Hello, OpVac Universe! Apologies for rudely interrupting the wonderful, months-long coverage of Oscar-worthy- and B-grade films, but a few of us OpVac crew members (Steve Cuff and myself) are willfully and excitedly attending the WWE’s pre-Wrestlemania pay-per-view (PPV), Fastlane, this Sunday in the not-quite-yet-wholly-gentrified city of Milwaukee, WI. In celebration of this achievement, and in dubious recognition of former WWE CEO Linda McMahon’s appointment to the U.S. Cabinet, it seemed an opportune time to rank WWE’s Milwaukee history.
As a wrestling…nay, “sports entertainment” fan, it’s thrilling to live in or near a town that gets to regularly host major WWE events. However, while clichéd cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and even Cleveland get to host WWE major cards/PPVs on a nearly annual basis, Milwaukee gets that honor on seemingly rare occasions. Luckily, WWE decided to rent out Milwaukee’s aging and soon-to-be replaced BMO Harris Bradley Center for the 2017 edition of Fastlane. While it seems like Milwaukee is an infrequent destination for major WWE events, 2017’s Fastlane—with a main event match featuring the brilliant, young heel Kevin Owens likely dropping his Universal Championship against AARP-member and late-1990s WCW grunt-lord-with-a-tribal-tattoo, Goldberg—will be rivaling some historically significant cards that have taken place from the Brew City. Thus, here are the Top 7 Most Memorable Milwaukee WWE Events:
#7: The Inaugural Taboo Tuesday (Bradley Center - October 19th, 2004)
Kudos to WWE for attempting what was then a wholly original concept: an entirely interactive PPV event where the fans were responsible for booking the card. However, ask anybody old enough to remember and they’ll likely tell you that this show was a misguided mess. Even if you were to give the horribly misogynistic Divas’ “School Girl” match a pass, there’s a whole lot of dreck on this card, much of it involving Eugene giving Eric Bischoff a haircut for what seems like 2 hours. Even more damning is that the attendance for this show is estimated to have been about 3,500. That makes it the lowest attended WWE PPV in history, which is especially depressing considering Bradley Center can accommodate 15,000 - 20,000 spectators for a WWE show. I recall friends of mine who attended this event telling me that ushers moved the entire crowd to the hard camera side of the arena so that the TV audience couldn’t see the vast amount of empty seats. Ouch! While matches like Chris Jericho vs. Shelton Benjamin, Ric Flair vs. Randy Orton, and Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H would ordinarily be considered bona fide money makers, the fact is that this early weekday PPV’s concept was too broad. Plus, the overall WWE product at the time was so woefully awful, it’s remarkable that enough people even turned out to fill 1/3 of the arena, let alone boast the PPV buyrate just high enough to warrant a second annual Taboo Tuesday the following year.
#6: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin kidnaps McMahon on Raw is War (Bradley Center - October 19th, 1998)
Milwaukee’s Bradley Center has been regularly hosting WWE shows since it opened in late 1988, however, there was a period in the mid-1990s where the company was booking cards in the city’s older, smaller, and mostly obsolete MECCA Arena (including, SPOILER ALERT, the #3 and #1 shows on this list). This particular episode of Raw marked WWE’s return to the major league facility. The show took place one night after the inaugural Judgment Day PPV, where Vince McMahon (kayfabe) fired “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for refusing to be an impartial referee in the Kane vs. Undertaker WWE Championship match. The show begins with, literally, the entire roster (sans a then-injured Triple H) parading down to the ring. The classic image of every single “Attitude Era” Superstar of the time standing in the same ring alone elevates this Raw episode’s historical significance. But an impassioned Vince McMahon promo, where he addresses the entire WWE roster, and the proceeding episode-long plotline of Steve Austin kidnapping and torturing a (kayfabe) disabled McMahon makes this a true classic. Meta-textual references to gun-violence imagery hearkened back to a then-year-old controversial storyline that caused parents all over the U.S. to call complaints in to the USA network...something they never did for the cable station's original drama series at the time (Le Femme Nikita, Silk Stalkings, Big Easy, Pacific Blue, etc.). The image of Austin pointing a toy gun at a kneeling and pants-urinating McMahon is one of the most iconic photo ops of WWE’s “Attitude Era.” Plus, this was the same night that Debra McMichael made her WWE debut as Jeff Jarrett’s manager, whose career in and out of the WWE ring is perhaps worthy of its own (incredibly depressing) article…
#5: The Introduction of the World Championship Title on Raw (Bradley Center - September 2nd, 2002)
Months after the original WWE brand split, then-WWE Champion Brock Lesnar left the Raw roster behind to wrestle exclusively for Smackdown. Enter Raw GM Eric Bischoff, who reintroduced the big gold WCW championship belt, re-christened it the WWE World Championship, and awarded the brand-exclusive title to Triple H. Of course, Triple H had to immediately defend the strap he never truly earned against Ric Flair and Rob Van Dam that same night, where classic heel tactics secured his first title run. Regardless of it seemingly coming out of nowhere, this significant event changed the landscape of the WWE for years. Between 2003-2011, the World Championship was at times viewed as more important than the WWE Championship. Once the WWE brand split ended by 2011, the World Championship was still regarded as an elite status symbol, but it’s stature slowly de-evolved into a second-best title behind the WWE Championship. Regardless, the title’s impact on storylines and its ability to legitimately elevate talent made it detrimental to the WWE’s history, and it all started on that warm Labor Day night in Milwaukee.
