Wide Wrestling Alliance
St. Joseph's Gymnasium - Hazleton, PA
St. Joe's Gym had been a professional wrestling landmark in Northeast Pennsylvania since my dad was a kid.  Andre The Giant wrestled here, as did Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka, Paul Orndorff and Bob Backlund.

ECW had a couple of shows here in the 90's.  The first was on May 19th, 1995, which included Eddie Guerrero vs Dean Malenko, Shane Douglas vs Tommy Dreamer, and an ECW Championship match between Cactus Jack and The SandmanECW's next show in Hazleton was the final wrestling show to be held at St. Joe's Gym.  It took place on May 30, 1997 and included The Dudley Boys in singles matches (Bubba Ray vs The Sandman and D-Von vs Tommy Dreamer), as well as Axl Rotten vs New Jack and The Eliminators vs Raven and Stevie Richards.

There hasn't been a professional wrestling show at St. Joe's Gym since that ECW event over ten years ago... until tonight.

I had never heard of the World Wide Wrestling Alliance promotion before this show was advertised, but I'm very familiar with several of the wrestlers that were booked to appear.  Samoa Joe and AJ Styles became two of my favorite wrestlers since I started following Ring Of Honor a few years ago, and although I know Larry Zbyszko mostly from his time as a WCW commentator, his matches against Bruno Sammartino in the 80's and his time as the AWA World Heavyweight Champion is well known to just about every wrestling fan.

In addition to the big names who were brought in, there were a few other familiar faces at tonight's WWWA show, but many of the others were wrestlers who I was seeing for the first time.

The first thing that struck me about this poster was the fact that there were five championship matches despite the fact that small indy promotion.  Does a company who rarely holds shows outside of Pennsylvania really need a United States and Intercontinental Champion?  I know they think that it gives the company a big league feel, but it just comes across as silly.  Sometimes less is more.

The wrestlers had merch tables set up before the show, and that is where I got to meet "The Living Legend" Larry Zbyszko.  I didn't really watch the NWA or AWA too much when I was a kid, so I know him best as the sarcastic good guy commentator alongside Tony Schiavone and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan on WCW Monday Nitro.

Larry Zbyszko came into the show as the reigning WWWA United States Champion.  The only other reference to this title that I was able to find is from a show on April 1st of last year in Wellsboro, PA, and Larry came into that match as the defending US Champion.  That means unless he lost and regained the belt at some point in between, Larry Zbyszko has held the WWWA US Championship for well over a year... not bad for a 54 year old dude!

Unfortunately for Larry, his title reign came to an end at the hands of "The Beast" Glen OsbourneOsbourne has the distinction of being the second ECW Television Champion in that promotion's history after defeating The Sandman for the vacant title in September 1992.  He has also worked as enhancement talent for the World Wrestling Federation in the mid to late 90's, as well as for ECWA, where he held their Heavyweight Championship from November 1996 to March 1997.

Another familiar face at this show was Jak Molsonn.  These days, he seems to be going just by Molsonn, but when I first saw him wrestle in WXW, he both teamed and feuded with his Lumberjaks tag team partner, Jake MolsonnJak and Jake held the WXW Tag Team Championship in 1996 and 1997.  Jak also held the WXW World Heavyweight Championship on three occasions between 1998 - 2000, and he went on to win the WXW Tag Team Championship four more times, three of which were as one half of the Moondogs 2000.

Molsonn was scheduled to wrestle The Wolfman at this show, but he instead wrestled Demetrius Arion while The Wolfman watched on and interfered from ringside.  I couldn't tell you too much about either man, but from what I saw, The Wolfman is definitely a character!

If I'm being completely honest, the main event is the whole reason why I bought tickets to this show.  Samoa Joe and AJ Styles are two of my favorite wrestlers, so the chance to see them wrestle against each other in my hometown for just a few bucks was too good to pass up.  They had a great match that highlighted both of their strengths in the ring.  They didn't turn it up to 11 in the way that I've seen them do at ROH or TNA shows in the past, but I didn't expect them to.  It would be silly to risk an injury on high spots on a non-televised indy show that only a few hundred folks will ever see, but still, they had a match that brought the house down and was totally worth the price of admission for every fan in attendance.