“The Omni Coliseum in Atlanta! Road Warriors! Rock N’ Roll Express! Ric Flair! It’s the NWA, the National Wrestling Alliance! The major league of professional wrestling!”
I thought about Madison Square Garden being in the news lately with NJPW and ROH making their way into those hallowed halls. MSG was a solid WWE venue, and this should have been bigger news than it was but, to be honest, it wasn’t as shocking as it should have been. Oh, there had been shows in “enemy” territory before, like the WWF trying a card in Memphis in the mid-80s or some of the early NWA tours in Baltimore and you can imagine how well they were received at the time. But MSG? That was WWF country and no one else had a chance. Well, times they do a’ change, and this is no different.
I started thinking about some of the great, grand venues from back in the day and how they were considered almost holy ground to us fans. The WWF had MSG, the Philadelphia Spectrum and the Boston Gardens. World Class had the Cotton Bowl and the Dallas Sportatorium. The AWA featured matches from the Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ and, more famously, the Showboat Sports Pavillion in Las Vegas, Nevada. Smoky Mountain Wrestling had the Knoxville Civic Coliseum. Mid-South Wrestling/UWF had the Louisiana Superdome (that looked partially empty even when thousands of people were in it). The Memphis-based CWA had the Mid-South Coliseum that featured scorching hot angles every week. And the NWA? The NWA had the Philadelphia Civic Center, the Greenville Memorial Auditorium, the Greensboro Coliseum…
…and the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Omni. I wondered what happened to that building where so much wrestling history had occurred. So I started researching and remembering.
The Omni Coliseum, or just the Omni as it was preferably called, was built in 1972, and man, it was odd looking. The outside of it looked like someone had taken a giant black egg carton, turned it upside down and hailed it a civic center. Find some pictures of it, I dare you. Distinct is not strong enough of a word to describe this place. Apparently, it was the home for the Atlanta Hawks and had many famous singers perform there and also hosted the 1988 Democratic National Convention with blah blah blah. Don’t worry, I know that you don’t care about this stuff. You only care about one thing here.
What happened in the ring in the Omni.
Contrary to popular belief, the WWF actually ran some cards in the Omni off and on over the years with some shows happening right after the incredibly popular Black Saturday incident (sarcasm level: medium) and even did a closed circuit location viewing for WrestleMania IV, which is really funny when you think about how the first Clash of Champions happened on free tv at the same time and did amazing ratings. The south has always been a hotbed for wrestling fans and there were some who came to these WWF events but they were nothing compared to the crowds that the NWA would bring in. The WWF back then had started raiding talent something fierce and the WWF cards in the Omni were laced with plenty of familiar former NWA talent (Piper, Valentine, Steamboat) but southern fans know what they want and it wasn’t the family-friendly, cartoonish, Hollywood gloss of the WWF. Southern fans liked their action fast-paced, violent and personal. They didn’t want to see justice for the heroes. They wanted to see the bad guys get their butts kicked and the NWA was more than capable of giving them what they wanted. And how.
Here are some of the most memorable angles that have happened in the Omni. I’m basing these on memory so I’m only going from when I first started watching wrestling in 1980. Also, my memory isn’t that great so if there are any errors, always remember my motto: no refunds.
The Omni Coliseum: 1980- Ole Anderson’s turn on Dusty Rhodes
When this happened, I wasn’t too familiar with Dusty or Ole. I knew that Ole was tough as hell and Dusty was funny and chubby but he could really wrestle. At the time, I had only watched Georgia Championship Wrestling for a few episodes and it was decent but when this happened? Everyone – and I mean everyone – on that show just lost their minds. The announcers were yelling, other wrestlers (good guys) were coming out and openly threatening Ole. Ole was bragging and laughing about how he suckered Rhodes in, all while the footage ran showing his betrayal. And what a betrayal it was, with not only Dusty’s partner and the opposing tag team of the Assassins attacking him but the guest referees Gene Anderson and Ivan Koloff joining in while the crowd was screaming bloody murder. Watching this, suddenly a wrestling show wasn’t just this guy fighting this other guy. Now it was personal and you could tell right from there that it wasn’t going to end well for anyone. Needless to say, I was hooked on the NWA.