#4: No Way Out 2002 (February 17th, 2002 - Bradley Center)
Considering that this pre-Wrestlemania PPV featured the then long-awaited WWE return of Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hulk Hogan (as the beloved 1990s WCW rebels, the nWo), ranking it outside of the Top 3 might seem like a mistake. However, it’s nearly a curse to be the go-home PPV for Wrestlemania, where the entire card either massively builds up the big event or merely acts as filler to immediately precede the company’s flagship extravaganza. This theory was especially relevant in 2002, which was an awkward transitional year for the WWE. Coming off of the heels of the poorly received WCW/ECW “Invasion” angle, the company was trying to dig itself out of a creative hole. Business was still good, but an inevitable decline was just around the corner as the “Attitude Era” began slowly limping into the “Ruthless Aggression Era.” And considering how that year’s Wrestlemania (X8) shaped-up, No Way Out somehow straddles the line between historically significant and totally irrelevant. While one of the most major returns in company history kicked-off the card, the only major angle from the event to make it to the Wrestlemania X8 the Undertaker vs. Ric Flair (with the latter interfering in the former’s match against the Rock). Apart from that, the sustained, massive pop that the original nWo trio got during their PPV-opening promo (especially for Hogan) absolutely drained the audience’s energy for the rest of the show. Regardless of on-paper classics like the aforementioned Rock vs. Undertaker, plus Triple H vs. Kurt Angle, and Steve Austin vs. Chris Jericho, the crowd was apathetic at best and the storylines that played through this PPV were rendered meaningless in the build-up to Wrestlemania X8 by the following evening’s episode of Raw. And, considering how crap the nWo’s WWE run wound up being months later, it’s hard to watch this PPV without dreaming about what could’ve been. But damn, it’s still a star-studded event that featured a WWE return most fans then thought was inconceivable.
#3: Over The Edge: In Your House (May 31st, 1998 – MECCA Arena)
This was the second WWE PPV to emanate from what’s now known as the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther Arena and, at the time, the WWE was absolutely thriving and closing-in on WCW during the “Monday Night Wars.” 2 years removed from his first major WWE victory in the same building—which we’ll get to—“Stone Cold” Steve Austin defended the WWE Championship against Dude Love in a hardcore match that featured a guest timekeeper (“The esteemed Gerald Brisco!”), a guest ring announcer (“Hall of Famer, Pat Patterson!”) and Vince McMahon as a special guest referee. The main event was booked to perfection, with the odds impossibly stacked against Austin. A surprise appearance from the Undertaker as Austin’s enforcer, the last minute falls count anywhere stipulation, classic Foley bumps, and Austin ultimately defying the impossible odds made this one of the most dramatic and memorable main event matches of the “Attitude Era.” The rest of the show was, with hindsight, a bit underwhelming (DOA vs. LOD 2000, for example, was a match nobody wanted to see). There was that Kane vs. Vader match, which featured the latter’s infamous “I ain’t nothing but a fat piece of shit!” post-match promo, and, if you’re a fan of the Attitude Era Podcast’s “Grunt of the Night,” you’ll know that this is the PPV where Jeff Jarrett’s famously grunted, “GLARGH-GEH!” during his (underwhelming) match with Steve Blackman. Those moments aside, this PPV was a bit overbooked, but its heart was in the right place. It’s nearly impossible to beat the magic of the WWE’s “Attitude Era” and you can definitely hear that magic in the crowd, who were white hot throughout the night, giving this PPV an absolutely endearing quality.
