Some have tried to diminish this achievement, but folks like that are just grasping at straws. What Rhodes and the Bucks have accomplished is highly impressive, doubly so without the WWE marketing machine at their backs. But in fairness, it does beg the question if something like this can be duplicated. Drawing 10,000 fans to an American wrestling show in 2018 without WWE's help is staggering. But can it be done more than once?
Just for fun, let's take a look at the highest-attended American wrestling shows of all time that *didn't* involve WWE. As a little caveat, it should be noted that due to hyperbole and sometimes outright dishonesty (in wrestling? Never!), attendance figures in wrestling can often be disputed. Near as my research could tell, here are the top 10 shows for said criteria...
10. WCCW Cotton Bowl Extravaganza (6 October 1985)
Fans in attendance: 30,214
WCCW would be World Class Championship Wrestling, home of the storied Von Erich family, and the Cotton Bowl was the former home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys and NCAA football's Southern Methodist Mustangs. A 2009 rivalry game between Texas and Oklahoma (shoutout to good ol' JR) drew more than 96,000 fans to the Cotton Bowl, and although World Class came nowhere close to that number, it still did a mighty house.
Some sources list the 1985 Cotton Bowl Extravaganza as having drawn 30,214 fans for a show that saw local icons Kerry and Kevin Von Erich defeat Chris Adams and Gino Hernandez in a Hair-vs-Hair match, and Iceman Parsons defeat The One Man Gang in a taped fist match for the NWA American Heavyweight title. In all, there were five Cotton Bowl Extravaganzas between 1984 and 1988, and the second-highest drawer was the 1984 show, which did only 12,000.
9. Comiskey Park Show (29 July 1960)
Fans in attendance: 30,275
For 80 years, Comiskey Park served as the home of baseball's Chicago White Sox (a.k.a. the Chicago team that CM Punk *doesn't* like). It would also play home to some notable professional wrestling action in its day. In this instance, 30,275 fans turned out for a Friday evening card promoted by Fred Kohler that featured a collection of wrestling royalty.
Recognized NWA World Heavyweight Champion Pat O'Connor defeated Yukon Eric in two straight falls, while United States Champion Buddy Rogers defeated Bearcat Wright. In addition, 24-year-old Bruno Sammartino worked the stadium show against the massive Haystacks Calhoun, going to a no-contest. The show drew a shade under $90,000 at the gate, which is about $756,000 today.
8. Superdome Extravaganza (22 July 1978)
Fans in attendance: 31,000
Some sources list this show as having a mere 23,800 on hand ("mere" is used facetiously), but others have it at 31,000. We'll roll with the assumption that the latter figure is true, that a joint venture from promoters Leroy McGuirk (father of future WWE ring announcer Mike McGuirk) and Bill Watts brought in a titanic crowd that paid more than $140,000 at the gate.
The show featured such luminaries as Dusty Rhodes, "Superstar" Billy Graham, Paul Orndorff, Bruiser Brody, The Fabulous Moolah, and Ron Bass, among others. The main event saw Ray Candy defeat Ernie Ladd in a steel cage match. Though Watts would run the Superdome several times in the course of a given year, the purported 31,000 he and McGuirk did for the July 1978 would go unmatched by either of them.
7. WCW Monday Nitro (7 December 1998)
Fans in attendance: 32,067
Although 1999 and 2000 would see the company free-fall like Thelma and Louise (minus the resounding unity), WCW was still able to pull in major houses at this stage of the game. In this case, WCW went on down to the Reliant Astrodome (home of the acclaimed WrestleMania X-Seven more than two years later), drawing 32,067 for an episode of Nitro. It may not have been the near-68,000 that WrestleMania did, but still laud-worthy for a weekly telecast.
The show was to be headlined by a Goldberg-Bam Bam Bigelow World title match that quickly went to a no-contest after Kevin Nash got involved. Much better than that alleged "match" was a delightfully-crazed Ric Flair promo in which he talked about the history of wrestling in Texas before getting into what he planned to do to Eric Bischoff at Starrcade.
6. Von Erich Parade Of Champions (6 May 1984)
Fans in attendance: 32,132
Some sources have listed this event as having drawn more than 50,000 fans to Texas Stadium, with about 43,000 paid. Most reliable sources have the first ever Parade of Champions note the attendance at 32,132, which is still hardly a number to be ashamed of. Whatever the case, the event played host to what is easily the most emotional moment on this list.
