Professional wrestling is a worldwide phenomenon that has stood the test of time. For over half a century, the city of St. Louis has had a strong fan following in pro wrestling. And the root of it all can be traced back to 1959, when Sam Muchnick formed the St. Louis Wrestling Club.
And Wrestling at the Chase as born as well.
As part of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), the St. Louis Wrestling Club was one of many territorial wrestling promotions that were around from the middle part of the 20th century. In fact, the NWA, which were comprised of 32 wrestling circuits, held their headquarters in St. Louis.
Because Muchnick lived there.
Starting on May 23rd, 1959, KPLR-TV Channel 11, a longtime local station in St. Louis, began airing Wrestling at the Chase, which aired at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel off of Central West End. The episodes would be televised at 10:00 a.m on Saturday in the Khorassan Room.
“It was the best place in the world to wrestle,” says WWE Hall of Famer Terry Funk said back in 2012, when the WWE Royal Rumble came to St. Louis. Funk, now 71, had himself scores of matches at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel with some of the biggest names in the business.
And for nearly 25 years, it was where some of the biggest and best in the world, both males and females, showed up and performed in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of fans. There were times the events had to be held in the Kiel Auditorium because of the large crowds.
Some of the famous stars included Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, Ric Flair, Bruiser Brody, Gene Kiniski, and St. Louis’s own… Harley Race.
Joe Garagiola was the original play-by-play commentator for Wrestling at the Chase, but in 1983, Don Cunningham took over. However, Cunningham died, and George Abel took over for the remainder of its duration.
Wrestling at the Chase was consistently high in the ratings in the St. Louis area. Almost regularly episodes would featured over 100,000 viewers, which only trailed the local news broadcasts and St. Louis Cardinals games.
However, in the 1980’s, the World Wrestling Federation began to expand, and in 1983, KPLR-TV ended their relationship with the St. Louis Wrestling Club. Two years later, the company folded and the show ended.
The WWF eventually picked up the timeslot that Wrestling at the Chase held, and on September 10th, 1983, the final episode aired, after 1,100 episodes. The promotion was later purchased by Jim Crockett Promotions, and eventually became World Championship Wrestling, WWF’s biggest competitor in the 1990’s.
For 24 years, the St. Louis Wrestling Club reigned supreme in the Midwest, and Wrestling at the Chase maintained a huge following, with a legacy that lives on to this day.
Race, now 72 and who owns a wrestling academy in Troy, Missouri, summed up wrestling in St. Louis best.
“There was no better place in the world to wrestle.”
Note: KPLR-TV did a documentary on Wrestling at the Chase as well that can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Db3xhS_ppoo