In back-to-back nights this week, WWE’s Monday Night Raw and the final Tuesday-night version of Smackdown Live! on the USA Network emanated from the new Chase Center.
While the independent pro wrestling scene is still active in San Francisco, until Monday’s Raw, it had been seven years since sports entertainment’s premier promotion last returned to the City.
The move from the promotion’s longtime San Francisco home — and historical touchstone — at the Cow Palace in Daly City wasn’t a comprehensive success, but it proved that San Francisco can and will be a viable touring city for WWE — and a possible pay-per-view destination — in years to come.
The last event held at the Cow Palace was forgetful one: a Smackdown house show that featured 13-time World Champion Randy Orton and All Elite Wrestling founder Cody Rhodes on Nov. 2, 2011. In the years before that, the Palace was primarily used for non-televised events, but it did play host to one of the most emotional moments in WWE history.
In the 2004 version of No Way Out, the late Eddie Guerrero celebrated with his teary-eyed mother after capturing his first world title against Brock Lesnar.
It was only fitting that Rey Mysterio — Guerrero’s best friend — won the five-man elimination match to determine the No. 1 contender for the Universal championship on Monday. Mysterio looked up and paid homage to his fallen friend by doing Guerrero’s signature celebration.
Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles also appeared in WWE’s return. Back in 2001, they both participated in All Pro Wrestling’s King of Indies Tournament in Vallejo, Calif. — where Bryan came out victorious.
Following Monday’s Raw, Bay Area natives Sasha Banks (Fairfield) and Smackdown Women’s Champion Bayley (real name: Pamela Rose Martinez of Newark, Calif.) teamed up in a post-television dark match, especially for the in-arena fans.
There was one main drawback: The largest scoreboard in the NBA wasn’t on display, but was instead retracted into the roof, meaning that fans who purchased tickets behind the Titantron weren’t able to see any recorded promos or anything screen-related.
Apart from that, the event was a much different experience compared to other cities — and certainly an upgrade over the Cow Palace — with WWE fans being treated to watching the show in luxury and with breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay.
Bruce Prichard, senior Vice President of WWE, stated in his “Something to Wrestle With” podcast that simply getting into a 2004 event held in the venerable Daly City arena was difficult, given that only one of the building’s two entrances were available.
Getting to the Chase Center was just plain easy, with public transportation being encouraged, and a free Muni ride to the Center’s station provided for any event at the arena with a ticket.
While the opening of the Chase Center was highly anticipated, and the two-night residency was one of the building’s more affordable early events, especially for casual fans who just wanted to get a glimpse of the new arena, Raw and Smackdown failed to sell out, even with WWE offering a 2-for-1 Labor Day deal. Only 9,235 people showed up to Monday Night Raw.
Warriors forward Kevon Looney, however, was one of those in attendance, checking out his new home, along with some of the San Francisco 49ers, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and rabid wrestling fan George Kittle, who was glossed as “The People’s Tight End” by none other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on social media. On Tuesday night, Kittle even got a chance to give his best impressions of The People’s Champion during an on-camera promo, wearing a vintage Rock T-shirt.
The dual event felt like the calm before the storm, with many of the premium areas in the arenas being empty and the bars actually having breathing room.
While over the last 15 years, fans have largely had to travel to San Jose or even Sacramento to catch any type of televised WWE event thanks to the poor condition of the Cow Palace, professional wrestling has deep roots in the City.
The Samoan bloodline in pro wrestling consisting of the Anoa’i and Fatu families also has some Bay Area ties. WWE Tag Team members The Usos (Jonathan and Joshua Fatu) were born in San Francisco, where they grew up with former WWE Hall of Famer Rikishi (real name Solofa Fatu Jr.), a Balboa High School graduate. Johnson, too, is a part of this family, and was born in Hayward.
While the WWE has been away from The City, other promotions have swung through. Pro wrestling fans still got the opportunity to watch suplexes and pile drivers with international brand New Japan Pro Wrestling host the G1 Special in July of 2018 at the Cow Palace, and recently with the Super Juniors Cup at San Francisco State University.
Bay Area-based wrestling promotion All-Pro Wrestling holds the King of Indies tournament in spaces across the Bay, in which WWE roster members Samoa Joe and Brian Kendrick also participated.
The WWE returning in full force, though, marks a turning point. With Wrestlemania 31 held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the Bay Area proved that it would turn out, with a reported attendance of 76,976. WWE’s other flagship pay-per-views — Summer Slam, Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble — may soon follow, if not some of the smaller PPV shows, provided they can navigate the Center’s busy schedule, and traffic concerns in the area.