wrestling / Columns

Top 7 Pro Wrestling Memorial Shows

October 9, 2021 | Posted by Steve Cook
Dusty Rhodes Classic

The announcement that AEW would be holding an annual tournament in honor of Owen Hart brought two Top 7 topics right to my mind. One, which we did last time, was the potential winners. That was fun, right? Of course it was!

Another being the history of tributes to folks in the wrestling business no longer with us. Some folks get swept under the rug, never to be mentioned again. Others get memorialized by tournaments or annual events held in their honor. I thought it’d be fun to look back at the best of these attempts to pay homage to wrestling legends. Here are the Top 7 Wrestling Memorials.

7. Mae Young Classic

Mae dedicated her life to pro wrestling, but most of us weren’t too familiar with her when she showed up alongside the Fabulous Moolah on WWF television in 1999. She became known for dating Mark Henry, giving birth to a hand, and taking big bumps at an age where a simple fall leads to calamity for most people. Even though Moolah was the bigger star during their in-ring days, Young stood out during their Attitude Era run because she was willing to do crazier stuff. Mae passed away in early 2014, and has been sold by WWE as a women’s wrestling pioneer ever since. While Moolah’s reputation has taken a hit with modern fans due to various revelations of how she treated other lady wrestlers, Mae’s has remained solid.

WWE honored her in 2017 with a 32-woman tournament featuring young members of their roster & various independent wrestlers. The event came back in 2018 and was rumored to return in 2019, but plans for that fell through. The notable thing about this tournament is how many women made their WWE televised debuts and went on to do big things later. Rhea Ripley, Toni Storm, Kay Lee Ray, Piper Niven, Shayna Baszler, Kairi Sane & Candice LeRae were among those names, and I’m sure there are some I’ve forgotten.

6. Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic

The list of jobs Dusty had in the wrestling business is as long as anybody’s. His most important while under the employment of WWE was his work with NXT. Many who came through WWE’s developmental system in the early 2010s have publicly credited Dusty for helping them flesh out their personas and becoming full-fledged WWE Superstars. Dusty’s passing in 2015 was a blow to that part of WWE & to most of WWE’s talent roster in general.

It was a no-brainer to have some sort of event for Dusty under the NXT banner. A tag team tournament made as much sense as anything else, as Dusty was the brains behind another tag team tournament we’ll be getting to later. A women’s version of the tournament was added to the proceedings in 2021.

5. Heroes Immortales

AAA started holding a show around the anniversary of founder Antonio Pena’s death the year after he passed away. The first two years it was known as the Antonio Pena Memoria Show, but was changed to Heroes Immortales in 2009. Pena’s image is still used in the logo for the show, and the Copa Antonio Pena is contested each year as part of the event. The match’s format has changed several times, for the past several years it’s been a battle royal. There have been thirteen different winners of the Copa Antonio Pena, which is fairly impressive.

4. Homenaje a Dos Leyendas

CMLL pays tribute to their late founder, Salvador Lutteroth, in many different ways, including an annual event held around his birthday of March 21 that has taken place since 1996. Starting in 1999, they started the tradition of honoring two legends with this event. For the first several years, Mexico’s most famous wrestler ever, El Santo, was honored alongside Lutteroth.

After a dispute with El Hijo del Santo, CMLL began honoring a different wrestler alongside Lutteroth each year. Names like Mil Mascaras, Blue Demon, Cien Caras & others have been involved, with Sangre Chicana being the most recent honoree. It’s considered CMLL’s equivalent to a Hall of Fame induction.

The show has been main evented each year by a hair vs. hair or mask vs. mask match. Hair & mask matches are the most important matches in lucha libre, far more important than championship matches. Two of the legendary Villanos lost their masks in separate Dos Leyendas main events, as did the man currently known as Andrade El Idolo.

3. Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions

World Class Championship Wrestling was quickly becoming one of wrestling’s hottest promotions during the early to mid-1980s. The buzz was largely centered around the sons of promoter Fritz Von Erich and their rivals. David, Kevin & Kerry became beloved figures in Dallas, and eventually across the world due to the show’s syndication network. David & Kerry in particular were rumored future NWA World Champions, which certainly would have shifted the balance of power in the alliance. Things hit a snag in February of 1984 when David passed away in Japan. This would be the first of a series of tragedies to befall the Von Erich brothers during the 1980s & 90s.