The card took place less than three months after the death of the highly-gifted David Von Erich, who was alleged to have been next in line to defeat Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight title. In David's memory, younger brother Kerry got the honours, defeating Flair in 11 minutes to claim the championship (he lost the belt back to Flair in Japan 18 days later).
5. Wrigley Field Show (20 September 1934)
Fans in attendance: 35,265
*This* would be the home of the Chicago Cubs, the team whom CM Punk proudly hails. The venue's nickname is "The Friendly Confines," which makes it quite an unusual place for hosting no-frills, beat-em-up professional wrestling event. The card boasted both wrestling and boxing matches, and a guest appearance by retired boxing heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, who would officiate one of a wrestling bout that pitted Ed Don George against Jim McMillen.
The headline bout saw "The Golden Greek" Jim Londos successfully defend the NWA World Heavyweight title against Ed "Strangler" Lewis after 49 minutes. The event drew 35,265 fans to Wrigley, for a gate of $96,302, which amounts to a whopping $1.77 million today.
4. Comiskey Park Show (30 June 1961)
Fans in attendance: 38,000
There's just something about stadium shows in Chi-Town. Vincent J. McMahon was reportedly in attendance for a Friday evening card that drew 38,000 fans, though announcer George Brenard would claim that 50,000-plus were on hand. The voices of a wrestling promotion possibly inflating an already-impressive attendance number? Well, I never!
The event is especially notable for NWA World Heavyweight Champion Pat O'Connor losing the belt to Buddy Rogers, kicking off a reign for "The Nature Boy" that would last for a year and a half. The reign's end was marred by controversy, as northeastern promoters refused to acknowledge Rogers' January 1963 loss to Lou Thesz, and would break away from the NWA to form what is today known as WWE, with Rogers in place as the inaugural champion.
3. WCW Monday Nitro (4 January 1999)
Fans in attendance: 38,809
In most instances, the 38,809 on hand at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta would be something to celebrate. Instead, the night is often cited as the true beginning of the end for WCW. On the same night that WWE aired a taped edition of Raw is War, in which Mick Foley won the first World Championship of his career. Since Raw was pre-recorded, Eric Bischoff used an old tactic by having Tony Schiavone give away the result, which included the sarcastically-delivered line, "That'll gonna put some butts in the seats." (a remark that Schiavone regrets, and has apologized to Foley for).
For a counter, WCW offered up what is now known as "The Fingerpoke of Doom", in which WCW Champion Kevin Nash intentionally laid down for Hulk Hogan in an nWo ruse. What was to be Goldberg fighting to regain the belt he was screwed out of, in his hometown no less, turned into another hackneyed swerve, which only soured even more fans on a lagging WCW.
2. Boston Show (30 July 1935)
Fans in attendance: 40,000
Boston's Braves Field was the site of a wrestling event that apparently held the record for largest American wrestling crowd for more than 50 years, when Vince McMahon drew 50,000 fans to a WWE event at the Columbus State Fairgrounds in August 1985. In this instance, 40,000 strong were on hand for a major title unification.
Irish-born Danno O'Mahoney (who may have had something to do with such a huge crowd in Boston) defeated Ed Don George to unify George's Boston version of the AWA World Heavyweight belt with O'Mahoney's NWA World Heavyweight title and New York State Athletic Commission championship. The guest referee for the bout was James "Cinderella Man" Braddock, who himself had won boxing's heavyweight championship seven weeks earlier in New York.
1. WCW Monday Nitro (6 July 1998)
Fans in attendance: 41,412
Eric Bischoff was taking a monumental risk. WCW Nitro now found itself, after 80-something weeks of ratings dominance, having to settle for second place in the weekly battles with the red-hot Raw is War. He knew his top new star, the undefeated Goldberg, was a mortal lock to capture the WCW title sooner rather than later. But Bischoff, for whom the ratings battle represented so much, was about to give Goldberg's crowning moment away on TV, instead of using it to draw on pay per view.
In total, 41,412 fans packed Atlanta's Georgia Dome to see Goldberg demolish Hollywood Hogan with the spear and Jackhammer, capturing the company's Big Gold Belt. Nitro beat Raw in the ratings for the night, 4.8 to 4.0, but would in fact lose the battle in each of the next three weeks. For one Nitro, the company did $906,330 at the gate, or $1.39 million in 2018 dollars.