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Thanksgiving: The biggest night in wrestling

Thanksgiving is a holiday many people value as the most important one on the calendar. The fourth Thursday in November is a day of celebration and reflection for families getting together. And at one point in time, Thanksgiving was also a very important night on the wrestling calendar, starting out with different territories presenting action-packed cards for stuffed audiences, a tradition that found its way to WWE with Survivor Series. ( PHOTOS | VIDEO PLAYLIST)

The mindset behind Thanksgiving wrestling always centered on the fact that after a long day of feasting, people would then get somewhat antsy, leading them to look for things to do from an entertainment standpoint. By and large, there were two wrestling promotions quick to recognize this situation and offered live events on Thanksgiving night. 

Ric Flair and Harley Race battle inside a steel cage for the NWA World Championship at Starrcade 1983.

World Class Championship Wrestling offered Thanksgiving night cards at Dallas’ Reunion Arena with “Wrestling Star Wars.” One of the more memorable events happened on Thanksgiving night in 1983, when Kerry Von Erich had a final confrontation with Fabulous Freebird Michael “P.S.” Hayes. More than 19,000 fans jammed every nook and cranny of the Reunion Arena to watch the Loser Leaves Town Steel Cage Match.

Kerry’s brother, Kevin Von Erich, remembers that evening, and credits another family member for realizing Thanksgiving had the potential to be known as one of the biggest times to present live events.

( WATCH KEVIN TAKE ON TERRY GORDY ON THANKSGIVING NIGHT 1983)

“It was an amazing evening for all of us,” Kevin said. “You could not put another person in that arena. And I have to give credit for running on Thanksgiving to my dad (Fritz Von Erich). I remember him saying that on Thanksgiving, all people do is to gather together and eat, and then they don’t have anything to do that night. So he said, ‘We’ll give them something to do.’ And did we ever!”

Additionally, another hotbed for live Thanksgiving wrestling events was Atlanta. Through the years, the Atlanta City Auditorium and The Omni kept that holiday tradition alive and well in the Peach State until 1992.

The Mid-Atlantic territory also had its fair share of Thanksgiving action. Presented by Jim Crockett Promotions, cities from Charlotte, N.C., to Charleston, S.C., were treated to some outstanding cards from top to bottom on turkey night. Perhaps the most recognizable Thanksgiving evening event in the early 1980s was Starrcade, which primarily emanated from the Greensboro Coliseum. The very first edition, held on Nov. 24, 1983, saw “Nature Boy” Ric Flair dethrone Harley Race in a Steel Cage Match to become the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. ( WATCH) Starrcade continued its Thanksgiving events through the next four years.

Finally, WWE made its entry into the Thanksgiving picture on Nov. 26, 1987, with a new and unique concept called Survivor Series. The initial event from the Richfield Coliseum in Summit County, Ohio, had four matches, all contested under an elimination format that took many twists and turns throughout the evening. The main event of Survivor Series featured teams that were respectively captained by Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, two rivals coming off their WrestleMania III blockbuster. ( WATCH THE FULL MATCH) The name Survivor Series has been a Thanksgiving time staple in WWE for an impressive 26 years, second only to WrestleMania, which will hit event No. 29 in April.

If there was any one time frame in the wrestling world that defined tradition, it was arguably Thanksgiving. Those who either attended or viewed any of these great holiday events had no doubt there was another reason to give thanks: for the sports and entertainment that was provided.

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