Looking at the largest pro-wrestling crowds in Southern California history

With WrestleMania 37 likely be taking place the Rams and Chargers new football stadium in Los Angeles, a crowd of over 100,000 fans is a real possibility. This would shatter the current record for the largest attendance at a pro-wrestling event in Southern California that has incredibly stood for half a century.

Records of the late 1800s and early 1900s are fairly sparse, but the April 7, 1911 match between Frank Gotch and Jess Westergard in Naud Junction was reported as the largest crowd ever for a wrestling match in Los Angeles at the time, with a crowd of 3000. Based on the population of Southern California at the time, the size of the area’s pro-wrestling and boxing venues, and the lack of any known evidence of a bigger crowd elsewhere, it is very likely that this was also the largest crowd to date in the history of the region.

The record set in Naud Junction, despite being fairly small, would stand for 13 years. This was largely due to the state’s ban on professional wrestling and boxing. As the rules eased and the sports actually became legalized in 1924, the record quickly fell. On July 9, 1924, about 3500 fans watched Stanislaus Zbyszko face Yussif Hussane at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium. A month later 5550 fans witnessed Ed “Strangler” Lewis versus Joe “Toots” Mondt at the Philharmonic.

The rematch between Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Joe “Toots” Mondt on October 13, 1924, at Washington Baseball Park, home of the Los Angeles Angels was the first time a pro-wrestling crowd in the region hit 10,000 fans. Even that record was short lived, however. The Olympic Auditorium opened in 1925 and on April 7, 1926, drew 10,400 for a match between Joe Stecher versus George Kotsonaros. They managed to fit another 300 in the Olympic on July 24, 1929, to see world champion Gus Sonnenberg take on Joe Malewicz.

The next year, on May 5, 1930, 17,580 fans filed into Wrigley Field, the then home of the Los Angeles Angels, to see Gus Sonnenberg defend his world championship against Everett Marshall. This record for attendance would last for 22 years.

On a clear and cool Wednesday night, on May 21, 1952, a crowd of 25,256 packed Gilmore Field, the home of the Hollywood Stars baseball team, to see Lou Thesz and Baron Leone unify the Los Angeles version of the world title with the NWA world title. The gate for event was a then-record for pro-wrestling in the United States $103,277.75.

It would be another 18 years before the match between Thesz and Leone would be topped. In May 1971, while he was excepting a wrestler of the year award, Fred Blassie had powder thrown into his eyes by his hated rival John Tolos. Blinded by the attack, Blassie wasn’t seen for two months. On July 30, 1971, after Tolos defeated Don Carson, Blassie ran in and attempted to attack Tolos. The Olympic security took Blassie down and handcuffed him to restore order; handcuffing the badass face nearly three decades before WWF did it to Steve Austin. The crowd went nuts for it all. Promoter Mike LeBell immediately signed a rematch between the two, but not for the Grand Olympic like usual. They needed an even bigger building for this match. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was decided for the venue and the match was set for August 27, 1971.

Blassie had all the reason he needed for revenge already, having been blinded by Tolos, but Tolos gave him even more reason a week before their big match. Blassie once again found himself handcuffed, this time to the ring post, while Tolos administered a beating. After Tolos got done, he destroyed Blassie. The Los Angeles fans wanted to see Blassie kill Tolos by this point.

A blinded Blassie can’t wait for revenge.

The Coliseum event drew a crowd of 25,847 and a gate of $142,158.50, both California records. In addition to these achievements, it was one of the first pro-wrestling cards to be shown on Closed Circuit Television. Blassie and Tolos split the first two falls, with Blassie winning the third fall by TKO.

Since the match between Blassie and Tolos in 1971, there has not been a pro-wrestling crowd in the area that has even approached its attendance. In fact, there has only been one attempted in the past 50 years to even try to break it, when WWF scheduled WrestleMania VII to take place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That event would ultimately be moved to the Los Angeles Sports Arena due to poor ticket sales, where it had no chance of getting near the record. That won’t be a problem for WrestleMania 37, where the question won’t be if it will set a new Southern California record, but if it will set a new record for the entire United States.

