wrestling / Columns

Going Home Again: The Cow Palace Royale

May 8, 2017 | Posted by Dino Zee

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it a million times more: I love professional wrestling. I always have. It’s for the usual stuff – the performers, the feuds, the incredible matches – that most of us would normally list. Of course, there are other things that we tie to our fandom that exist outside of the actual show itself.

For me, one of the most important parts of my life as a wrestling fan is the Cow Palace which officially resides in Daly City, but is known as a San Francisco locale to most everyone nonetheless. A couple years back, I wrote about the first wrestling event I ever attended, which of course took place at the historic, magnificent building.

To be clear – I am well aware that the Cow Palace isn’t the most visually pleasing building. That, to me, is absolutely part of its charm. The Cow Palace instantly became a destination after that 1987 card, because if I was going there, odds were that it was because there was freaking wrestling taking place! Sure, I also caught a He-Man Live show there when I was about four, as well as a monster truck dealie at some point, but 98% of the time, Cow Palace means wrestling.

As I grew up, the trips to the Cow Palace became less frequent. There’d still be an occasional house show, and WCW would actually hold a couple pay per views there in the late 90s, but for the most part, it was no longer a place the big companies would hit. Not with San Jose’s sexy SAP Center or Oakland’s Oracle Arena available. Hell, even Sacramento’s not-so-good Arco Arena got a lot of shows while the Cow Palace was handed the smallest of crumbs.

While the big guys wouldn’t run the Cow Palace, the smaller guys more or less couldn’t. Attempting to draw a crowd that would justify the rent and other costs just seemed too daunting of a task, and no one was willing to give it a shot. It was just easier and more cost-efficient to run in the smaller venues available both in and out of San Francisco. I even remember during a TNA show at the Kezar Pavilion where I mentioned that they should run the Cow Palace to one of their workers and the guy basically laughed and said “Do you see this crowd?! We wouldn’t draw anything there!”

And like that, with the big guys unwilling and the smaller guys incapable, the building that hosted some of the West Coast’s biggest moments in the 60s, 70s and 80s was basically forced to be a living relic.

Yep, even after this incredible moment took place. This moment that still lives with fans for just how beautiful everything came together. Does anyone look back at No Way Out 2004 and think about the ugly building? Do they think about the slightly-smaller-than-usual crowd? Of course not. Instead, a huge fan favorite of a moment gets some added allure because it happened at the historic Cow Palace.

I bring up the crowd size to show that I’m not clueless as to the reasons that this place lost its allure for the big guys. The arenas I mentioned above hold more people and, yes, more people equals more money. This is where the business marks earn their credentials by pointing out that a business exists to make money, and so running a smaller arena is never the smart idea.

I’m just over here looking at Madison Square Garden thinking about what an interesting point that is, but one that seems to be easily ignored when promoting things like history and tradition and all of that other stuff. Whether you see MSG and the Cow Palace as equals here, really, is irrelevant. The point is that smaller arenas can absolutely get big shows if you play it up right. For some reason, that had been lost with the Cow Palace as well.

So while I have enjoyed an incredible renaissance these last few years with the local independent scene, along with the usual WWE fun, there has always been a part of me that just wished that we could do something at the Cow Palace again. The last time I was there in any wrestling capacity was around 2009 or 2010 for a Smackdown house show, and it just felt like it had been too long. And again, how about something better than a small house show?

That all changed on Saturday, May 6th, when Daly City’s All Pro Wrestling broke the 35 year drought on regional wrestling running a show at the Cow Palace, hosting the Cow Palace Royale.

Featuring – but absolutely not limited to – a main event featuring Cody Rhodes and Joey Ryan in a steel cage, this event was being hyped when I attended an All Pro Wrestling card in February (that featured Cody taking on Penta Zero M and me losing my shit at getting to meet the most evil dude in wrestling) and the train never died down in the ensuing months.

Along with the cage match, the card featured a 30 Man Elimination Cow Palace Royale, an APW Tag Team Championship match, an APW Premier Women’s Championship match, an APW Internet Championship match, a San Francisco Death Match, and more! The card went for four hours, and drew surprisingly (and heart-warmingly) well. It wasn’t a WrestleMania crowd, and it was never supposed to be. But it showed that the smaller guys can run the arena, put on a good show, and get the people to show up.

The event also did a good job of paying homage to history as Pat Patterson was in attendance and addressed the crowd, Kevin Sullivan showed up as an outside enforcer during the San Francisco Death Match (even getting involved when the match was over), and guys like X-Pac and Gangrel wrestling in the Cow Palace Royale match, giving us older jerks (and jerks even older) something to wax nostalgic on while enjoying the current names and up and coming talent.

The APW Tag Title match was a fun 3 on 2 contest between champions The Classic Connection, Levi Shapiro and Buddy Royal (a personal favorite team) along with their manager Brian Zane and Lion Power, Marcus Lewis and Will Hobbs, that saw the challengers walk away with the win. Jacob Fatu – seriously, learn this name if you don’t yet know it – won the 30 Man Cow Palace Royale, and looked incredible while doing so. APW Champion (and Impact Wrestling star) Luster the Legend came up short in a fatal four way against Johnny Mundo, Cage, and Jeff Cobb (Matanza on Lucha Underground) as Cobb came out the victor after dazzling the crowd with every type of suplex you could ever imagine seeing.

Will Cuevas also came up short while defending his Internet Championship against young stud Karl Fredericks, with The BFD ending Cuevas’ near six month reign in another spirited contest. There were two separate women’s matches, seeing Shotzi Blackheart earn a victory in a triple threat match, as well as former MMA fighter Shayna Baszler retaining her Premier Women’s championship. Something for everybody was not just a silly cliché Saturday night in the Cow Palace.

I was lucky enough to get to meet Victoria who was at a table taking pictures and signing gear. Pat Patterson was also at one of these tables, as was Johnny Mundo and Cage. Other APW stars like JR Kratos and Adam Thornstowe could be seen interacting with fans throughout the night. Bay Area legend Boyce LeGrande wrestled, which always makes my night as I’m a huge fan of the Bad Boy. Many of the wrestlers who participated in the battle royale would come and enjoy the show from the stands.

The cage match between Cody and Ryan was, as one might guess, a fun and violent mess of perversion and athleticism. After blood was spilled and dongs were styled, Cody emerged victorious, though Ryan got in a good shot of his own when he dropped Cody’s wife Brandi with a well-timed superkick, which didn’t entirely anger the crowd. One would have to assume this feud isn’t anywhere near finished.

At the end of the night, everyone involved got a standing ovation, and a deserved one at that. For the first time in a long time, a wrestling event at the Cow Palace was promoted as a big deal, and it was treated as one. Everybody came out a winner. You could see it in the eyes of the fans young and old, who had enjoyed an incredible night of action. You could see it in the eyes of the wrestlers, so happy to be part of such a night. You could see it on the face of Markus Mack, the man who runs APW, as he proudly walked among the fans, appreciative of the compliments that they gave him. It was a combined effort of everyone involved to make it a special night. They put the card together and promoted it, and we spread the knowledge via word of mouth or the usual social media postings. It was clear that we all had one goal – to not let the night fail. And in no measure known was the Cow Palace Royale a failure. It was an excellent blend of everything I’ve ever known about wrestling coming together, allowing us to thank those who got us here, and to enjoy those that are there now.

It’s okay to look to the future. It’s okay to embrace the new shiny things. But you shouldn’t forget your roots. You shouldn’t forget your history. You shouldn’t ever be unable to return home. Saturday night, I got to return home.

Well done, APW.