There is nothing quite like your first experience seeing pro wrestling live. Finally seeing wrestling in person is totally unlike watching on TV. You feel every hit. Every sound. Every smell. The sheer proximity lends intimacy. You notice things you never would on TV. Nuances and flaws. Small character touches and broad interactions. It’s magical. It’s formative. Be it in front of a tiny indie or a massive national company, you join together with hundreds of other people – your people whether you like it or not – in a shared love of wrestling. No matter what the scale the feelings are the same. It inspires and frustrates. Agonises and exhilarates. There is nothing quite like witnessing that emotional rollercoaster in person and even more so nothing like that very first show.
This article is a collection of memories of that very experience. A number of people were kind enough to share what they remember of that first show, what has stayed with them from it to this day and what it meant to them. A huge thank you to everybody who took the time to contribute.
“April 1st, 1999 – four days after WrestleMania 15. I was 12 years-old and well aware that the WWF were coming to the UK for a house show tour, however it never actually occurred to me that attending one of these shows was even a realistic possibility. There had been plenty of WWF shows on UK soil by this point and yet my in adolescent naivete the simple task of asking my parents if we could go to a live pro-wrestling show did not cross my mind for even a second. On this particular Thursday evening, my mother came to me and asked if I could make a sign for her work colleague who was going to the WWF show the next night in Sheffield – about 36 miles from our house. I graciously obliged and produced a pro-Steve Austin sign, which I presumed my mum’s work friend would have a good time waving around 24 hours later. When I returned home from school the next day, April 2nd 1999, the sign I had made was still sat on the dining room table and next to it was an envelope with my name written on the front. Inside was something I had not even allowed myself to dare dream about…tickets to a World Wrestling Federation event for that very evening. The excitement was almost too much for my young self to take and instead of unbridled elation, which I’m sure is the reaction my parents were expecting, I just sort of stood there in dumbstruck disbelief. There was little time for stupefaction however, since my dad and I only had about an hour to make it to the coach pick-up point that would take us to the Sheffield Arena. The first thing that greeted us when we stepped onto the coach was a rather large middle-aged man dressed head-to-toe in a Mankind costume – Mr. Socko and all – which amused my dad to no end. In fact he still talks about it to this day and laughs whenever he imagines the cosplaying, 50-something year-old man with the sock on his hand.
Over the years my memories of the actual show have faded to a few brief echos of nostalgia, although these relics of reminiscence are just as vivid as they were 18 years-ago when I was sat next to my father in the eighth row losing my little mind. The main event was Steve Austin vs. The Rock in a rematch from their WrestleMania 15 battle, which three of my friends and I had stayed awake until 4am to witness live. To say Steve Austin was my hero in 1999 would be a gross understatement; the man was a god to me. When the glass broke that night in the Sheffield Area, I stood on my chair and held the sign I had made as high as my arms could possibly reach. Austin hit all four corners during his entrance, the final one being on the side of the ring we were facing and I managed to capture the moment with my cheap disposable camera – the photograph of which I still have to this day. Sadly, I can recall very little about the match itself other than the climatic Stone Cold Stunner that put The Rock down and gave Austin the victory. One of the other major memories of the show was an exceedingly long and dull Undertaker vs. Ken Shamrock match, which they would repeat virtually spot-for-spot at the following Backlash PPV. Jeff Jarrett & Owen Hart beat Edge & Christian. I would love to tell you that I have fond memories of seeing Owen a month before his tragic passing, but the only thing I really remember is him playing to the crowd during the “Nugget” chants. There was a Hardcore title match with Al Snow & Bob Holly that I found very anti-climatic at the time, as they only broke one table and it was the finish. Can you image?! Triple H came out to his DX theme, despite having turned on X-Pac five days earlier at WrestleMania and he beat Kane in a match I remember nothing about. I was too enraged that Triple H had the nerve to use the DX music after turning on his best friend to pay much attention to the action. Speaking of X-Pac, he worked the opener against, of all people, The Brooklyn Brawler, who believe it or not was one of the few wrestlers on the show my dad was familiar with. Though most of the memories of my first wrestling show have long since faded, the experience and feeling of exhilaration still remain when I think back to that special night on April 2nd, 1999, when my parents worked me into a shoot and gave me an experience I had never expected. An experience that I still chase to this day as an adult whenever I attend any kind of live pro-wrestling show.” – @BenCarass
“Growing up in a sleepy Ontario, Canada cottage town, I had no chance of ever seeing a WWF live event roll through. I did, however, get the opportunity to sample a ramshackle indie outfit in 1995, the Canadian Wrestling Federation. Boasting a roster of nomadic never-wases roaming the country in search of their next payday and characters ripped wholesale from other forms of media (their inaugural champion was, simply, “Power Ranger”), to my young self it might as well have been WrestleMania.
