A one-stop guide to WWE’s fascinating history in Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Who said Providence doesn’t pack a punch?

When World Wrestling Entertainment’s Monday Night Raw comes to Providence next week, it will be returning to a venue that has quietly played host to some of the most interesting matches of the last 30 years. The Dunkin’ Donuts Center might not be Madison Square Garden, but it’s second to none when it comes to WWE shows.

Here’s a look at what you should know about the history of non-City Hall wrestling in the capital city.

No city has hosted more King of the Ring tournaments.
If you’re under the age of 35, your memory of the King of the Ring tournament probably starts in 1993, the first year it appeared on pay-per-view. Bret “the Hitman” Hart knocked off Bam Bam Bigelow to capture the crown. But that wasn’t the first King of the Ring ever held. In fact, Providence hosted four consecutive tournaments between 1987 and 1991, with “Macho Man” Randy Savage, the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Tito Santana and Hart each picking up victories. Of the 20 King of the Ring tournaments held, Providence actually hosted five events. (No other city hosted more than two.) The most significant King of the Ring in Providence occurred in 1997, when a blueblood named Hunter Hearst Helmsley took the crown. The win set Helmsley, who would later become known as Triple H, on a path to becoming one of the most famous wrestlers in the world. He joined a faction known as D-Generation X, real-life married WWE CEO Vince McMahon’s daughter, won 14 world titles and is now an executive vice president of the company.

One of the best Royal Rumble matches happened in Providence.
The year was 1994. I was seven. Bret Hart and “the All-American” Lex Luger were the final two contestants in the annual 30-man over-the-top-rope battle royal whose winner becomes the no. 1 contender for the world title at WrestleMania. In this case, that meant two good guys were left to square off for a chance to wrestle the ultimate bad guy, a 500-pound sumo character named Yokozuna. But Hart and Luger ended up eliminating each other at the same time, which led to both men being declared the winner. It was the first and only tie in the history of the rumble. At WrestleMania X, Yokozuna defeated Luger by disqualification, but lost his title to Hart.

The Undertaker lost in a casket match for the first time.
This also occurred at the 1994 Royal Rumble. It took about 10 different wrestlers to get the Undertaker in the casket, but World Champion Yokozuna was declared the winner. (Fun fact: Even though the match was tailored for the Undertaker, he is only 4-3 in career casket matches.) Then this happened:

The first cable TV event in Providence wasn’t a WWE show.
It was World Championship Wrestling’s Monday Nitro (date: 5/18/1998) and it happened to be one of the worst-rated shows in WCW history. (In fairness, the NBA playoffs were on that night, so the show was shortened.) The most important thing that happened was U.S. Champion Goldberg went to 89-0 when he defeated Glacier, who is widely considered one of the worst characters in wrestling history. Even though the show was dreadful, its historical context can’t be understated. WCW was an Atlanta company and it rarely made trips to New England. At the time, the so-called Monday Night Wars were in full effect, with Monday Night Raw and Monday Nitro jockeying for ratings supremacy. (Spoiler alert: WWE won the war and real-life bought WCW in 2001.)

Two major championship titles have changed hands in Providence.
And they both happened during Backlash 2009, the last time the Dunk hosted a pay-per-view event. That night, Randy Orton captured the WWE Heavyweight Title and Edge won the World Heavyweight Title (that belt no longer exists). As for minor titles, the Women’s Championship, Hardcore Championship, ECW Championship and Cruiserweight Championship all changed hands in Providence at some point.

Hasbro played a major role in helping the WWE go mainstream.
The Pawtucket toy company was responsible for creating WWE action figures, which were among the hottest-selling toys in America in the early 1990s. (Mattell later took over that contract.) Here’s how I played with my action figures: I would place the 20-or-so wrestling figures I had in my plastic Hasbro-created ring and then add in my American Gladiator figures to create a Royal Rumble. Then I would turn the ring upside down and the figure that got caught in the ropes would be the winner. This often meant victories for one of the Bushwhackers.

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An Olympian made fun of Rhode Island.
In real life, Kurt Angle won Olympic Gold in freestyle wrestling at the 1996 Summer Games. In WWE life, he rocketed up the rankings to become one of the best characters in fake wrestling during the late 1990s and early 2000s. By the time he kicked off the Raw in Providence on Aug. 14, 2000, Angle was a star. While verbally attacking Triple H, he pulled the ultimate bad guy move: he attacked the home crowd. “America may see you as the insignificant, nothing state,” he told the crowd. “But I don’t.” The folks in the city chanted words a family-friendly website like ours cannot publish.

Last time Raw was in Providence, this happened.

Monday is an incredibly important show.
Not only is World Champion Dean Ambrose defending his title against Seth Rollins (who is arguably the most talented guy in the company right now), but it’s the night before a company-wide draft that will see half the WWE roster set aside for Monday Night Raw and half going to SmackDown, a second WWE show that airs during the week. We already know that Vince McMahon’s real-life children will run each show, with daughter Stephanie controlling Raw and son Shane overseeing SmackDown. But on Monday, Stephanie and Shane will each select a WWE-life general manager, also known as my dream job.

Providence could have a bright future in WWE.
It’s no secret that Foxboro was in the running to host WrestleMania XXXIII before the WWE ultimately selected Orlando, Florida. In fact, I know through my real-life reporting job that Providence officials met with WWE officials to discuss potentially hosting other WrestleMania weekend events (there’s a fan fest, minor league show and Hall of Fame ceremony). Vince told the Orlando Sentinel logistics were the problem in Foxboro/Providence. Because the WWE is going with a roster split, it has been widely speculated that the company may increase its Sunday night marquee events, which used to air exclusively on pay-per-view but now run on the WWE Network. That could give a city like Providence the opportunity to host more live events, but we’ll have to wait and see.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) usually covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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