Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
WWE Made Its Fresno Debut 40 Years Ago. Who Was on the Sizzling July 4th Eve Card?
gvw_david_taub
By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 2 weeks ago on
July 2, 2024

WWE (WWF) held its first Fresno show July 3, 1984. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

Share

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

For 40 years, the greats of the WWE — Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena, Cody Rhodes — have wrestled in Fresno.

Tito Santana defending the Intercontinental Heavyweight title against “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff headlined the first card on July 3, 1984, at Selland Arena.

San Francisco-based Roy Shire booked talent in Fresno during the 1960s and 1970s. He gave way in 1979 to local promoter Pat DiFuria, who booked talent from Los Angeles for a few years.

But, in the early 1980s, Fresno became a wrestling ghost town —save for an irregular independent or Lucha Libre show —until the WWF arrived.

The WWE (the name changed from the WWF in 2002) featured eight Hall of Famers on that first card. And, Fresno has been one of the group’s better stops over the last 40 years. The most recent card on Feb. 18 of this year, headlined by Rhodes, drew more than 9,200 fans to the Save Mart Center.

“And Fresno … They were just enamored by the whole thing. As the wrestlers, we were all excited about being there as well.” — B. Brian Blair

The debut got off to a rough start. Three matches advertised in the Fresno Bee didn’t take place — Jimmy Snuka vs. Paul Orndorff; Tito Santana vs. Big John Studd; and Sgt. Slaughter vs. Dick Murdoch.

WWF advertised its first card in Fresno in the Fresno Bee. None of these matches took place.

Snuka, Slaughter, and Murdoch no-showed, causing a reshuffling of the card. The results, according to The History of WWE:

  • Jesse Ventura defeated Tony Garea;
  • The Iron Sheik defeated Terry Daniels;
  • The Moondogs: Spot & Rex defeated Billy Anderson & Steve Pardee;
  • Big John Studd defeated Alexis Smirnoff;
  • The Wild Samoans: Afa & Sika defeated Mr. Fuji & Tiger Chung Lee;
  • Adrian Adonis defeated B. Brian Blair;
  • WWF Intercontinental champion Tito Santana defeated Paul Orndorff.

Ventura once claimed that the city named Ventura Street — recently renamed Cesar Chavez Boulevard — after him.

The card can best be described as a “B-Show” because it did not have the WWE’s biggest draw at the time, Hulk Hogan. “Hulkamania” ran wild in Los Angeles and Oakland that week, but not Fresno, Sacramento, or San Bernardino.

Selland Arena was one of WWE’s head honcho Vince McMahon’s top five arenas, according to local wrestling promoter and executive Lance Cardoza. The arena hosted two pay-per-views, several TV tapings, and the infamous Steve Austin-Mike Tyson confrontation in 1998.

“It was the perfect size for television. Acoustics were great for television. It was really sort of built for professional wrestling and boxing, the way it was laid out. (McMahon) always liked that building,” said Cardoza, promoter of Fresno-based Lucha Xtreme.

Santana vs. Orndorff in the Main Event

Unfortunately, only eight of the 18 wrestlers on that card are still with us — Samoan Sika passed away last week. GV Wire could not verify the status of Daniels.

Santana told Off the Bottom Rope he didn’t have any specific memory of the Fresno card. That is understandable, considering that in-demand wrestlers work a seemingly nonstop schedule, performing in a different town every night.

Bob Jenkins started working at KAIL-53 TV, which aired WWF matches, shortly after the first 1984 event. He later served as ring announcer for local cards. He recalled the drawing power of Santana.

“Tito Santana was very popular in the Central Valley, and he had a long run as the IC. In those early days, WWF only did house shows (non-TV taping) in Fresno, so you didn’t have the sellout crowds. Maybe 4,000 people came to the show. But when Tito was on the card, it felt like there were a lot more fans in attendance,” Jenkins said.

Video from two other 1984 Santana vs. Orndorff matches remain on video:

 

B. Brian Blair on Fresno: A Big Deal

Blair well remembers that Fresno debut,  he said in a phone interview from his home in Tampa.

After wrestling, Blair was a Hillsborough County (Florida) commissioner — similar to a county supervisor — from 2004 to 2008.

