If there is one arena that wrestling can call its most historic location, it may just be the site of this year’s Wrestlemania, Madison Square Garden.
The famous arena, which is the home of hockey’s New York Rangers and basketball’s New York Knicks, “MSG” has been somewhat of a sacred ground for those who have had the privilege of being able to work there, comparable to Yankee Stadium for baseball or Montreal Forum for hockey.
The current MSG is actually the fourth incarnation of the building. While this building, which has been used since 1967, is located on 33rd St. between 6th and 7th Avenues, the first two buildings were located on the block between 26th and 27th Avenue, between Madison and Park Avenues. The third MSG, meanwhile, was located on 8th Avenue between 49th and 50th St. As it was remembered in the book East Side, West Side: Tales of New York Sporting Life, 1910-1960 by Lawrence S. Ritter, “… for decades the Garden was identified mostly with boxing and wrestling.”
There is a certain aura about MSG and the wrestling background the building possesses. For many wrestlers, the chance to wrestle at MSG is a career goal they set for themselves, if not a lifelong dream. “Because I started in Japan, I had a reverse philosophy than those who start in the States, and their dream is to wrestle in Japan. Mine was to wrestle in Madison Square Garden,” said the late Rhonda Sing in an interview with SLAM! in 2001.
As far back as most can remember, MSG has been the centrepoint of World Wrestling Entertainment. No matter the incarnation of the company, whether it was the WWWF or WWF, the Stamford, CT company has been the primary resident of the Garden when it comes to putting on wrestling extravaganzas. Those who were in WWE relished the opportunity to perform in the Garden.
Captain Lou Albano, a mainstay in the pre-WWE days, recalled his experiences at the Garden in a 1996 conversation with Whatever Happened To … ? “In those days, we had the Garden TV going on,” he said. “While it was going on, we sold out the Felt Forum, which is now called the Paramount … five thousand people. Then, we would sell out upstairs, and we did it every month. Bruno had like, I forget how many … like twenty sellouts in a row.”
For wrestlers that were not with the company, however, opportunities to hit the mat at MSG were few and far between. Harley Race, a man who spent the vast majority of his career with the National Wrestling Alliance, told SLAM! readers during a chat session about the few chances he had to wrestle at the Garden. “Wrestling in MSG up through that era, it was the only chance to get to be at the Gardens was to wrestle Backlund or Graham. Both those matches I thought were excellent,” he said. “My first time in MSG to a sellout wasn’t bad either. Later I wrestled Hogan in the Gardens and that was sold out also.”
This year, over 40 wrestlers will be wrestling at Madison Square Garden. Only one of them–Shawn Michaels–has previously fought at a Wrestlemania that emanated from MSG.