For the last two decades, The Staples Center has been home of the biggest pro-wrestling events in Los Angeles. In fact, the venue has already been home to more major pay-per-view events than any other area building and can account for what is likely the third largest attendance for a pro-wrestling event in Southern California history. However, it was nearly never built.
On October 6, 1995, billionaires Ed Roski Jr. and Philip Anschutz had purchased the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, who played at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, for $113.5 million after the previous owner had filed bankruptcy. The next year, the new owners announced that the Kings would be seeking a new home and downtown Los Angeles was on their list of potential areas. Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and City Council President John Ferraro were immediately on board with a downtown location.
Majestic Realty Co., which was owned by Roski, began scouting for possible locations for their new arena. LA Recreation and Parks Commission President and Deputy Mayor Steve Soboroff, who had the idea while looking at the land from a helicopter, approached the group about building the new arena adjacent to the Los Angeles Convention Center. Anschutz and Roski were intrigued by the proposal, and a plan to develop on that site was put together.
There were issues right from the start.
The initial proposal called for around $70 million in spending by the city on the project, with no guarantee the money would be repaid. Councilwoman Rita Walters, whose district included the planned site, and Councilman Joel Wachs of Studio City, who was a likely opponent of Soboroff in the 2001 Los Angeles mayoral race, led the opposition to the project.
Arguing that the cost to the city would end up much higher than the $70 million and that the owners should pay for it themselves, Wachs threatened to put a measure on the ballot against the project. Roski became so frustrated that by December 1996 he was threatening to pull out of the project altogether.
The stance by Wachs was popular with community groups, who agreed that the city shouldn’t be giving money to billionaires, but politically he was taking a ton of heat. If the deal fell apart, he would be the man who killed the arena and any new growth downtown Los Angeles was expected to get from it. A 1997 Daily News editorial, titled Joel Wachs, Anarchist?, even said he was “bordering on political terrorism” by seeking a ballot initiative that would likely kill the project.
In what may have saved the project, Cardinal Roger Mahoney was asked to speak with Wachs and Walters and help persuade them to approve the project. Mahoney, who was hoping to build a new cathedral downtown, explained that the new arena would have a multiplier effect; meaning the arena would lead to new restaurants, which would lead to new housing, and so on.
City Council President Ferraro was also trying to rescue the plan and was able to get negotiations going again. The city and developers ended up striking a new deal that gave a guarantee of repayments for any city costs with a ticket surcharge and overflow parking revenue. In the end, the project would not receive any city tax money, directly or indirectly (the city still had to spend $12 million to purchase surrounding property and relocate residents, however).
Construction of Staples Center broke ground on March 26, 1998, and opened a year and a half later. The total cost of construction was $375 million. The arena officially opened on October 17, 1999, with a concert by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. It wouldn’t take long for wrestling to make its Staples Center debut.
Wrestling (And a Wedding) Comes to Staples Center
On November 29, 1999, a month and a half after the building’s opening, WWF held their first event at Staples Center, the first episode of Monday Night Raw to be filmed in Los Angeles. The show would draw 13,222, which was the largest pro-wrestling attendance in Los Angeles in five years, and would go down as one of the most memorable and important episodes of Raw during the WWF Attitude Era.
WWF had been building up a romance between the innocent good girl Stephanie McMahon and the wrestler Test for months. This lead to an engagement and a wedding date set for WWF’s debut at Staples Center. The episode showed clips from Stephanie’s bachelorette party, where she began to take shots of alcohol.
After a show that featured about ten matches including dark matches, it was time for the wedding. Various wrestlers were the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Test came out to his entrance music, while Stephanie entered to Here Comes the Bride. The minister gives a blessing, gets to “speak now or forever hold their peace”… and here’s HHH.
HHH has a video. With the camera in the backseat, HHH drives his car into a drive-through wedding chapel. The camera reveals the unconscious Stephanie in the front seat. HHH impersonates a woman’s voice, and the drive-through minister pronounces them man and wife.
Back in the arena, HHH says he’s now a member of the family. He calls Vince “dad” and says he should ask “How many times did we consummate the marriage?” The show ends with the McMahons in tears.
The angle elevated HHH from a top heel into one of the top heels all-time in WWF/WWE history and set the stage for Stephanie McMahon’s heel turn a month later when it is revealed the wedding was all a setup to get back at her dad.
Staples Center Quickly Becomes the Go-To Wrestling Venue in Southern California
The next pro-wrestling event at Staples Center would be the January 24, 2000 episode of WCW Monday Nitro. The event would see the only time the WCW World Heavyweight Championship would be crowned in Southern California prior to the company being purchased by WWF. Sid Vicious defeated The Harris Brothers then Kevin Nash to win the vacant title at the show. His reign would only last one day however and he was stripped of the title the next night in Las Vegas. This would be the only time to date a wrestling promotion other than WWF/WWE would hold an event at Staples Center.