The Omni Coliseum: 1983- Buzz Sawyer and Tommy Rich-the Last Battle of Atlanta
I didn’t care much for Tommy Rich. I knew he was talented and a former world champ (if briefly) but I knew one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: Buzz Sawyer scared the hell out of me. He was brutal and wild and seemed legitimately crazy and his actions each week and Rich’s reactions each week were raising this feud to a violent crescendo that could only be contained by a cage and not a regular cage but one with a wire-frame cover over it. Side note: this wasn’t like the WWF cage matches where if you leave you win. You were trapped in there with a man who wanted to kill you and a man you wanted to kill. Rich and Sawyer were out for each other’s blood and they got it. Interestingly enough, a new tag team came to Georgia a month later and hurt Buzz’s brother/regular tag team partner Brett Sawyer. Buzz couldn’t get a measure of revenge on this new brutal tag team so he teamed with his greatest enemy, Tommy Rich, to fight them. That tag team? The Road Warriors with Precious Paul Ellering.
The Omni Coliseum: 1985- Dusty saves Ric Flair from the Russians and gets attacked by Flair, Ole and Arn Anderson
Flair was coming off a feud with Nikita Koloff and while people hated Ric Flair, they REALLY hated the Russians who consisted of Ivan and Nikita Koloff along with American turncoat Krusher Kruschev. When the Soviets entered the cage and started attacking Flair, Dusty came to the rescue. Ole and Arn Anderson arrive and make a beeline straight to Dusty, attacking him with Flair having the gall to join in. This angle reignited the Flair/Rhodes saga but also was the formation of the Four Horsemen with former Flair enemy Tully Blanchard joining the group. January 1st, 1986 had Dusty get a measure of revenge on Ole finally during a cage match when he came off the top rope twice on Ole’s leg and then applying the figure four while the Road Warriors kept the Horsemen at bay. They lifted the cage and took apart the ring ropes to put Ole on a stretcher and take him backstage, thus ending Dusty’s streak of being sneak attacked and laid out in the Omni.
(Photos above courtesy of reader Mike Holcomb of Winterville, GA who was front row ringside that night. He managed to snap these photos using a little pocket Instamatic. He had to bail from ringside after the last photo as it was becoming a full-blown straight-up riot scene! Mike also describes that the Atlanta police were peeling fans off the cage who were trying to climb in and help Dusty. Flair wrote in his book that this night was the most heat he’d ever generated in an arena.)
Watch the Tag Title Match between the Rock & Roll Express and Midnight Express on Superstars on the Superstation which took place at The Omni Coliseum on February 7th, 1986:
The Omni Coliseum: 1986- The Midnight Express beat the Rock and Roll Express for the NWA World Tag Team Championship
WTBS wanted a packed card for a televised show and the NWA delivered with a show called Superstars on the Superstation; pretty much the prototype for the Clash of Champions shows that came later. Jim Cornette and his tag team the Midnight Express were perfect foils for anyone they wrestled but when they took on a team as popular as they were hated? Box office gold. Dusty (who was booking at the time) knew the history and potential between these two tag teams so he kept them apart for as long as possible. When the match finally went down on TV, the Midnight’s went from being ignored by fans to being despised by them, the Rock n’ Roll’s went on the hunt for revenge and the belts and the fans were along with the ride.
The Omni Coliseum: 1986- Nikita Koloff unifies the National Title and the US Title
Wahoo McDaniel won the National Title from Tully Blanchard a few months before to everyone’s delight (Tully was mucho hated) but it was never stipulated which belt between the two held more prominence. A match was made to unify the two and Nikita won, absorbing the National Title and keeping the name of the NWA’s secondary title as the US Belt. He also further cemented his status as a top heel and a future threat to any belt holder in the NWA.