#2: The Mega Powers (Finally & Definitively) EXPLODE on NBC’s The Main Event II (February 3rd, 1989 – Bradley Center)
The story had been building for over a year: WWE Champion “Macho Man” Randy Savage was living in the shadow of his best friend Hulk Hogan, who whilst not the champ, was still the face of the WWE. Add in Savage’s increasingly possessive jealousy over the close friendship between Miss Elizabeth and Hogan, and you have a proverbially boiling pot that is waiting to run over. Fans had been waiting since at least August of 1988 for the Mega Powers to explode, as the WWE had been teasing their inevitable break-up for months. Things finally came to a head at the “Brand new, $50-million Bradley Center in Milwaukee!” with the Mega Powers facing-off against the Twin Towers. There are plenty of pre-9/11 “Twin Towers [will] crumble!” promos and racist rhetoric in Akeem’s character that make this event uncomfortable viewing for the people of 2017, but for the sake of brevity in this listicle, we’ll need to address those troubling issues at another time...Essentially, this episode of The Main Event was a one-match show broadcast live in prime-time on NBC. Major network airtime already gives this event major historical implications, but these two iconic Superstars finally coming to blows to set-up one of the biggest Wrestlemania main events of all time gives this episode of Main Event its significant stature. Add in the ridiculously over-the-top acting from both Hogan and Savage you have a campy classic. This was, arguably, the last great “Heel vs. Face” angle of the WWE’s boom period and the product would never be as hot again until…
#1: The 1996 King of the Ring (June 23rd, 1996 – MECCA Arena)
While beer is what made Wisconsin’s most populous city famous, it’s arguably better known to wrestling fans as the birthplace of “Austin 3:16.” Amongst a “Sea of Humanity!” at what was then known as the MECCA Arena, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin cut the most important post-match promo in WWE history after defeating Jake “The Snake” Roberts for the “King of the Ring” crown. So iconic was the speech that it alone merits this event’s ranking at number one. However, expert mic skills aside, on that Father’s Day night in 1996, Austin also proved himself to be a unfailing in-ring performer: he was rushed to a Milwaukee hospital for stitches in his lower lip after wrestling Marc Mero (in one of the latter’s best WWE matches), before returning later that night to soundly defeat the then-fan favorite Roberts. Outside of Austin’s magnum opus, the card was also absolutely stacked with big matches. It was one of the first shows of the “New Generation Era” to feature in-ring action that began building the bridge to the “Attitude Era.” This is especially true of the first-ever match between the Undertaker and Mankind, whose brutal contest was one of the first to humanize the Undertaker’s character, as well as present a style of action that was unlike anything seen before by the WWE fans. The show also featured Brian Pillman’s first WWE PPV appearance (where his promo got major heat for his hypothesizing of why Jeffrey Dahmer tried to consume the entire state of Wisconsin “from head-to-toe”), the then-red hot Ahmed Johnson winning the Intercontinental Championship from Goldust to a massive pop from the crowd, and the Ultimate Warrior’s last match on a WWE PPV. And while it’s understandably overshadowed by Austin’s essential “King of the Ring” tournament victory, the main event WWE Championship match between Shawn Michaels and the British Bulldog is a near-forgotten classic that expertly told an immensely dramatic story with a clinic of modern wrestling holds and heart-stopping action. Add in Owen Hart’s Bobby Heenan-esque heel color commentary throughout the card and you have not only the greatest King of the Ring ever, but an era-defining PPV that holds its relevance over 20 years later.
- Elimination Chamber 2/19/2012
- Raw is War 8/16/1999 (the go-home show for tha year’s Summerslam, which featured Chris Jericho interrupting an Undertaker & Big Show promo, the debut of Crash Holly, and a triple threat match between Triple H, Chyna, and Mankind to determine the #1 contender for the WWE Championship),
- Smackdown 9/21/2000 (Chyna [kayfabe] gets engaged to Eddie Guerrero),
- Smackdown 3/8/2016 (Chris Jericho burns Y2AJ t-shirt in effigy)
- WrestleFest ’88 7/31/1988 (Stadium show featuring Hogan vs. Andre the Giant in a steel cage, WWE Champion Savage vs. Ted Dibiase)