TAMPA, Fla. — This weekend WrestleMania comes to Tampa for the first time, but if you look at the history of pro-wrestling in Tampa, you could argue there’s no city that’s more deserving.
Before the Bucs, the Lightning, the Rowdies or the Rays, Tampa had wrestling, and it took place at the Armory, which is now the JCC on Howard Avenue.
Jody Simon helped dedicate the wall inside to the early days of wrestling in Tampa, which has a special place for his father, Boris Malinko.
“We’re the Madison Square Garden of the South as it used to be called,” said Simon.
Walking through what is now the gymnasium, Simon thinks back to the 60s, 70s and 80s when thousands of people would gather around the ring every Tuesday night.
“It wasn’t (a) performance, it wasn’t (a) show, it was two guys beating the heck out of each other,” said Simon.
Brian Blair grew up going to the Armory before eventually pursuing his own career as one half of the WWF tag team, The Killer B’s.
“Nothing mattered to me more than professional wrestling,” said Blair.
It was the mid 80s, Tampa’s own Hulk Hogan was delivering body slams, and Vince McMahon was highlighting it on cable TV. WrestleMania was born.
“You realize there is 93,000 people around you, and you are in a pair of modified underwear, and you talk about excitement and pandemonium and nerves,” said Blair.
Over the next few decades, Blair said not only did the wrestling fan base grow, but so too did the production value.
“By the time 2000 hit, it was getting very, very scripted, and the newer athletes who are bigger, stronger, faster, they are kind of hamstrung by what the office tells them to do,” said Blair.
Inside his Tampa home, Blair has a room filled with memorabilia, and this weekend he hopes to add even more.