by Stephen Von Slagle
The St. Louis Wrestling Club (a.k.a. “St. Louis”)
Sam Muchnick (1942-1982)
Bob Geigel (1982-1985)
Harley Race (1982-1985)
Pat O’Connor (1982-1985)
Verne Gagne (1982-1985)
Jim Crockett, Jr. (1986)
STATES & PRIMARY CITIES:
Missouri (St. Louis)
NWA World Heavyweight title (1948-1986)
Central States Heavyweight title (1950-1972)
United States Heavyweight title/Central States version (1963–1968)
Missouri Heavyweight title (1972–1986)
Whenever the topic of St. Louis wrestling comes up, invariably the first name that comes to mind is Sam Muchnick. And, for good reason, as Muchnick promoted top-notch cards there for some forty years and transformed St. Louis into the heart of the National Wrestling Alliance. However, for all of Muchnick’s many achievements in St. Louis, it was Tom Packs who had already turned the Gateway City into one of America’s pro wrestling hotbeds decades before Muchnick ever promoted his first card. A powerful member of the National Wrestling Association, by 1930 Packs had established himself as the premier wrestling promoter in the Midwest and, arguably, one of the top three matchmakers in the entire country at the time. In 1932 he hired Muchnick, a well known sports reporter for the St. Louis Times, as his publicist and for the next nine years the two worked together closely, with Muchnick serving as Packs’ right-hand man. After nearly a decade working for (and learning from) one of the nation’s most powerful promoters, Muchick began to feel under-appreciated and slighted by his mentor. Eventually, he’d had enough of the perceived mistreatment and in 1942 he decided to leave Packs to start his own wrestling promotion. After serving in the Air Force during World War II, Muchnick returned home to St. Louis and picked up where he had left off. However, Tom Packs was a very powerful man with many important connections and Muchnick faced some very stiff competition in his former employer. While Muchnick’s cards drew respectable crowds, Packs’ established group was clearly the superior promotion in St. Louis. At least for the time being.
In 1948, Sam Muchnick was one of several promoters who were invited by Des Moines matchmaker Pinkie George to come to Waterloo, Iowa and discuss the possibility of working together. The result of that meeting was the formation of the National Wrestling Alliance and for Muchick it was a turning point in his promotional war with Tom Packs. As a result of his membership in the NWA, Muchnick was able to obtain fresh, new talent for his cards and before long, he was out-drawing Packs’ group at the box office. Meanwhile, Tom Packs lost over $350,000 ($4,063,935 in today’s currency) through bad investments and fluctuations in the stock market. In 1947, he was forced to sell his promotion to the Mississippi Valley Sports Club, which was headed by his top wrestler, Lou Thesz. Eventually, Muchnick and Thesz merged their promotions while keeping the appearance that they were still competitors until Thesz unified the National Wrestling Association and National Wrestling Alliance World championships on November 27, 1949. In the following years, Muchnick’s promotion, the St. Louis Wrestling Club, produced the legendary “Wrestling At The Chase” TV program, which ran on KPLR-TV from May 23, 1959 to September 10, 1983. Meanwhile, as the President of the NWA from 1950-1959, and then again from 1963-1975, Muchnick ensured that only the best of the best appeared on his cards.
The St. Louis Wrestling Club was truly unique in many ways. First, it did not operate as a territory in the traditional sense of the term. The promotion consisted of one city, St. Louis, and ran just two major cards there per month. Additionally, Muchnick’s group did not feature a tag team championship. In addition to the NWA World Heavyweight title, which was defended on the majority of his events, the promotion recognized the Central States championship from 1950-1972, the Central States’ version of the United States Heavyweight title from 1963-1968 and lastly, the prestigious Missouri Heavyweight championship from 1972-1986. Since Muchnick did not maintain a roster of his own, he supplemented his undercard positions with wrestlers from the neighboring Central States promotion and filled the mid and upper-card slots with cherry-picked talent representing the best the sport had to offer from multiple territories all around the country. His unique promotional style ensured that Muchnick’s St. Louis wrestling fans were treated to an unending flow of top-level talent and consistently high quality, exciting match-ups. Unfortunately for St. louis (and the sport as a whole) it couldn’t last forever and on January 1, 1982, over 19,800 fans packed the St. Louis Arena to witness Sam Muchnick’s final card before retiring. The St. Louis Wrestling Club was then purchased by a consortium of promoters consisting of Harley Race, Pat O’Connor, Verne Gagne and led by Bob Geigel. However, the new owners did not present professional wrestling in the same specialized manner that Muchnick had for so many decades. St. Louis fans rejected the new product at the same time Vince McMahon’s invading WWF was gaining significant popularity in the city. By 1986, the promotion was sold again, this time to Jim Crockett, Jr., who then simply absorbed it and began running his own cards at the Kiel Auditorium while the WWF made The Arena its new St. Louis home.