Over the next year, WWF/WWE would hold several more television tapings at the venue. In what is probably the most notable match in the first couple of years of WWF holding events at Staples Center, was a dark match. On October 10, 2000, John Cena (as Prototype) wrestled his first match in a WWF ring when he was defeated by Mikey Henderson.
The first pay per view to be held at Staples Center was WWE’s Unforgiven 2002. In total there have been 12 pay per views to date held at Staples Center, far more than any other building in Southern California.
On April 3, 2005, the biggest pro-wrestling event of the year came to Staples Center when WWE held Wrestlemania 21 there.
Tickets for Wrestlemania 21 went on sale on September 27, 2004, and sold out in one minute; the fastest sell-out in WWE and Staples Center history at that time. The attendance of 20,193 was the largest crowd at Staples Center to that point and the third largest attendance for a pro-wrestling event in Southern California history. The event also grossed $2.1 million in total ticket sales, blowing away the previous record for Southern California’s largest pro-wrestling gate.
Wrestlemania 21 started with a 30-man battle royal dark match featuring wrestlers from both the Raw and Smackdown brands. Booker T would win the battle royal, last eliminating Chris Masters.
The televised portion of the event started with a match between WWE Tag Team Champions Rey Mysterio Jr. and Eddie Guerrero. Mysterio would get the win following a Huricanrana, and both wrestlers shook hands in the ring after.
Next up was the first-ever Money in the Bank ladder match, where the winner gets a contract to face the champion of their choosing. In storyline, Chris Jericho invented the match the prior month when he pitched the idea Raw general manager Eric Bischoff, who added the match to Wrestlemania. The inaugural Money in the Bank match was won by Edge and featured Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Shelton Benjamin, Kane, and Christian. Edge would hold the contract for 280 days before “cashing in” against John Cena at New Year’s Revolution in January 2006 to win the WWE Championship. The Money in the Bank match would be exclusive to Wrestlemanias until 2010.
The third match on the night saw Undertaker defeat Randy Orton in a singles match to improve his Wrestlemania record to 13-0. That was followed by Trish Stratus successfully defending the WWE Women’s Championship against Christy Hemme.
Wrestlemania 21’s fifth match was between Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels. The match was decided after nearly thirty minutes, when Angle put an Angle Lock on Michaels for the submission victory. This match was regarded by many as the best match on the show.
Akebono then defeated Big Show in 1 minute and 2 seconds in a sumo match.
The semi-main event saw John Cena defeat John “Bradshaw” Layfield for the WWE Championship. Even though Layfield controlled most of the match, Cena was able to duck Layfield’s finisher, the Clothesline from Hell, and hit a FU for the pin.
Wrestlemania 21s’s main event saw Batista hit a Batista Bomb on HHH to get the pin and the World Heavyweight Championship. This was Batista’s first world championship.
For Staples Center’s tenth anniversary in 2009, Wrestlemania 21 was voted the seventh greatest moment in the venue’s history.
The night after Wrestlemania 21, WWE was back at Staples Center for Monday Night Raw. There would be ten more television tapings over the next four years, plus WWE’s No Way Out pay per view in February 2007. Also in this time period, UFC held their first event at Staples Center with UFC 60 on May 27, 2006.
On August 23, 2009, WWE would hold the first of six consecutive SummerSlams, the promotion’s number three event, at Staples Center. The main event saw CM Punk defeat Jeff Hardy in a tables, ladders, and chairs match to win the World Heavyweight Championship.
Summerslam would return to Staples Center in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, with five television tapings also taking place at the venue in the same time period. All six SummerSlam events held at Staples Center drew over 14,000 fans.
After the run of annual SummerSlam at Staples Center ended, WWE held the 2015 Hell in a Cell and 2017 No Mercy pay per views at the venue. Survivor Series is scheduled to take place in Southern California for the first time in November 2018 along with the region’s first NXT Takeover event. In all WWE has held twelve pay per view events at Staples Center to date. By comparison, no other venue in the region has hosted more than three WWE pay per views.
While the number of pro-wrestling events held there is much smaller than a lot of venues in Southern California, no other arena in the region has the pedigree for major events that Staples Center has.
10. The EWF Arena
9. Ocean Park Arena
8. The Bakersfield Dome
7. American Legion Post #308
6. The San Bernardino Arena
5. The San Diego Coliseum
4. Hollywood Legion Stadium
3. Staples Center