On September 4, 1995, Lex Luger walked into the Mall of America and changed professional wrestling forever.
It was the Monday Night Wars, a high water mark for the sport that saw WWE (then WWF) and WCW going head-to-head for wrestling supremacy. WWE had run uncontested in the primetime Monday night TV slot, but on this day WCW entered the fray with their inaugural episode of WCW Monday Nitro, broadcast from the atrium in the Mall of America. It was a shot across WWE’s bow, fired by former WWE talent Lex Luger and his weird shirt.
Arik Cannon was 13 when the first-ever Nitro aired. As a young wrestling fan caught up in the hype of WWE vs. WCW, he couldn’t believe his home state had become ground zero.
“It was the coolest thing in the world,” Cannon says. “Why is this thing here at our new, cool, ginormous mall? That was kind of what got me into WCW. Their first show was at our mall? Sign me up.”
Cannon is now the owner and founder of F1RST Wrestling, Minnesota’s most popular independent wrestling company. They’ll bring their brand of wrestling to any venue that’ll have them. Famous for the biannual Wrestlepalooza event at First Avenue, they’ve also set up rings at the Uptown VFW, Lyndale Open Streets, Bauhaus Brew Labs, and even the Temple of Aaron Synagogue in St. Paul.
When the staff at Rosedale Center approached him about doing a show, Cannon knew exactly what the angle would be.
“Immediately, I was like, ‘We’re doing something Nitro,’” Cannon says. “It’s the 25-year anniversary, and it all fell together perfectly. We’re gonna pull on those nostalgic heartstrings.”
This Saturday, March 7, F1RST is hosting Saturday Night Nitro, a retro-leaning night of all-ages pro wrestling at Rosedale. Unlike the original Nitro at the Mall of America, the show won’t take place in an atrium. Instead, they’re creating a venue in the former Herberger’s, a space that’s recently hosted a Flip Phone event and the Haunted Basement.
Twenty-five years ago, malls were the epicenter of American teen culture. Today, physical shopping centers are struggling to remain relevant. Wrestling, however, is as popular as ever. With All Elite Wrestling debuting in October as WWE’s first true competitor since the fall of WCW in 2001, the spirit of the Monday Night Wars is revived. Meanwhile, Rosedale is set for a $100 million makeover.
What better time to bring malls back into the mix?
“You’re not really supposed to talk about it, but wrestling is cool again,” Cannon says. “It’s always this cyclical thing. Kids grow up and they grow out of it, but then they come back. We’re in a cool position where it’s cool now and it’s gonna stay cool for a few more years.”
Nostalgia is still a tricky balance. Although F1RST is wont to book wrestlers from the ’90s—last August, they had Gangrel and Glacier in the ring for the first time ever—25 years is a long time. Three of the acts from WCW Monday Nitro have since passed away, and none of them are still performing. Luger is now in a wheelchair. Cannon knows that he can’t expect people’s memories to outlast the wrestlers who made them.
“We want to put some tongue-in-cheek callbacks into the show, but I’m a little concerned they’re gonna fall flat,” he says. “There will be no Nitro Girls. No pyro. No nWo invasion. But the show itself is gonna be awesome.”
Instead, Cannon will focus on making sure the evening is up to the standards that F1RST Wrestling has set for itself. The card for the night is headlined by AEW rising stars Priscilla Kelly and Orange Cassidy, as well as independent road warriors Danhausen and Dak Draper, and F1RST Wrestling standbys Air Wolf, Kara Noia, Darin Corbin, and Cannon himself.
The show has sold out (twice after more tickets were released). Cannon’s predicting a successful night, and hopefully that can serve as a gesture to malls around the states that the stars are aligning again.
“Thinking into the future, I would love to do more stuff with the team at Rosedale Center,” Cannon says. “I would love to be able to provide this to people at the Mall of America. If we drop the ring in the atrium, how many more people might show up?”
F1RST Wrestling Saturday Night Nitro
6 p.m. Saturday, March 7
All ages; sold out