He wrestled in Fresno several times since, later as one-half of the Killer Bees tag team, with partner Jim Brunzell. The team would don black and yellow striped tights, and sometimes masks to confuse opponents.

“Going to Fresno, to the West Coast, was a really big deal for us,” Blair said.

Other promotions, such as Georgia Championship Wrestling airing on WTBS on cable, and the Minneapolis-based AWA started promoting beyond their traditional territories. But, the WWEF hit Fresno first.

Blair praised the enthusiasm of Fresno’s fans, calling it a hot crowd (and hot outside too, at 107 degrees).

“(The fans) were just popping on everything. And, you know, there’s some crowds where you’ve got to start chopping meat and get out the tables and chairs or whatever to get them going. Other crowds will react with a nice, beautiful arm drag and dropkick, the heel bails out the ring and they’re standing up. And Fresno was like that, that first time we were there. They were just enamored by the whole thing. As the wrestlers, we were all excited about being there as well,” Blair said.

Blair called his opponent Adonis “a great guy to work with.”

Although billed from New York City, Adonis settled in Bakersfield.

B. Brian Blair (right) and Jim Brunzell formed "The Killer Bees." (Facebook/B. Brian Blair)
B. Brian Blair (right) and Jim Brunzell formed The Killer Bees. (Facebook/B. Brian Blair)

Anderson Has Fond Fresno Memories

Anderson was not a regular WWF wrestler. He helped fill-in spots for mainly West Coast cards.

“We were the local talent, and that saved (the WWE) some airfare,” Anderson said by phone from his Phoenix home.

He may have appreciated wrestling more than some of the regulars.

“All the shows that I did for WWFE … were big to me,” Anderson said. “Selland Arena was a is a beautiful arena.”

He remembered staying at the hotel across the street, now a Double Tree.

“You’d just walk across. That was a great benefit of that town,” Anderson said.

It was not the first time he wrestled in town. He wrestled in Fresno for the occasional Lucha Libre show at the Wilson Theatre.

When not wrestling, Anderson filled other duties in that era — ring announcing (when Jenkins was not available), and even setting up the ring truck.

Tough Travel

The Independence Day-eve card finished a five-day, five-city California swing for the WWF. The next day, the WWF held two cards in small, Pennsylvania cities.

Blair wrestled in Stroudsburg, nearly two hours north of Philadelphia.

“It was always planes, trains and automobiles, you know, that kind of thing. It’s is a combination of flying into the biggest city, getting to rent a car and then driving. And that’s what we did,” Blair said.

Snuka, arguably one of the most popular stars at the time, missed some of those California shows. He had well-known substance abuse problems at the time, and no-showed often. He would be out of the WWF less than a year later.

“Jimmy had been going through some problems, as most of us know. And, so that was Jimmy’s deal,” Blair recalled.

Life After Wrestling

After wrestling, Blair was a Hillsborough County commissioner — similar to a county supervisor — from 2004 to 2008.

“It’s a full contact sport. I don’t care if you are loved by everybody. And the minute you put an ‘R’ or ‘D’ after your name and you start running for politics, you alienate a lot of those people just because of your political affiliation,” Blair said.

His politics could play well in Fresno County.

“I’d rather say save the taxpayers money if we could still be an efficient and effective. That’s kind of like taboo for the other side, the other camp. They want big government and government can do all for everyone. And I just don’t believe that,” Blair said.

Blair currently serves as president and CEO of the Cauliflower Alley Club, an alumni association of former wrestlers.

The club has its annual reunion in Las Vegas, August 19-21, open to members, which anyone can join. This year, honorees include Kurt Angle — who will be at the Fresno Grizzlies Pro Wrestling Night on Aug. 17 — The Dudley Boys, Jim Ross, Negro Casas, and actor Todd Bridges of “Diff’rent Strokes” fame.