I had a front row seat to the action, but the few things I remembered about the event are less impressive than everything I’d forgotten. I remembered a Koko B. Ware-esque jobber named Big Mac, and I remembered that my rough-and-tumble seatmate had called each and every heel performer a word that in the United Kingdom is reserved instead for a cigarette. I had forgotten that a declining Greg “The Hammer” Valentine headlined against “Lord Humongous,” and certainly the matches featuring a pair of youngsters at the outset of their careers named Adam Impact and Christian Cage. Makes me wish I’d been one of those with the benefit of flash photography.
This was the first and only wrestling show ever held in my small hometown. The CWF had simultaneously jump-started and killed the territory.” – @adavehodgson
“June 1st, 2009, I attended Monday Night Raw LIVE in Birmingham, Alabama. The card was a bit of a weird one considering we were 6 days out from Extreme Rules 2009 (where CM Punk cashed in on Jeff Hardy to win the World Heavyweight Championship). Batista squashed current ROH World Champion, Cody Rhodes, in a Steel Cage match to set up his title match with Orton in just six days, Kofi Kingston beat MVP for his first US Championship and Flair “wrestled” his last match in WWE when he and Orton had a parking lot brawl which was incredibly bloody (for Flair). There was also a grown man in the crowd that had a Booker T sign which was honestly quite the hoot as well, as smart 13 year old Tanner KNEW that Booker T did not work for the WWE because I read a lot of Wrestlezone. While this show may seem unremarkable to most, it will forever hold a special place in my heart for being my first ever live wrestling experience and just making my love for wrestling grow that much more.” – @Tanner1495
“Most of the time people’s first live wrestling experiences are restricted to the Universe of World Wrestling Entertainment. That wasn’t the case for me. I’ve been following WWE regularly since 2007 and independent wrestling since 2011, but to actually go to an indie wrestling event for the first time was a whole other experience. I attended wXw’s 16 Carat Gold 2014 and I’ve been going to the event ever since. It made me realize how different live wrestling actually is. The music, the closeness, the atmosphere, the action, the fun. To be quite honest I remember some moments rather than the matches, but in the end 16 Carat Gold opened my eyes to other wrestlers and promotions and made me the fan I am today. Plus, it blows my mind how many people ended up on the bigger stage (Ciampa, Axel Dieter, Swann, Gargano, Alexander Wolfe, Ricochet, Kassius Ohno & Aleister Black). Moreover, I’m pretty proud I got to see guys like them and guys like Jonathan Gresham, Kushida, Trent or Adam Cole at least once. So, if you got the chance to attend a wrestling event – do it!” – @SpoiLexx
“I used to watch WWE as a kid but lost interest once I hit my teens, I watched TNA for a while after that but mostly gave up on wrestling entirely when I left high school. Around 2012/2013 I started casually watching NJPW matches whenever they were getting lots of buzz and by summer 2014 I decided I wanted to try watching it regularly starting with the G1 that year. I asked my Mum if she felt like giving it a go with me because she’d always watched WWE and TNA with me as a kid. And from the very first day she was enamored with one wrestler in particular, Katsuyori Shibata. We watch pretty much every major New Japan show together now.
