Squared Circle Pit

Squared Circle Pit

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Territory System IS hardcore

In the old days (i.e. before McMahon "owned" wrestling) there was a territory system. This system still exists this to some degree, on the independent circut. However, the quality of the product really varies. The Hayward, CA based APW is a fine example. After all I met Jimmy "Superfly" Skuka at one of their matches in San Jose and they put on a very traditional, no frills card that was very solid. On the other hand, there's the "extreme than thou" garbage like CZW.  At the bigger leagues, there's Total Non-Stop Action (T.N.A.) and Ring of Honor. TNA's is filled with boring WCW has beens and Hulk Hogan ("booo!"). Ring of Honor does most of their stuff on pay-per-view webcasts which I've avoided but they at least have one of the greatest managers of all-time, Jim Cornette and a Death Metal fan, Jerry Lynn in their ranks.

The territory system wasn't perfect by any means. While I slag McMahon here (and will continue to) the territory bosses could be just as crooked for grapplers with promotion and money. This is not unlike shady promoters in rock n' roll. Bill Graham claimed he "owned" rock n' roll in San Francisco and would threaten to put his competition out of business. However, the pre-consolidation/(near) monopoly of the McMahon family's WWE hasn't help the sport by well, not calling it a sport. Sure, "Crusher" Jerry Blackwell wasn't the most fit fella but the guy knew how to dropkick and throw a punch.  The amazing Mid Atlantic Gateway  has the U.S. (and 3 Canadian) territories mapped out brilliantly with the name, location and promoter for each. As "Superstar" Billy Graham (no relation to th' above) would say, "Lay some yellow (and purple, red...) on me."

These territories are similar to music scenes.  Look at that map - doesn't it remind you of the scene in American Hardcore where they show where each band was located? Black Flag bars over So. Cal, Necros over Detroit, Agnostic Front in NYC, and so on. I just came up with another "strange-but-true" connection. Remember all those initial hardcore bands like J.F.A., D.R.I., and C.O.C.? If you were really "in the know" about hardcore you'd could tell the dumb jocks that confronted you in the hallway what all the acronymns meant (then rake their eyes!). Same goes for wrestling. Sure C.O.C. and D.R.I. were both "crossover" but the difference between 'em was equal to the difference between the A.W.A. was from the W.W.F. The Road Warriors were tag-team champs in both but only in the A.W.A. did they go to the ring to the tune of "Iron Man". Also, nobody from D.R.I. ever auditioned for Metallica (aka: the Chump Hogan of "The Big Four"). And lemme tell ya - before I knew who Ice Cube & co. really were, I thought it was strange that they named themselves after the National Wrestling Alliance (wit' Attitude?)

Additionally, fans in California would trade VHS tapes with fans in Florida to catch Kevin Sullivan's  verbal/visual proto-Black Metal mysticism.Tape trading hmm. now THAT sounds familar - just like the kind I did in the 1980s Metal scene.  The territory concept is detail further in the fine Territory Map blog which also touches on pro wrestling in Washington D.C. Even further detailed is this map from Basement Geographer which mentions 50th State Wrestling and later PPW (Polynesia Pro Wrestling) the Hawaii-based region. I remember watching wrestling from Hawaii that was a great mix of the Pacific Islander stars (Jimmy Snuka, The Tonga Kid, Wild Samoans, etc.). They ran these shows on the short-lived Finanical News Network around early-mid '85 that featured the loud-Hawaiian shirted Lord Blears and Ripper Collins calling the action.

The Arizona territory unlike the first map is mentioned here. Arizona wrestling's crown jewel was the Madison Square Garden in Phoenix (aka: The Mad Garden) which presented matches for between 1929-1979. That's 50 years of swingin' neckbreakers and airplane spins, people! Shortly after (1981-84) the Garden booked hardcore/punk shows. Thankfully, the steel cage and ropes used in matches was often left up and the bands would play in the ring as shown in this punk compilation cover, This is Phoenix Not the Circle Jerks. (Note the drummer's Iron Maiden muscle tee). This set up also pre-dated both Megadeth's "steel cage" imagery in their "Wake Up Dead" video and Ministry's 1989 "Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste" tour. Also, what did the wrestle-deprived states of Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming watch?

As Dale Pierce at Online World of Wrestling says, "Arizona was truly hardcore before such a word existed in fan vocabulary." In wrestling terms: "hardcore" = chair shots, dudes goin' through tables, and LOTS of blood letting. The Philly-based Extreme Championship Wrestling (E.C.W.) promotion upped the ante in the 1990s by calling their style "hardcore wrestling". Their matches included an influence from  "Cowboy" Bill Watts' UWF innovation: the barb-wire match as well as new levels of insanity such as flaming tables, staple guns, and Singapore canes. Mind you, ECW's rock n'roll angle's a whole 'nuther post.

Wrestling matches at the Gardens had lots of problems with fan violence. They even had an incident where "A group of other fans were arrested (though), before the show even started. They were passing out switchblades with the intention of taking matters into their own hands."  Sounds like a early 80's Black Flag show, huh?

Earlier I said U.S. territory system because Japan, Puerto Rico (OK, part of the U.S. but kinda different territory-wise but it was a good, albeit super-corrupt place for events such as the decades long bloody rivalry between Carlos Colon and Abdullah the Butcher bloodbaths), Mexico, Australia, and parts of Europe (UK, Germany mostly) all have had their own rich history of pro wrestling promotions.  

I'll have more about the Mad Gardens in upcoming posts. In the meantime, check out my friend (and veteran of the Arizona hardcore/punk scene), Bill's story on the sidebar link. And for the love of El Santo's mask, watch this J.F.A. video. Based on the fan heat @ 0:09 you'd think that Abdullah the Butcher came to town and just ripped Bret Hart's pretty boy face off!

P.S.- J.F.A.'s drummer's nickname's "Bam Bam" just like Terry Gordy from the Fab Freebirds,



  1. The Basement Geographer here. Thanks for linking to my map. How the hell did I take so long to find this site? I've just spent the past half-hour browsing through everything here. Loud-ass music and territorial wrestling. Never thought I'd find references to JFA and Verne Siebert on the same blog. F*n awesome. I'll be back!

  2. Hey Kuschk,

    Thanks so much for checking out the 'Pit! I saw that "This is Phoenix not the Circle Jerks" cover along with the "Mad Garden" EP cover ages ago from some of my sister's punk friends. Years later I became friends with the former guitarist of Conflict (US/Arizona) who's band was on that "This is Phoenix..." comp. He told me about opening for Hüsker Dü and a few hours before the show Bob Mould & Grant Hart started doing their own wrestling promos! Gawd, I wish he had recorded that.

    Oh and, geography is an interest of mine, too. Though I'm horrible at the real detailed side of it. I mostly know locations of countries and cities.