Minutes to Bell Time

I Was There: Special Report on the Baltimore Arena

Chapter 10

I Was There: Special Report on the Baltimore Arena

I’m not from Baltimore, but Maryland is my home. My wife and I settled here in 2012 after years of moving up and down the East Coast. I haven’t been to live pro wrestling since March 9th. As I sit at home waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m reflecting on our choice to put down roots in Maryland. After paying closer attention over the last year, I’m discovering how special Baltimore is to the pro wrestling community. With that in mind, please enjoy this “I Was There Special Report on the Baltimore Arena.”

What’s the Name of that Arena?

At 201 West Baltimore Street sits a completely normal multi purpose arena. That arena just so happens to hold a special place in the history of Professional Wrestling. Known as the Baltimore Civic Center from 1961-1986, the Baltimore Arena from 1986-2003, the 1st Mariner Arena from 2003-2013, and the Baltimore Arena again from 2013-2014, today the historic venue is known as the Royal Farms Arena (2014-Present).

Bruno Sammartino in Baltimore

Bruno Sammartino had a legendary career from 1959 to 1987. Sammartino’s massive superstardom during the 1960’s and 1970’s carried and launched the company we know today as WWE. Without Bruno, who knows whether WWE would even exist in the modern era. In his career, Bruno only lost two matches by pinfall or submission. On April 30, 1977, Bruno Sammartino lost the WWWF Championship by pinfall to Superstar Billy Graham at the Baltimore Civic Center. Graham won by pinfall, but his feet were on the ropes. The almost unprecedented success of the Bruno and Graham feud following that cheap win sold out arenas everywhere. Bruno returned to the Baltimore Arena on August 29, 1987 for his final match. According to the Wrestling Observer, “he teamed up with Hulk Hogan to sell out the Baltimore Arena in a match with King Kong Bundy & One Man Gang.”

NWA and Jim Crocket Promotions (JCP) in Baltimore

None of the three five star matches between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat in 1989 were held in Baltimore. At the end of the final match, Terry Funk attacked Ric Flair leading to another series of matches. The first of those matches occurred at the 1989 Great American Bash in Baltimore. As someone that recently went back to watch the Flair/Steamboat trilogy, I have to admit that the Terry Funk angle pulled me in hard.

Sting won his first World Championship by defeating Ric Flair on the July 7, 1990 edition of the Great American Bash. That match also took place in Baltimore. In fact, JCP/WCW held the Great American Bash at the Baltimore Arena nine times (1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000). At this point, I think the Bash is pretty much synonymous with Baltimore.

Ron Simmons

Perhaps the most important historical moment in Baltimore wrestling history came when Ron Simmons defeated Vader to become the first African American WCW World Heavyweight Champion on August 2, 1992. The match took place at a Baltimore Arena house show. On WWE Network’s Legends with JBL, Simmons said of the title win:

This is not just a big deal for me. OK, this is huge deal right now for a lot of people. Not just African Americans man: underprivileged kids of any color, you understand. Here is something that you can take and run with, alright, and I knew then that it was going to be important not only for me to carry myself in the ring and more importantly out of the ring. I was really proud of it.

The pin came after a Simmons surprised Vader with a powerslam. When watching clips of the event, the crowd appears to go absolutely crazy when Simmons wins the match.

All Elite Wrestling in Baltimore

Last November, All Elite Wrestling held their Full Gear Pay Per View from the Baltimore Arena. As of this writing, Full Gear is the only AEW pay per view to take place outside of Chicago and Las Vegas. The show was headlined by Jon Moxley vs. Kenny Omega in a non-sanctioned anything goes match and a World Heavyweight championship match between Cody and Chris Jericho. MJF betrayed Cody by throwing in the towel and attacking him after the match. Cody and MJF locked into a three month build full of the most compelling pro wrestling story telling in the last several years. Moxley defeated Omega and would go on to defeat Chris Jericho at the next pay per view to become the second AEW World Champion.

WWE in Baltimore

WWE holds a ton of events in the Baltimore Arena. On April 2, 2019, I attended the final Smackdown before WrestleMania 35 at the Baltimore Arena. Despite having a million different PPV’s and television events, the Bruno Sammartino loss to Superstar Billy Graham in 1977 still wins out as the most historical WWE moment to happen in Baltimore. A close second would be Owen Hart winning the King of the Ring in 1994 as a memorable high point for him during his extended feud with his brother, Bret Hart.

Baltimore for Me

I’ve been a fan of pro wrestling my entire life. When I moved to Maryland a few years ago, I had no idea how good that would be for my pro wrestling fandom. I actually live closer to Annapolis, so not quite Baltimore. Living here puts me 25 minutes to the Royal Farms Arena, an hour from the Capital One Arena (DC), 2 hours from the Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia), and 3.5 hours from Madison Square Garden (NY). I have a lot of options to see live pro wrestling. All of the brands covered by this website run multiple shows per year in these markets. We also have strong independents like MCW Pro Wrestling running multiple shows per month. I’m living my best life.

WWE’s Money in the Bank Pay Per View is scheduled for May 10, 2020 at the Royal Farms Arena. If COVID-19 gives us a break, I’m looking forward to sitting in the crowd for that show.

Ring of Honor Wrestling is headquartered in Baltimore, but they never run shows at the Royal Farms Arena. All the same, ROH contributes strongly to the rich tradition of professional wrestling in the Baltimore community. ROH ran a free show this past February at the University of Maryland Baltimore College (UMBC) Event Center. They also held Final Battle 2019, their major December event, at the same venue. The next major ROH pay per view, Best in the World, also take place at UMBC this June.

Baltimore Arena for Me

As far as the Baltimore Arena goes, it’s far from the nicest venue to watch pro wrestling. In truth, I find it a bit gritty and in need of modernization. If you go to an event there, try not to judge it too harshly though. Instead I like to think of the Baltimore Arena as a pro wrestling venue that occasionally has concerts and sports.

When you get to your seat at the Baltimore Arena, look toward the ring. Spend a moment visualizing a stunned crowd as Superstar Billy Graham cheated to end Bruno Sammartino’s second WWWF title reign in 1977. Shake yourself loose, but stare back at the ring where Ric Flair reversed an inside cradle on Terry Funk in 1989 with the voice of Jim Ross calling out “Flair has won it!” Blink fast and refocus on Sting beating Ric Flair with that same inside cradle a year later to win his first World Championship. Before heading to the concession stands, survey the audience and imagine them going crazy as Ron Simmons powerslams Vader and breaks the WCW color barrier in 1992. Just before the show begins, consider the King of the Ring coronation ceremony of Owen Hart where he proclaims himself the King of Harts.

Now open your eyes, settle into your seat with the knowledge that somebody else sat right where you are to see all of that history happen live before their eyes. Now, enjoy your show at the Historic Baltimore Arena.

About Ryan

Ryan Joy started Minutes to Bell Time as a passion project. He aims to provide resources to enhance the pro wrestling fan experience. He lives in Crownsville, MD with his wife. She supports his habit of watching between 20 and 40 hours of pro wrestling each week. Connect with him on Instagram or join the Minutes to Bell Time Facebook Group to follow his travels.

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