© 2021 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Get Ready For Body Slams And Dropkicks As Wrestling Returns To The Chase

Fans seated just outside the ring in the Khorassan Ballroom during one of the many Wrestling at the Chase events that took place between 1959 and 1983.
Ed Wheatley and Herb Simmons
/
Fans sit just outside the ring in the Khorassan Ballroom during one of the many Wrestling at the Chase events through the years.

After nearly four decades, athletes will again be bouncing off ropes and crashing into turnbuckles this weekend at the Chase Park Plaza. Professional wrestling is returning, thanks to the leader of an alternative rock band.

Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins is the owner of the National Wrestling Alliance, which is putting on two pay-per-views at the Central West End landmark, including Sunday night's event marking the NWA's 73-year history.

For a good chunk of that time, the NWA was a top-flight wrestling promotion, booking some of the biggest names in the industry, like Ric Flair, Dick the Bruiser and Gene Kiniski. But much of the shine had come off that legacy by the time Corgan purchased it in 2017.

"It was considered of such little value that nobody, including the WWE, even wanted it," Corgan said. "It was just considered a quote, unquote 'worthless three letters.'"

Corgan's acquisition is the culmination of a love affair with wrestling that started as a child watching television with his grandmother.

"I was literally like a 5-year-old boy watching wrestling with an 81-year-old, you know, Belgian immigrant."

Most wrestling matches in those days took place in small, dank, poorly lit venues. But Wrestling at the Chase, with its upscale ballroom setting, was different.

"It added a touch of class," Corgan said. "The Chase is always looked at as sort of a bit of panache."

082621_provided_WrestlingAtTheChase_03.jpg
Ed Wheatley and Herb Simmons
Wrestlers Edouard Carpentier and Barron Van Raschke battle in front of fans in the Khorassan Room at the Chase Park Plaza.

Bringing that history back to a place once considered the center of wrestling in the U.S. could also boost the NWA as it tries to return to prominence.

Corgan wants the organization to forge strong local connections with fans like pro-wrestling of the past. But the NWA is not ignoring all the significant industry changes since Wrestling at the Chase was in its heyday.

Saturday's pay-per-view at the hotel ballroom is an all-women event.

The task of putting that together rests with Mickie James. She's a six-time World Wrestling Entertainment women's champion who jumped at the chance to coordinate the event.

"We constantly say glass ceilings and equality. But my hope is that there are no more glass ceilings and that we can look at a female main event and not bat an eye," she said.

There have been several attempts to bring events back over the past few decades. James thinks the timing wasn't right, until now.

"It was almost as if it was waiting for this moment, for NWA to be able to come back," she said. "Everyone knows the history Harley Race and Ric Flair have with the NWA and the history that was made there."

Race was a Missouri wrestling legend who battled several times at the Chase. James said this weekend's return would have been a thrill for Race, who died two years ago this month.

"Perhaps him in the sky was one of the things that helped bring this into fruition for us,” she said. “Who's to say?"

Keeping track of those legends and their connection to Missouri and the Chase Park Plaza is a special project for author Ed Wheatley. His book, "Wrestling at the Chase" is coming out this fall.

He says the venue was key to success in St. Louis because it attracted more than just the traditional working-class wrestling audience

"They are sitting side by side with the swells of society, watching this wrestling extravaganza take place," he said. "It was the place to be."

Wrestling at the Chase ran on television from 1959 to 1983. It eventually gave way to the 1980s evolution of wrestling with a focus on flashier productions and organizations like the WWE with an eye to dominate the industry globally.

But Wheatley says those matches from decades ago still resonate with many in St. Louis.

"Those four words: ‘Wrestling at the Chase’ immediately stimulates so many memories for everyone," he said. "Anyone over 40, I have to spend basically the next 5 minutes, 10 minutes of excitement and fond, passionate memories."

Fans will have a chance to make new memories this weekend as wrestling finally returns to the Chase.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.