Saturday, February 27, 2016

Pro Wrestling Returns to Dorton Arena

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway  

"I'm the 1st person to lose a pro wrestling match in Dorton Arena in 23 years. #Under4Life #Historic"     - Jake Feuerbach, Twitter

That's one of the first twitter posts I came across this morning when searching for photos of last night's "Big Time Wrestling" card at the historic Dorton Arena in Raleigh, NC.

Fans of the independent wrestling scene in this part of the country know Jake Feuerbach better  as "Man Scout" Jake Manning. Or if you are a devotee to George South's internet TV show "Dad You Don't Work, You Wrestle", you know him simply as "Bullitt."

Regardless of what you call him, I found great humor in (and have great respect for) Jake's self-effacing acknowledgement of wrestling's return to this fabled old building sitting on the state fairgrounds in Raleigh. Jake isn't originally from this area. And even if he was, he isn't old enough to remember the great Mid-Atlantic Wrestling cards at Dorton. I'm assuming his general respect of the history of pro-wrestling here (and hanging out with George South for the last 12 years) has instilled in him the knowledge of just what a special place this was for pro wrestling. Dorton Arena is indeed hallowed ground.

Big Time Wrestling proved they are indeed "big time" as they brought wrestling back here Friday night. There was a huge crowd at Dorton, and they were there to see wrestling for the first time in 23 years if Jake has his facts right.

Photos taken of the building set-up before the doors were opened Friday night.
(Photos from Jake Feuerbach's Twitter)

Dorton Arena was the site of thousands of wrestling shows from the early 1950s through the mid-1990s. Probably its most famous card, at least the one still talked about today, was a turn-away crowd that came to see "Nature Boy" Buddy Landel challenge "Nature Boy" Ric Flair for the NWA World Championship there in 1985. (See "Flair and Landel Sold Out in Raleigh" and "The Lightning and Thunder of the Nature Boys" for more on that.) 

The most special thing for me was learning that wrestling broadcasting legend Bob Caudle was there to welcome the crowd to the show before it began. Bob hosted the "Mid-Atlantic Wrestling" television show taped at Raleigh's WRAL channel 5 studio for over three decades. The TV show was taped on several occasions directly from Dorton Arena, too, and Bob's voice promoted many Tuesday night cards there. Bob still shares a special relationship with fans today, and is one of the most universally well-liked and respected people that worked in the business. He is also a great friend of this website.

Bob Caudle (center) with promoter Tony Hunter, and wrestlers George South, Robert Gibson,
Jimmy Valiant, and Ricky Morton (photos from Ricky Morton and Jacob Simms)

There were many other big names from Mid-Atlantic Wrestling's past at Dorton last night: the "Rock & Roll Express" Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, "The Boogie Man" Jimmy Valiant, Road Warrior Animal, the "Powers of Pain" Warlord and Barbarian, Lex Luger, George South, and Jim Cornette, just to name a few.

Photo by Dick Bourne

I wish other classic old venues in our area could experience another big crowd the way Dorton Arena did last night. Not many of the original buildings that were part of the Mid-Atlantic circuit in the 1970s and 1980s are left, but some are. Wouldn't it be great to see a crowd this size in the old Independence Arena in Charlotte or the Township Auditorium in Columbia? The Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium will see a similar card and similar crowd when Big Time Wrestling appears there tonight.

As "Man Scout" Jake Manning looked up at the lights of Dorton Arena, the sounds of that three count echoed off the saddle-style ceiling and enormous windowed walls of Dorton. He now is part of a fabled history of a building which rekindled great memories of days gone by, and hopefully will enjoy again if Big Time Wrestling ever decides to return to the Raleigh fairgrounds.

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See also: Sold Out in Spartanburg, Two Years in a Row