By David Fong
Regional Sports Content Manager
TROY — Hobart Arena may be most famous for hosting Elvis Presley in 1956, but frequently lost in the nostalgia surrounding Presley’s visit is the fact that, over the years, Hobart Arena also has played host to numerous world champions and even an Olympic gold medalist.
There was a time when Hobart Arena was a hot bed for hosting professional wrestling events, particularly during the 1980s.
In the early part of that decade, professional wrestling was a staple at the arena and a frequent stop for the touring wrestlers of Georgia Championship Wrestling, which was just beginning to gain national attention through media mogul Ted Turner’s nascent Superstation WTBS channel.
Such GCW superstars as “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer, “Wildfire” Tommy Rich and “The Minnesota Wrecking Crew” tag team of Ole and Gene Anderson — long a local fixture in the South — began receiving national television exposure on Saturday mornings on the station owned by Turner, a long-time wrestling fan. That exposure allowed GCW to begin expanding its fanbase and begin running more “house shows” — events that appeared in local arenas and were not televised — north of the Mason-Dixon line.
As the tours expanded into Ohio, Hobart Arena became a regular stop for Georgia Championship Wrestling — often sandwiched between shows in larger cities such as Cleveland and Cincinnati — and GCW superstars would appear several times per year at Hobart.
On April 4, 1985, local fans were treated to a rare appearance by then National Wrestling Alliance — the umbrella organization to which GCW belonged — heavyweight champion “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. That night, Flair — widely regarded by wrestling historians as one of the greatest performers in the history of the sport — battled challenger Ronnie “Hands of Stone” Garvin to a double countout.
Flair would return to Hobart Arena nearly 13 years later — this time to take on Curt Hennig — in one of the most highly attended professional wrestling shows ever to appear at Hobart. On March 20, 1998, World Championship Wrestling appeared in front a nearly sold-out crowd at Hobart. In addition to Flair, the show featured such superstars as Bill Goldberg, Chris Jericho, Booker T and “Diamond” Dallas Page.
That show came during the height of WCW’s popularity, when its nationally televised Monday Nitro show was frequently drawing in excess of 4 million viewers on a weekly basis.
Following that 1998 show, it would be almost a decade before professional wrestling would return to Hobart Arena — and this time, it would feature not only a world champion, but an Olympic gold medalist.
On Jan. 25, 2008, Total Nonstop Action wrestling made its debut at Hobart Arena. In the main event, TNA heavyweight champion Kurt Angle — who captured an Olympic gold medal in amateur wrestling at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta — would defend his title against challenger Samoa Joe.
Total Nonstop Action wrestling would return to Hobart in December of that year and again on June 25, 2011.