Top Ten Largest Pro-Wrestling Crowds in Southern California

1. 25,847 – August 21, 1970 – Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – Los Angeles – Freddie Blassie vs. John Tolos
2. 25,256 – May 21, 1952 – Gilmore Field – Hollywood – Lou Thesz vs. Baron Leone
3. 20,193 – April 3, 2005 – Staples Center – Los Angeles – Batista vs. HHH (Wrestlemania)
4. 18,722 – May 16, 2004 – Staples Center – Los Angeles – John Bradshaw Layfield vs. Eddier Guerrero
5. 18,034 – April 2, 2000 – Arrowhead Pond – Anaheim – HHH vs. Big Show vs. Mick Foley vs. The Rock (Wrestlemania)
6. 17,905 – February 5, 2002 – Staples Center – Los Angeles – Chris Jericho & Kurt Angle vs. HHH
7. 17,580 – May 5, 1930 – Wrigley Field – Los Angeles – Gus Sonnenberg vs. Everett Marshall
8. 17,540 – April 23, 2015 – Staples Center – Los Angeles – Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Mark Henry and Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt, Seth Rollins, Kane and Big Show
9. 17,505 – October 25, 2015 – Staples Center – Los Angeles – Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker (Hell in a Cell)
10. 17,404 – August 14, 2011 – Staples Center – Los Angeles – Alberto del Rio vs. CM Punk (Summerslam)

Southern California Pro-Wrestling Attendance Record Timeline

3000 – April 7, 1911 – McCarey’s Naud Junction Pavilion – Naud Junction (Los Angeles) – Frank Gotch vs. Jess Westergard
3500 – July 9, 1924 – Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium – Los Angeles – Stanislaus Zbyszko vs. Yussif Hussane
5500 – August 13, 1924 – Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium – Los Angeles – Ed “Strangler” Lewis vs. Joe “Toots” Mondt
10,000 – October 13, 1924 – Washington Baseball Park – Los Angeles – Ed “Strangler” Lewis vs. Joe “Toots” Mondt
10,400 – April 7, 1926 – Olympic Auditorium – Los Angeles – Joe Stecher vs. George Kotsonaros
10,700 – July 24, 1929 – Olympic Auditorium – Los Angeles – Gus Sonnenberg vs. Joe Malewicz
17,580 – May 5, 1930 – Wrigley Field – Los Angeles – Gus Sonnenberg vs. Everett Marshall
25,256 – May 21, 1952 – Gilmore Field – Hollywood – Lou Thesz vs. Baron Leone
25,847 – August 21, 1970 – Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – Los Angeles – Freddie Blassie vs. John Tolos

Largest Southern California Pro-Wrestling Attendance Outside of Los Angeles County

Anaheim – 18.034 – April 2, 2000 – Arrowhead Pond – Anaheim – HHH vs. Big Show vs. Mick Foley vs. The Rock (Wrestlemania)
Bakersfield – 9,920 – November 20, 1998 – Bakersfield Centennial Garden – Steve Austin vs. Kane vs. The Rock vs. The Undertaker
Imperial Valley – 570 – July 8, 2017 – Fun 4 All – El Centro – Rey Mysterio Jr. & Lil’ Cholo vs. John Hennigan & Rocky Romero
Inland Empire – 9,000 – February 25, 2012 – Citizens Business Bank Arena – Ontario – CM Punk vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kane
San Diego – 15,960 – June 1, 2008 – San Diego Sports Arena – San Diego – Edge vs. The Undertaker (One Night Stand 2008)

*Note: As it is now, wrestling promoters in the past tended to exaggerate their attendance numbers. When possible we used numbers reported in the Los Angeles Times from the time period in question.

About the Author

Steve Bryant
Fan of Godzilla.