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As it courts Wrestlemania, Tampa can boast some major wrestling moments

A look at the top pro wrestling shows — and showdowns — in Tampa history
The "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes (left) battled NWA world champion Harley Race before more than 17,000 fans in the old Tampa Stadium in August, 1980 (Times file photo)
The "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes (left) battled NWA world champion Harley Race before more than 17,000 fans in the old Tampa Stadium in August, 1980 (Times file photo)
Published May 8, 2018
Updated May 8, 2018

Last week's news that Tampa has made a formal bid to host an upcoming Wrestlemania (in 2023, '24 or '25) had fans eliciting as many whooos as Ric Flair on espresso.

Stands to reason. Professional wrestling is embedded in bay area lore, producing legions of local fans who have shoehorned themselves into venues both stuffy (Fort Homer Hesterly Armory) and swank (Amalie Arena) over the decades to watch their beloved pastime.

Truth be told, we're not nearly as surprised that Tampa's a potential destination for Wrestlemania as we are that it hasn't hosted one yet. Until it arrives, here are what we deem the top professional wrestling moments in our city's history.

1. Royal Rumble, USF Sun Dome (Jan. 22, 1995)
The second-biggest annual event on the World Wrestling Entertainment (previously World Wrestling Federation) pay-per-view calendar features roughly 30 wrestlers entering the ring one by one, then trying to toss one another over the top rope. In this historic edition, Shawn Michaels became the first competitor to enter first and win, outlasting 29 others. In another story line, Bam Bam Bigelow attacked Pro Football Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, who was sitting in the crowd, setting up a match between the two at the ensuing WrestleMania.

2. Saturday Night's Main Event, USF Sun Dome (Dec. 19, 1985)
This is believed to be the first wrestling show from Tampa broadcast on a major national network. The fourth installment of Saturday Night's Main Event, this show (or at least an edited version) aired on NBC the following January. In the main event, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Cowboy Bob Orton defeated the burly backwoods triumvirate of Hillbilly Jim, Uncle Elmer and Cousin Luke. In other action, Tampa's own Hulk Hogan returned to the ring after a seven-month layoff (due to an injury, fans were told) and defended his WWF title against Terry Funk.

3. Survivor Series, Ice Palace (Nov. 19, 2000)
With a reported audience of 18,602 at the Ice Palace (now Amalie Arena), this stands as one of the biggest shows, attendance-wise, in bay area history. The headliner of this WWF pay-per-view spectacle was a no-disqualification match between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Triple H. It ended in a parking lot with Austin picking up Triple H's car with a forklift (with Triple H inside it, as the production would have you believe) and dropping it from 30 feet.

4. Last Tangle in Tampa, Tampa Stadium (Aug. 3, 1980)
A few years before the WWE went national, professional wrestling was a territorial industry, and few territories carried as much clout as Florida. Formally known as Championship Wrestling from Florida, the promotion's biggest showcase was staged on a steamy Sunday night at the old Tampa Stadium before more than 17,000 fans. The star-crammed undercard featured Andre the Giant, Jack and Jerry Brisco, Dick Murdoch and Lord Alfred Hayes. In the main event, for the NWA world title, the "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes pinned champion Harley Race in an hour-long grudge match. Problem was, it was a best-of-three falls and Rhodes pinned Race only once.

5. Dusty Rhodes wins world title, Fort Hesterly Armory (Aug. 21, 1979)
No attendance records were set on this suffocating August night, and the main event barely registered a blip on the national radar, but it represented a landmark moment in Championship Wrestling from Florida annals. Rhodes, who had evolved from portly, southern-fried heel to the promotion's top draw in the 1970s, used his trademark bionic elbow to pin champ Harley Race and win the NWA title for the first time. The victory made the front page of the following morning's Tampa Tribune.