Chicago’s wrestling tradition grows even richer with WWE Payback

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June 02, 2013

Vocal though they may be, the Chicago faithful are not always the most hospitable spectators. It’s well-documented that Chi-Town is home to some of the world’s most diehard sports enthusiasts, as well as some of the most unforgiving, as Cubs fan Steve Bartman found out the hard way when he errantly reached over Wrigley Field’s left field wall in 2003.

“Chicago, in general, is a great sports city, and they have their own identity as fans,” said Brodus Clay, who remembers watching The Road Warriors tear opponents apart in their specialty match of choice, the Chicago Street Fight. “It’s basically a home-field advantage for you if you’re loved by Chicago. If you’re not loved by Chicago, you’re going to know it.”

That hard-boiled attitude has provided the perfect backdrop for wrestling contests dating back to the late 1800s. Frank Gotch vs. “Russian Lion” George Hackenschmidt, arguably the first super-match in squared circle history, took place at Chicago’s Dexter Park Pavilion in 1908. (The most expensive ticket was ambitiously priced at $40.) The original “Nature Boy,” Buddy Rogers, bested Pat O’Connor for the NWA Heavyweight Championship in 1961 at Comiskey Park.

It was also in Chicago that Dick the Bruiser & The Crusher ran roughshod over competition. The brawlers spent their free time tossing "dem bums" out of saloons on Halsted Street, the same north-south boulevard that One Man Gang called home. 

“Chicago is synonymous with ‘tough’ and I think the fans there expect Superstars to be tough,” Matt Striker said.