The Omni Coliseum: 1986- The Night of the Skywalkers
The Road Warriors and Paul Ellering were attacked and laid out by the Midnight Express, who then followed up the attack by bragging about it non-stop and if you remember a prime Jim Cornette back then, you know the bragging was long and amazing. A while later, a video premiered from the Road Warriors saying that not only were they going to get their revenge, it was going to be via a scaffold match at Starrcade 86, with the NWA going so far as to name the event after it. The match was memorable enough, giving the crowd the Midnight’s much-needed comeuppance and also a truly sick bump from Jim Cornette that is still talked about to this very day.
The Omni Coliseum: 1987- The War Games: The Match Beyond
The Great American Bash back then wasn’t a PPV or a one-time show. It was an all-month event with every card having importance. Titles could change hands with no cameras filming it, concerts went on before shows and fireworks weren’t uncommon either but for this show (day four of the 87 GAB), there was something special happening. The first War Games happened between the Four Horsemen and the team of the SuperPowers (Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff) and the Road Warriors. Usually, hype can kill a novelty match but it only added to it here, as so many feuds were being brought to a head at the same time. Dusty v. Tully. Nikita v. Luger. Flair v. Hawk. Flair v. Dusty. Dusty v. Arn. Road Warriors v. Tully and Luger. Ellering v Dillon. All in one brutal, merciless match. Still one of my favorites.
The Omni Coliseum: 1987- Lex Luger wins a Bunkhouse Battle royal
Doesn’t sound like much in the description but it led to a dissolving of the second version of the Four Horsemen. Luger and Horseman manager JJ Dillon were the last people standing in a Bunkhouse Battle Royal (a come-as-you-are, bring-any-weapon-you-want battle royal) and the Horsemen knew that JJ wanted to win one of them, even though he didn’t really do anything to deserve it. The Horsemen ordered Luger to leave so Dillon could win. Luger countered that idea by throwing Dillon out, making Luger the immediate winner for the battle royal. It also made him an immediate target by the rest of the Horsemen, made him an immediate babyface and started an immediate series of feuds between himself and his former teammates.
The Omni Coliseum: 1989- The Night of the Iron Men
Starrcade 89: Future Shock was a wrestling fan’s dream with 2 tournaments occurring; a single tourney and a tag-team tourney and it was a who’s who of wrestling talent. For the singles tourney, they had Sting, Lex Luger, the Great Muta and Ric Flair while the tag teams were the Rick and Scott Steiner, the SST (Samoan Swat Team), the masked team of Doom and the Road Warriors. Arguments have been made about if some people could have been substituted for others to make some better matches (Midnights replacing the SST maybe? Would’ve helped the quality, for sure.) Casual fans were not too impressed but hardcore fans ate it up and the results led to a lot of consequences like…
- The Great Muta, who was undefeated up until now, not winning a match this evening. He dropped the TV title to a returning Arn Anderson a few weeks later and went back to Japan to further his career.
- Doom continued their losing ways while masked. They later took them off, saying they were using them as excuses in case they lost. Doom unmasked as Butch Reed and Ron Simmons (to no one’s surprise) and became one the most dominant tag teams the NWA/WCW had ever seen.
- Sting defeated Ric Flair in the last match, winning the singles tourney which promised a World’s title shot to the winner. The holder of that belt was Sting’s fellow Horseman Ric Flair who, along with a just-returned Ole and Arn Anderson, held their tongue this night but fans could tell that something was brewing, which started the process of bringing the Horsemen from being faces back to the mean-as-hell heels they were supposed to be.
Some people have criticized this card as being too convoluted as it also buried one person/tag team unnecessarily but Doom and the Great Muta where the ones who ate the losses and their careers didn’t turn out too bad.