Two years later RPW announces that Shibata will be headlining the Summer Sizzler 2016. I’d never been to a live show before and never thought I would, but I knew I had to get my mum to that show to meet Shibata. I managed to get two front row tickets and that was that. We went to the meet and greet and she fangirled out and Shibata was lovely and we both had a fantastic time. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the buzz I felt as we were leaving York Hall that night, it was incredible. I came for Shibata and left thinking how awesome Marty Scurll and Pete Dunne were. Me and my mum went to Global Wars later on that year, and we’re planning to do the same this year. I’ve had some bad experiences at live shows since then and it makes me so glad that was my first exposure to the live wrestling world.” – @MisterJoshDude
“My first live event was the 10/4/10 Wrestlemania Revenge tour in Glasgow at the Braehead Arena. It was 2010 SmackDown, so there wasn’t much there, but I was 12, and the experience meant more than the star power of any of the matches.
The match that has stayed with me the most is the first, Kane vs. Ezekiel Jackson, which was actually the match where Jackson got injured. The injury came while they were fighting on the outside, and I vividly remember Big Zeke just limply rolling back in the ring and Kane pinning him from there. Other than that, the card was very much there. I bought a CM Punk shirt that was like three sizes bigger than mine (because who the hell expected kids to buy a heel’s shirt anyway) and we left a bit through the main event of Edge vs Jack Swagger to get a taxi. The fact I wasn’t too fussed is probably a better condemnation of Swagger’s title reign than any retrospective can be.” – @isalrightnow
“So… my first live wrestling experience was smack bang in the middle of the Attitude Era. April 1999 – a WWF house show in Newcastle, England. Back then the US was fairly hot, so they only did annual tours.
As a show, it probably would have been forgettable in 2017, but all of your staples were there. Steve Austin. Triple H. Undertaker. Kane. And signs. Lots and lots of signs. I think I took one too, oblivious to the fact that if it was going to be taped, the most you’d get would be 1/10th of a second on TV. If you were lucky. Very little stuck because everything was building up to the next PPV with plenty of rematches. The one thing I do have fond memories of was that it was the only time I ever saw Owen Hart live – this was his last international tour, I think, defending the tag titles with Jeff Jarrett over Edge & Christian.” – @TheIanHamilton
“2006 SmackDown wasn’t exactly a glowing time in the history of the show but when my local radio station held a competition for tickets to the November 13, 2006 SmackDown live event in the Point Depot in Dublin I couldn’t help but enter. I got to the final round. The question was “Who was the current Intercontinental champion?” I knew the answer. It was Jeff Hardy – he had just beaten then Johnny Nitro to capture the gold the night before on Raw. I knew the answer…but I choked. I hesitated and my opponent got there first. My wait to attend my first wrestling show would go on.
Or would it? I damn well set my heart on going to SmackDown and 14 year old me would not be denied! We bought tickets anyway (you won that round WWE) and made the trip up to Dublin regardless. It was an interesting show. Chris Benoit wrestled in the opening match and it is now very strange to think back on having seen him wrestle. Chavo Guerrero broke character after his loss to Matt Hardy to pay tribute to Eddie on the one year anniversary of his death. London and Kendrick were pure dynamite. I was crushed that Smackdown’s Number 1 Announcer was conquered by Tatanka (imagine not being a Funaki mark). JBL came out of retirement to team with King Booker and Mr Kennedy vs. Kane, Batista and Undertaker. First of all, take a look at that babyface team. What a team! The awe inducing nature of Undertaker’s entrance is amplified tenfold in person. His aura was tangible. He felt special. I fell asleep during King Booker’s entrance and Sharmell wailed “All Hail King Booker!” for what legitimately felt like fifteen minutes. I actually dozed off and when I woke up she was still shouting it. I may have been trapped in a time loop. Plus the show had a freaking Finlay vs. William Regal match – what more could you ask for!
I was falling out of love with wrestling toward the end of 2006. Nothing was really hooking me. 14 year old me was ready to move on. Two things happened in November that year. I discovered TNA – which has legitimately changed my life in strange and mysterious ways – and I attended my first live wrestling show. Seeing the magic of wrestling in person, the pomp and majesty, the athleticism and showmanship, it reignited my passion for wrestling. It made me care about wrestling again. And had it not been for attending that random SmackDown house show (and being stubborn enough to still get tickets despite losing that competition) I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now (so you have that random 2006 SmackDown show to blame for that, sorry (and TNA, them too)).” – @garrettkidney