October 16, 2018
GFW Staff (57 articles)
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The Legacy Of The NWA – Chapter Four: The Nashville Sports Arena

Nashville’s Sports Arena is the Perfect Place for #NWA70

The NWA, and professional wrestling overall, have a long history in Nashville. Going back decades to the 1940’s, the Music City has seen some of the world’s best wrestlers ply their craft. During its existence, the Sports Arena, located at the Nashville Fairgrounds, has played host to some of wrestling’s biggest names and events. Despite its history, the Sports Arena, along with the Fairgrounds itself, were to be shuttered back in 2010. However, the Nashville City Council voted to keep it open, and both the Fairgrounds and the Arena remain open today. And more are grateful for that.

“When I think back over the history of the Sports Arena, it’s really got a personality and uniqueness all unto itself,” says Global Force Wrestling owner and NWA promoter Jeff Jarrett. “I had my second-ever match inside that building, so it means a lot to me. Looking at this historic significance of the Arena, that building had Andy Kaufman versus Jerry Lawler, one of the most groundbreaking storylines that the sport has ever seen. The people in the Arena absolutely despised Kaufman…there was such a sense of reality with that angle. I could go through a ‘Who’s Who’ list of wrestlers that have performed in the Sports Arena…Austin Idol, Jimmy Valiant, the Rock n Roll Express, the Fabulous Ones, Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Dutch Mantell, the Road Warriors, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan…the list goes on and on of legends that wrestled there.”

How did it all begin? Longtime wrestler and promoter Nick Gulas began his career back in the 1940’s, eventually partnering with Roy Welch to form Gulas-Welch Wrestling Enterprises. Nick used Nashville’s Hippodrome venue for his NWA Mid-America promotion starting in the 1940’s, making it a regular venue throughout the 1950’s and 60’s. Christine “Teeny” Jarrett joined the venture soon after it opened up operations, going to work selling tickets for the Gulas-Welch wrestling matches being held in Nashville. Jarrett displayed a knack for the business side of wrestling, and in the early 1970s, she began to promote shows for Gulas-Welch in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. Her son, Jerry, had begun his wrestling industry career in the 1960’s, first as an office assistant before becoming a referee. He made his in-ring debut later that decade.

In the 1970’s, Jerry, following in his mother’s footsteps, began to migrate over to the business side of professional wrestling. In 1977, after a dispute with Gulas, he founded his own promotion, the Continental Wrestling Association (CWA), with “Teeny” as a partner in the promotion. The Sports Arena was built in the late 70’s, and became a regular hub for the CWA. While continuing his in-ring career (he retired in 1988, though he did make in-ring appearances in the ’90’s), Jarrett worked hard to build the CWA into a successful promotion. An innovator, Jarrett became one of the first promoters to use music and videos for his wrestlers, starting with the Fabulous Freebirds.

It was a time of fond memories for Jeff Jarrett. “When I was really young, I can remember sitting on my porch waiting for my dad to pick me up to take me to the Saturday night matches at the Sports Arena. Some of my earliest memories were my dad and Tojo Yamamoto facing a team called the ‘Blonde Bombers,’ who were managed by ‘Nightmare’ Danny Davis, then called ‘Sargent.’ Ironically, I went on to work with Danny for the next 30 years, off and on. I also later worked extensively with Larry Latham, one of the Bombers, who later became one of the Moondogs, as well as Wayne Ferris, the other Bomber, better known as the ‘Honky Tonk Man.’ So, Larry, Wayne, and Danny were three heels that I remember as a kid who used to beat the crap out of my dad, and I later on I got to work with all three of them. It really was a great time.”

In 1989, Jarrett merged the CWA with Fritz Von Erich’s World Class Championship Wrestling promotion, creating the United States Wrestling Association (USWA) in the process. The USWA became the home of Jerry Lawler and Jeff Jarrett, and saw many of the sport’s greats come through the territory, including Cactus Jack, Dustin Rhodes, Kamala, Junkyard Dog, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, Sid Vicious, Flex Kavana (later known as the Rock), Terry Funk, Kevin Von Erich, Kerry Von Erich, Steve Austin, and many more.

After the USWA folded in the late 1990s, the Sports Arena did not play regular host to a major wrestling promotion until Jerry and Jeff Jarrett formed TNA in 2002. In July of that year, the Jarretts made the Sports Arena TNA’s home base, regularly running their weekly Wednesday night pay-per-view events from the venue. Why did they choose the Arena? “We needed to create a studio environment that we could run weekly TV shows in, and my grandmother and father had promoted events in that building for decades, so we had a good relationship with the people that ran it. So it made a lot of sense,” states Jeff Jarrett. “When we started TNA, we created what was affectionately known as “The Asylum,” which was very appropriate because of all the crazy things going on in front of, and behind, the camera. That turned in into our Wednesday night events, of which we had 104 consecutive shows. It was a lot of fun, and that building has a great vibe and a great atmosphere. I never forgot that.”

Once TNA left the Nashville area, the Sports Arena became the venue of choice for some independent wrestling groups when they came to Tennessee. Fast forward to 2018, and with the NWA’s 70th anniversary taking place this year, it became clear that the historic Sports Arena was the place to hold an event commemorating the anniversary of the promotion. As Jeff explains, “Why choose the Sports Arena? Well, when you look back over the modern era of the last 15 years, where did the NWA have their brightest moments? Without question, with no comparison, the home base of the NWA was the Sports Arena in Nashville. So it was very appropriate and fitting to choose to hold the NWA’s 70th anniversary show there. It’s something that, as we roll in with the prestige of the event, there’s certainly been an incredible resurgence with the brand. And now there’s an opportunity to see the rematch of the year, in the main event, with the ‘Ten Pounds of Gold’ on the line between Cody and Nick Aldis, crowning a new National champion…everything that’s gone into this show, it’s going to be very, very special.”

While the Nashville Fairgrounds’ Sports Arena provides a look at the past, it also can provide a preview of the future. As Jeff concludes, “Looking at the current landscape, you look at A.J. Styles and Bobby Roode…in one sense or another, for a lot of years, the Sports Arena was their home. We saw A.J. Styles grow from a kid who was fresh out of the landscaping business in north Georgia into a worldwide name over the years, and Wednesday night with TNA was where we saw him really cut his teeth. We were happy to play a small part in his progression. But that building has so much personality and history, and, from the days of NWA Mid-America, to the USWA, to TNA, it has seen so much real, down and dirty, professional wrestling. It’s an incredible environment to hold a wrestling event in.”

Who will be the next great star to make his mark at the Sports Arena? Perhaps we’ll all find out October 21st at #NWA70.

NWA 70 | Nashville, TN | Sunday October 21, 2018 |

The Asylum At The Nashville Fairgrounds |   Get Tickets Here!

 

The Tennessean Covers NWA 70
In Good Hands | NWA Ten Pounds of Gold 39

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