David’s death did have the effect of galvanizing the public behind the promotion, and World Class would draw the biggest crowd of its history on May 6, 1984. Over 40,000 people packed Texas Stadium to see Kerry honor the memory of his brother & defeat Ric Flair for the world title. It was the main event of the David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions, which also saw Fritz come out of retirement to team with sons Kevin & Mike against the Freebirds. Stars like Junkyard Dog, Kamala, Great Kabuki, Chris Adams & others filled out the card, but the fans were there to see Kerry defeat Ric Flair in honor of David.

Unfortunately, later editions of the Parade of Champions brought diminishing returns. People were worn out by the never ending string of tragedies coming out of World Class & the Von Erich family. The cards grew weaker as well. As Jim Cornette said, the first show had a match that needed a stadium. The later shows had a stadium that needed a match. The second event drew over 26,000, and the third drew 24,000, but the last two didn’t draw over 7,000. The way Fritz would use his sons’ deaths & personal struggles to gin up interest in his shows grew old with most people. As Fritz’s sons & other top stars passed away, interest in World Class also went away.

2. Ted Petty Invitational

IWA Mid-South mostly got attention for the blood & guts frequently showcased on their events. That was what promoter Ian Rotten was known for, and he brought in plenty of wrestlers willing to bleed and do things not healthy for their life expectancy. That was what usually got the attention of wrestling fans, media & police. Rotten also wanted to feature the best technical wrestlers in the independent wrestling scene, so he started The Sweet Science Sixteen tournament in the year 2000.

Rotten came up with the idea of honoring his friend Ted Petty after Petty’s death in September 2002. Petty was known to most wrestling fans as “Flyboy” Rocco Rock, one half of The Public Enemy. Rock & Johnny Grunge became famous for flying through tables in ECW around the same time Ian & Axl Rotten were using barbed wire baseball bats on each other. What a lot of people didn’t know was that prior to Public Enemy, Petty was known as one of the indy scene’s best in-ring talents as the Cheetah Kid. Parallels could be drawn with Petty and the IWA as a whole, as both were known for violent hardcore wrestling but could also partake in scientific wrestling.

The TPI featured twenty-four wrestlers, culminating in a three-way final. During its prime you would see IWA staples like CM Punk, Colt Cabana & Chris Hero competing with the likes of AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bryan Danielson & Kevin Steen. Tyler Black, Matt Sydal & countless others were also featured early in their careers. IWA & the TPI was a breeding ground for most of the 2000s independent wrestlers that people would later see in Ring of Honor, WWE, TNA, AEW and other promotions.

Honorable Mention: “Raw is Owen”

We can’t talk about memorial shows or events without talking about the show that set a precedent for how future televised wrestler memorial shows would go. I don’t know how well the May 24, 1999 episode of Raw has aged since I haven’t seen it in awhile, but at the time it was an emotional two hours of viewing. Wrestlers giving their thoughts on Owen Hart & having matches in honor of him without connection to current storylines seemed like a fitting tribute to his memory. We would see the formula repeated after the death of Eddie Guerrero in 2005, and after the deaths of Chris Benoit & his wife & son in 2007.

Honorable Mention: Brian Pillman Memorial Show

After Brian Pillman passed away in October 1997, the wrestling community in Cincinnati wanted to do something to help his family. They came up with an annual event where proceeds would go to the family, and wrestlers from WWF, WCW & ECW that Brian had be-friended over the years were more than willing to help out. Perhaps the most notable happening from the four events was Steven Regal having a match with Chris Benoit on the 2000 edition that got some positive buzz. There has been some rumor & speculation over where the money generated from these events ended up that we won’t get into here.

1. Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup

Jim Crockett Promotions was long known for its emphasis on tag team wrestling. Teams like the Minnesota Wrecking Crew, Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood, Jack & Jerry Brisco, Rip Hawk & Swede Hansen, Johnny Weaver & George Becker, and Paul Jones with a litany of partners carried the promotion towards national status, when the Road Warriors, Rock N’ Roll Express, Midnight Express & many others graced JCP rings with their presence.

When Jim Crockett Sr. passed away, his son wanted to honor his father in the most appropriate way. A tournament featuring the world’s best tag teams only made sense. Twenty-four teams, eith eight receiving first round byes. The Crockett Cup took place three times before JCP sold their assets to Ted Turner. The Road Warriors won the first event in New Orleans, Dusty Rhodes & Nikita Koloff won in 1987, and the newly formed team of Sting & Lex Luger won in 1988.

Billy Corgan’s NWA revived the event in 2019, with Brody King & PCO winning to win the vacant NWA Tag Team Championship. They planned on doing another in 2020, but COVID-19 put a halt to those plans. No word yet on if they plan on bringing it back in 2022 or future years, but it would be a good way to honor the memory of Jim Crockett Sr. & Jr..

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NXT, WWE, Steve Cook