The Omni Coliseum: 1992- Big Van Vader makes his mark
The man called Vader had been used very sparingly since he came to WCW from Japan, used in exhibition matches against preliminary wrestlers or some novelty matches (Chamber of Horrors match, Battlebowl, Lethal Lottery) in between return trips to Japan but he wasn’t considered a WCW Championship contender until he outright challenged Sting. Sting accepted and most people didn’t worry, as he’d fought the likes of Bam Bam Bigelow and Cactus Jack before. Fans thought that he was too quick and too smart to be beaten by Vader. Not only did Vader dominate (ie: throttle) him, he broke Sting’s ribs and ruptured his spleen with a powerbomb, leaving the champ a crumpled mess, getting DQ’d in the process but stamping home the fact that he was a legit/serious threat to Sting’s hold on the WCW belt. Vader’s reign as one of the most dominant champions was about to start and it all began there.
Watch The Miracle Violence Connection (“Dr. Death” Steve Williams and Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy) defeatDustin Rhodes and Barry Windham to win the vacated NWA World Tag Team Titles at the Omni Coliseum, 1992:
The Omni Coliseum: 1992- The Miracle Violence Connection
“Dr. Death” Steve Williams and Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy were tough, strong, fierce workers who had made their reputations known over years of working through injuries and beating the hell out of people so it was a no-brainer for the two of them to start teaming together. They did amazing work in Japan but some questioned whether they could translate that success in the United States. Not only did they win the WCW belts in the Omni on July 5th from what people considered the best team in the sport then (The Steiners) but only a week later they won the NWA World Tag Team Titles in a tournament over Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham at the Great American Bash 92. After the Bash, WCW had Big Van Vader as its World Champ and the Miracle Violence Connection as its Unified World Tag Team Champions. Some scary talent indeed.
There were other great matches and moments that happened there but these were the big ones to me. The people who’ve headlined this venue is incredible. Besides the names listed before, legends such as Harley Race, Hulk Hogan, Stan Hansen, Andre the Giant, Bruiser Brody, Rick Rude, Dick Murdoch, Mr. Wrestling #2, the Masked Superstar, Kevin Sullivan, the Funks, the Briscos and the Freebirds graced the ring, showering in both cheers and boos from the fans that loved them and loved to hate them.
There was always wrestling at the Omni in later years but it wasn’t as important to WCW as it was to the NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions. In the mid-90s, the old venue saw almost as much WWF shows as WCW with crowds still showing up but at nowhere near the numbers or with the passions that they once had. But I’ll always remember hearing those words that Tony Schiavone would say, telling us about events coming our way in the Omni and you just knew that something big was going to happen there.
And now it’s gone.
Gone on July 26, 1997, to be exact. Demolished after a life of only 25 years; not a long life for an arena but there were problems with the exterior rusting away under Atlanta’s always delightful weather (sarcasm level: low) and there were also troubles with leaking water whenever heavy rain hit. And with other venues being updated to luxury levels for other sports franchises, the writing was on the wall for the old girl. The Omni Coliseum was then destroyed and replaced with the, admittedly, much superior Phillips Arena. I’ve actually been to this arena as I drove over 550 miles to see a UFC fight that featured Jon Jones defend his UFC Light-Heavyweight belt against “Suga” Rashad Evans in Jon Jones’ only boring title defense. I remember looking around at the ultra-clean environment and at my $14 dollar drinks and the concession-areas on the upper levels and I still felt a little sad about the old place.
The Omni Coliseum went out with a bang on July 26, 1997. Watch a video of it’s demolition below:
When we were leaving, I noticed that there was an antiquated scoreboard in the main lobby of the Phillips Arena. It was the main scoreboard of the Omni, still with the old logo on it, and the scoreboard even still works! Nice to know they’re still honoring the Omni, at least in some small way.
Wouldn’t kill them to put up a statue of Dusty though. Just saying.
If you enjoyed this piece, you may enjoy: “If Those Walls Could Talk” – The Story of THE SPORTATORIUM