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

MLB All-Star Game Viewers up 6% to 7.44 Million After Falling to Record Low Last Year

DON'T MISS

Obama, Pelosi and Democrats Make a Fresh Push for Biden to Reconsider 2024 Race

DON'T MISS

The Last Cards Have Been Dealt as the Iconic Mirage Closes Its Doors on the Las Vegas Strip

DON'T MISS

Visalia Man Faces Third Strike for Serial Burglary

DON'T MISS

American Who Made Social Media Threats Against Taylor Swift Detained Ahead of German Concert

DON'T MISS

Netanyahu Makes Surprise Visit to Troops in Gaza Days Before Speech to US Congress

DON'T MISS

The Grateful Dead and Francis Ford Coppola Are Among the Newest Kennedy Center Honors Recipients

DON'T MISS

Magic Co-Founder Pat Williams, Who Helped Bring Team to Orlando, Dies at 84

DON'T MISS

US Army Honors Nisei Combat Unit That Helped Liberate Tuscany From Nazi-Fascist Forces in WWII

DON'T MISS

Greenhouses Are Becoming More Popular, but There’s Little Research on How to Protect Workers

UP NEXT

Obama, Pelosi and Democrats Make a Fresh Push for Biden to Reconsider 2024 Race

UP NEXT

The Last Cards Have Been Dealt as the Iconic Mirage Closes Its Doors on the Las Vegas Strip

UP NEXT

Visalia Man Faces Third Strike for Serial Burglary

UP NEXT

American Who Made Social Media Threats Against Taylor Swift Detained Ahead of German Concert

UP NEXT

Netanyahu Makes Surprise Visit to Troops in Gaza Days Before Speech to US Congress

UP NEXT

The Grateful Dead and Francis Ford Coppola Are Among the Newest Kennedy Center Honors Recipients

UP NEXT

Magic Co-Founder Pat Williams, Who Helped Bring Team to Orlando, Dies at 84

UP NEXT

US Army Honors Nisei Combat Unit That Helped Liberate Tuscany From Nazi-Fascist Forces in WWII

UP NEXT

Greenhouses Are Becoming More Popular, but There’s Little Research on How to Protect Workers

UP NEXT

European Leaders Discuss Migration and Ukraine at a UK Summit as Concern Grows About Direction of US

David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

Visalia Man Faces Third Strike for Serial Burglary

36 mins ago

American Who Made Social Media Threats Against Taylor Swift Detained Ahead of German Concert

48 mins ago

Netanyahu Makes Surprise Visit to Troops in Gaza Days Before Speech to US Congress

50 mins ago

The Grateful Dead and Francis Ford Coppola Are Among the Newest Kennedy Center Honors Recipients

1 hour ago

Magic Co-Founder Pat Williams, Who Helped Bring Team to Orlando, Dies at 84

1 hour ago

US Army Honors Nisei Combat Unit That Helped Liberate Tuscany From Nazi-Fascist Forces in WWII

1 hour ago

Greenhouses Are Becoming More Popular, but There’s Little Research on How to Protect Workers

1 hour ago

European Leaders Discuss Migration and Ukraine at a UK Summit as Concern Grows About Direction of US

2 hours ago

Newly Arrived Migrants Encounter Hazards of Food Delivery on the Streets of NYC: Robbers

2 hours ago

WNBA Players’ Union Head Concerned League Is Being Undervalued in New Media Deal

2 hours ago

MLB All-Star Game Viewers up 6% to 7.44 Million After Falling to Record Low Last Year

NEW YORK — Paul Skenes, Shohei Ohtani, Jarren Duran and the rest of this year’s All-Stars drew 7,443,000 viewers on Fox, up 6% from th...

3 mins ago

3 mins ago

MLB All-Star Game Viewers up 6% to 7.44 Million After Falling to Record Low Last Year

16 mins ago

Obama, Pelosi and Democrats Make a Fresh Push for Biden to Reconsider 2024 Race

18 mins ago

The Last Cards Have Been Dealt as the Iconic Mirage Closes Its Doors on the Las Vegas Strip

36 mins ago

Visalia Man Faces Third Strike for Serial Burglary

48 mins ago

American Who Made Social Media Threats Against Taylor Swift Detained Ahead of German Concert

50 mins ago

Netanyahu Makes Surprise Visit to Troops in Gaza Days Before Speech to US Congress

1 hour ago

The Grateful Dead and Francis Ford Coppola Are Among the Newest Kennedy Center Honors Recipients

1 hour ago

Magic Co-Founder Pat Williams, Who Helped Bring Team to Orlando, Dies at 84

Search

Send this to a friend