Say the words Madison Square Garden and any fan of the squared circle is going to say, “The Mecca of Professional Wrestling.” Madison Square Garden is an iconic site with roots going back to the late 19th century when the first version was constructed. Since then, Madison Square Garden has undergone three incarnations, the most recent one having opened in 1968. Home to a number of historical events ranging from sports to politics to religion, the Garden is known to wrestling fans as “The Mecca of Professional Wrestling” with the Garden hosting some of the biggest nights in the history of wrestling. Although the Garden no longer seems to be the center point of the WWE Universe, recent events suggest this historic site hasn’t lost its importance to wrestling traditionalists.
Wrestling has been an integral part of the Garden thanks to the legendary McMahon dynasty of promoters. First generation Irish-American immigrant Roderick Jess McMahon began the family business, followed by his son Vincent Jesse McMahon and his grandson Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Over time, each generation took wrestling to new heights, with the Garden becoming an integral part of Vince Sr. and Vince Jr.’s business.
While the Garden wasn’t always the hub for the McMahons, it was an important city nonetheless. Under the guidance of Vincent Jesse McMahon, MSG became the star which the World-Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) and World Wrestling Federation (WWF) revolved. As we’ll see, MSG hosted so many important matches, it’s difficult to imagine any other arena that even comes close in terms of historic moments.
There are many factors that make the Garden so special, beginning with its location in New York City, one of the world’s greatest cities. The Big Apple is home to important business, culture, and sports institutions ranging from its Wall Street business district to its theatre district on Broadway to teams such as the New York Yankees. Simply put, New York City is where the action is. Madison Square Garden’s importance was also seen in how Vince McMahon Sr. repeatedly brought the industry’s top stars in to perform. It was common for main event players from other promotions to show up and showcase their skills in the Garden. It was considered an honor to be invited to perform in MSG thanks to the prestige of wrestling for a big promotion such as the WWWF and working in New York.
Any review of the Garden’s history reveals its importance in wrestling history whether it’s the number of title changes that took place in the Garden, pivotal matches, or big wrestling events. For example, WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino defeated WWWF Champion Buddy Rogers in the Garden, going on to hold the belt a record reign of over seven and a half years before dropping it to Ivan Koloff in MSG. During the 1960’s, 1970’s, and into the early 80’s, most WWWF title switches took place in the Garden including Bruno Sammartino’s second WWWF championship, Bob Backlund’s WWWF championship victory, the Iron Sheik’s surprise win over Backlund, and Hulk Hogan’s triumph over the Sheik, a match that launched the Rock-and-Wrestling Era.
MSG’s importance meant it was the venue where wrestling programs started in the WWF. Before pay-per-views, house shows were where fans went to see wrestlers grapple to settle a feud and/or chase after a belt. A program between two wrestlers (or two tag teams) was usually set up on television, with fans having to go to their local arena to see the matches. The WWWF traditionally started these programs in MSG and then ran them in other venues. The Garden’s importance made it the natural site for the WWF to launch major events. The first WrestleMania was held in Madison Square Garden as was the first SummerSlam. The Garden has hosted subsequent pay-per-views and numerous episodes of RAW and SmackDown, a testament to its legacy. And while the WWE may have neglected the Garden over the last few years, other promotions recognize its heritage. On April 6, 2019, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor will hold their G1 supercard at Madison Square Garden (during WrestleMania XXXV weekend), once again proving Madison Square Garden’s is still “The Mecca of Professional Wrestling.”