It’s WrestleMania Week, and we are looking back at Fenway Park’s wrestling history!
When people think of professional wrestling in Boston, images of shows at the TD Garden come to mind. Some may even remember when World Wrestling Federation cards from the Boston Garden were broadcast on NESN.
But did you know that Fenway Park has its own wrestling history? The old ballpark was used sporadically throughout the 1930s by Paul Bowser, the local promoter in Boston at the time. After the 1930s, however, wrestling at Fenway Park became virtually nonexistent.
McMahon Brings Wrestling To Beantown
Vince McMahon Sr. and his World Wide Wrestling Federation (the forerunner to today’s WWE) began to expand to New England in earnest in the 1960s. He was using local promoter Abe Ford as their conduit for doing so. Many wrestling fans today may know that WWE hosts events at Chase Field, Minute Maid Park, and T-Mobile Park. Very few are aware that WWE actually hosted one show at Fenway Park – June 28, 1969.
The show was headlined by World Wide Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Champion Bruno Sammartino. The event saw him defending his championship against Killer Kowalski in a stretcher match. Sammartino had won the championship in 1963 and was popular among crowds in the Northeast. In fact, contemporary media accounts particularly boast of Sammartino’s popularity with the Italian population in the North End. Legendary sports writer Peter Gammons of the Boston Globe even referred to him as the “Terror of the North End.” He was actually from Pittsburgh.
Sammartino was an Italian folk legend. He thrived as a mythical figure in the days when the Heavyweight Champion hardly wrestled on TV. You had to wait until the show came to your town to see him in action. Crowds saw Bruno Sammartino as a larger-than-life superhero. Kowalski was, of course, playing the role of the villain.
Wrestling fans may recognize him as a fixture of the New England wrestling scene, having opened a wrestling school in the Boston area after retirement. If you don’t recognize Kowalski, you’ll definitely recognize his most famous pupil, Paul “Triple H” Levesque.
To help build hype for the show, Sammartino and Kowalski were scheduled to participate in a public workout on the Boston Common on June 23. Of course, only Kowalski made it. 3,000 fans turned up to the Common and watched Kowalski beat down Baron Mikel Scicluna and Tony Altimore.
In an interview with the Boston Globe, Sammartino explained that his flight from Pittsburgh had been delayed because of a longer-than-expected layover in Allentown, PA. Boston fans would have to show up to Fenway Park to see Kowalski gets his comeuppance from Sammartino.
The public workout was also attended by Red Sox players. George Scott, Ray Culp, and Dalton Jones attended and signed autographs for fans. Proceeds from the event went to the Jimmy Fund.
Kowalski and Sammartino had met at the Boston Garden earlier in the year but the match was called off after Kowalski hit Sammartino with a chair, causing the Heavyweight Champion to need ten stitches in his head. Sammartino attempted to exact revenge on the spot, but Kowalski evaded Sammartino’s return chair shot, causing him to hit a referee.
In an interview with the Boston Globe on the day of the show, Abe Ford hyped the match by saying that it was a no holds barred match. This meant anything could happen. He further hyped the match by saying that this was only the third stretcher match in Boston history. Sammartino had won the previous two.
Going All Out
The WWWF and Ford pulled out all the stops to make the Fenway Park card memorable. The undercard featured a steel cage match between The Sheik and Bulldog Brower. There was also a 10-man battle royal where the winner received a cash prize. Both matches were hyped in Ford’s promotional interviews.
The attention was focused on the Heavyweight Championship match between Sammartino and Kowalski. Newspaper accounts the next day failed even to mention the results of the cage match (The Sheik won by the way). Sammartino’s victory over Kowalski was the feature story.
17,000 fans packed into Fenway Park to watch Sammartino exact his revenge on Kowalski.Kowalski got the jump on Sammartino with a sneak attack but Bruno rallied back and eventually locked in his signature bear hug to earn the victory and send Kowalski out on a stretcher.
After the match, Kowalski tried to return for one last attack, only to be repelled by Sammartino. The match featured callbacks to their earlier match in the Boston Garden when Kowalski tried to bring in a chair and use it on Sammartino, as he had earlier in the year. Sammartino turned the tables and used the chair to beat down Kowalski.
The fans went home happy, and the hero stood victorious.
Here are the full results, courtesy of thehistoryofwwe.com:
- Ricky Sexton defeated Duke Savage
- Dominic DeNucci defeated Lou Albano
- Antonio Pugliese defeated Baron Mikel Scicluna
- George Steele defeated Victor Rivera
- Women’s Champion the Fabulous Moolah, Toni Rose, & Donna Christianello defeated Vivian Vachon, Bette & Rita Boucher in a Best 3 out of 5 falls match
- Little Beaver, the Jamaica Kid, & Cowboy Bradley defeated Little Brutus, Billy the Kid, & Sky Low Low in a Best 3 out of 5 falls match
- Mitsu Arakawa won a 10-man battle royal; other participants included: Prof. Toru Tanaka, Luke Graham, Haystacks Calhoun, Tony Altimore, Lou Albano, Duke Savage, John L Sullivan, and Baron Mikel Scicluna
- The Sheik defeated Bulldog Brower in a steel cage match
- WWWF World Champion Bruno Sammartino defeated Killer Kowalski in a stretcher match
There is no known footage of this show, so exact details are difficult to come by. Contemporary media accounts indicate that the ring was set up at shortstop. There were fans seated on the field, as they would be today. There were no elaborate entrances, music, or the elaborate stage setup that we associate with the modern-day WWE.
Maybe the WWE will return one day. We’ll potentially see how a big time WWE production would look at the old ballpark.
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