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After Nearly A Decade, Pro Wrestling Returns To The Palisades

MCKEESPORT (KDKA) -- The Pittsburgh area is home to a rich professional wrestling history.

A number of venues have hosted countless matches over the years. Long before CONSOL Energy Center and even the Civic Arena, they were held at The Duquesne Gardens and the Islam Grotto on Pittsburgh's North Side Grotto. Even Forbes Field was known for hosting some major events.

Sitting near the Youghiogheny River in the heart of Downtown McKeesport, The Palisades holds its own special place in the hearts of local pro wrestling fans. Its long history gets a new chapter Friday when it hosts its first pro wrestling card in years, promoted by Global Force Wrestling. GFW founder Jeff Jarrett understands the significance of Friday night's event.

"The Palisades in McKeesport is such an historic venue for wrestling, with decades of lineage. It's a privilege just to be a part of such a rich history that includes legendary names like Bruno Sammartino."

According to the McKeesport Heritage Center, the building now known as The Palisades housed a cigar factory and a garmant plant from 1884-1907, but it's destiny took a dramatic turn in 1914. That's when the property was purchased by James McGirr and James Davenport. They converted the building into a training ground for boxers.

By the 1950's, pro wrestling matches were a regular attraction at The Palisades. Iconic names such as Crusher Lisowski, Antonino Rocca and Johnny Valentine were among the headliners on some of those early cards. Bruno Sammartino, George Steele and Bill Watts, along with local favorites including The Battman, Johnny DeFazio and Dominic DeNucci, would lead the way into the 1960's and beyond. Sammartino defended the WWWF World Heavyweight Title at The Palisades during his first epic championship reign from 1963-1971.

The wrestlers of that era inspired some of those in the crowd to follow their footsteps into the squared circle. Ken "Zoltan" Jugan traces the origin of his 40-year career in pro wrestling back to one special day at The Palisades.

"My actual first 'live' wrestling match that I viewed was at the smoke filled McKeesport Palisades. I believe it was around 1970 or 1971. It was Bruno Sammartino vs. Jos LeDuc in the main event."

Photo Credit: Ken "Zoltan" Jugan

Dan Polinsky says he was 7 years old when his grandfather took him to his first pro wrestling card at The Palisades. A young Bruno Sammartino was on the card, before he became a worldwide star. The matches made an instant impression on the young Polinsky.

"I was so excited after my first night. My grandfather bought me a hot dog after the show, and I swallowed it whole. I got very sick that night."

Polinsky kept going back with his grandfather, and witnessed many more memorable moments at The Palisades.

"I remember one night a crazy old man who was a fan jumped up on the ring apron with a pen knife and stabbed Dr. Bill Miller in the hand."

Polinsky's love for pro wrestling led to him promoting his own shows in the region. His two sons also got into business. Sam currently wrestles primarily outside the U.S., usually under the ring name Samuel Elias. Older brother Matt is a broadcaster for WWE as Corey Graves.

Before he signed with WWE, Graves was part of a new generation who kept the pro wrestling tradition alive at The Palisades over recent years. WWE's Cesaro, Samoa Joe and A.J. Styles; Ring Of Honor's Steve Corino, Christopher Daniels and the current ROH World Champion Jay Lethal all wrestled there at one point in their careers.

TNA's DJ Z, who got his start in the Pittsburgh area and will be part of Friday night's event, remembers a tournament held at The Palisades in 2005 that included several nationally known, rising stars on the independent wrestling scene, including a young CM Punk.

"That night at the Palisades was pretty special, because it proved that these young Pittsburgh wrestlers could hang with some of the best competitors in the world and got some good buzz for local Pittsburgh wrestling during a real exciting time in the business."

Check out this undated exterior pic of Palisades.

Despite its rich history, The Palisades has been quiet for a while when it comes to pro wrestling, but recent renovations may be paying off. Global Force Wrestling is promoting a loaded card Friday night, featuring nationally known wrestlers as well as local favorites.

"We have two great partners for our event in McKeesport," Jarrett said. "Pro Wrestling Express is based in McKeesport, and has been consistently running events for over two decades and counting, and still getting stronger. The Renegade Wrestling Alliance has been building a very passionate fanbase with great events in West Newton. These relationships allow us the chance to not just showcase marquee stars recognized across the world, but to also spotlight some of Western Pennsylvania's best and brightest upcoming talent - the stars you'll see on national television in 3-5 years."

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Friday night's card will be the first pro wrestling event at The Palisades in nearly a decade, and a chance to add a new chapter to the Pittsburgh area's pro wrestling history.

"Whenever Bruno wrestled, he carried himself with class, honor, dignity, and a no-nonsense focus on presenting the absolute best professional wrestling possible," Jarrett said. "We at Global Force Wrestling want to take that same mantra, update it to 2016, and give wrestling fans across the globe an event they can be proud of that all members of the family can enjoy."

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