Anybody somewhat familiar with the sport of wrestling all typically think of the same scene when it comes to a wrestling meet. Glaring gymnasium lights, bleachers, and a mat or two across what is probably a basketball court. As you climb the ladder of wrestling there is more production, everything is done on a larger scale, but essentially it’s the same scene. There have been many others working directly in the sport who have noticed this as well, and put in the hustle to make a memorable setting for both the athletes and spectators. We wanted to highlight the eight venues for these events that stood out to us most. We based our choices on how non-traditional the venue was, overall presentation, event relevancy, and other aesthetic factors. Not going to lie, if it was outside there’s a good chance it made this list. With this all in mind, these are our top 8 unconventional wrestling venues in recency.
Kinnick Stadium- Grapple on the Gridiron, University of Iowa
Might as well go ahead and get this one out of the way. This is one that probably popped into most people’s mind before even clicking on the article. Penn State obtained the attendance record for a dual meet in 2013 at Bryce Jordan Center with 15,996 spectators. Somewhere along the line, Tom and Terry Brands realized this and were not having it. So in 2015, the Iowa Hawkeyes took their wrestling mat, and put it in Kinnick Stadium, home for the University of Iowa football program. The event would be the first ever Grapple on the Gridiron, where the #3 Hawkeyes were set to host a dual with the #2 Oklahoma State Cowboys. With a college wrestling ultra-pairing in a university football stadium for the first time ever, this event was heavily marketed and everything fell into place perfect for its execution. On a sunny day in November, 42,287 fans showed up and witnessed one of the most impressive dual meets produced today. High-level production matched with the magnitude of Kinnick Stadium and the crowd that was in it, this was a surreal experience for the sport. We knew this venue could not be left off the list.
Chase Field- Duals on the Diamond, Arizona State
In January 2020, Arizona State held a quadrangular dual meet with Harvard, Campbell, and Iowa State at Chase Field, the baseball stadium for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The event was called the Duals on the Diamond, and was the first collegiate wrestling event ever to be hosted in a professional ballpark. For how vast the total area of a professional baseball field is compared to the amount of space one wrestling mat takes up on it, the size of the venue proved to not take away from the atmosphere. Photos from the meet look spectacular in the stadium. As the duals went into the evening, a lit up ballpark made for a remarkable ambiance. Baseball is America’s recognized pastime, and there’s a sentimental feeling with a day at the the ballpark if you’ve got to experience it. Merging wrestling with this setting is a fantastic idea I think we need to see more of.
Battle on the Midway
It was time to switch it up from the sport’s field and we knew this venue deserved a spot on the list. Held annually from 2017-2019, the Battle on the Midway was a dual meet hosted by Left Coast Wrestling in conjunction with USA Wresting, California-USA Wrestling and the San Diego -Imperial Kids Wrestling Association. At this meet college wrestling teams got the chance to compete upon the USS Midway aircraft carrier, which was used by US troops in Desert Storm and Vietnam, and is now stationed in San Diego, California. The USS Midway is a bold and intimidating setting, which pairs perfectly with the grittiness of wrestling. Beyond the flight deck, the San Diego backdrop is pleasant yet seems so foreign in a wrestling setting. This combination brings a uniqueness to the event that is hard to replicate. The success this event had also further demonstrates the effectiveness of this venue. Battle on the Midway experienced growth each year, with more teams and coverage added each time. Teeming with patriotism, the USS Midway makes an outstanding venue for a wrestling meet.
University Union Plaza
The west coast universities are on a spree right now cutting wrestling programs, and it’s really a shame when there’s so many opportunities for great wrestling venues in California. Beginning in 2013, Cal Poly began annually hosting a dual meet outdoors on their campus at the University Union Plaza. As pretty as college campus’s are this is a relatively simple setting for an outdoor meet. However, we felt this one should be included as these guys could be considered some of the OG’s in organized outdoor wrestling meets. Citadel did host a few outdoor meets before Cal Poly, and Arizona State has instances going back to the 1970’s. However, it seemed when Cal Poly began hosting their outdoor meets, it kickstarted the outdoor wrestling wave we’ve seen from the late 2010’s to now. For this reason, University Union Plaza earned a spot on the Top 8 Wrestling Venues.
Rumble On the Rooftop
Rumble on the Rooftop was the first wrestling event to take place after the COVID19 pandemic had shut down all wrestling events for months. In June 2020, fite.tv hosted Rumble on the Rooftop, a live-streamed wrestling card that featured senior-level athlete matchups. Taking place on the rooftop of an undisclosed building in downtown Chicago, the elevated setting made the event feel distinguished. Chicago skyscrapers towered over the mat in the backdrop, making it a magnificent setting for viewers tuning into their first live-streamed wrestling card post-COVID.
Mizzou Softball Stadium
This venue isn’t as big and grandiose as some of the other sporting stadiums included on this list, however Mizzou Softball Stadium is a top-notch facility that was the perfect size for this type of event. In 2017, the Mizzou Tigers hosted their first-ever outdoor wrestling match in Mizzou Softball Stadium. The stadium looks sleek and provides an uncommon location for a wrestling meet. With its size they did not have break numbers to give the stadium a filled up appearance, and they used the excess space in the outfield for seating. With this approach they were able to create the same intimate atmosphere a gymnasium has, where the crowd is right on top of the action happening on the mat. A unique but convenient choice of location right on campus, paired with good organization was able to get Mizzou Softball Stadium a place on the list.
Moss Arts Center
We couldn’t have the venues on this list be entirely outdoors. There are many Universities that mix-up their schedule by hosting a dual in a campus auditorium or performing arts centers. While there are many we would like to highlight, with the choices made for the rest of the list we really only could fit one to represent these venues. We felt Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech sets a solid standard for special indoor venues. Virginia Tech began hosting dual meets in the Moss Arts Center in 2015. Normally used for plays or symphony performances, for these duals the mat is put front center on stage in front of the theatre seating. The Moss Arts Center design is chic and elegant while grand in appearance, making these theater duals look legit. The balcony seating curves all the way around from each side encompassing the stage, and the theater lighting and production make for a dramatic scene. Duals held in the performing arts center usually sell out, showing the excitement this kind of venue brings for wrestling fans.
Times Square- Beat the Streets New York
Whether on a rooftop or right on the streets, wrestling cards held in city environments are always cool. In 2011, wrestling used Times Square as a venue for the first time when Team USA faced off with Russia at Beat The Streets New York. Right in the middle of Times Square, this venue has an unmatched energy to it. The elevated mat is surrounded by buildings that tower out of view, and the stimuli from the flashing lights and the busyness of people and traffic is overwhelming. Since this event many more wrestling bouts have been held at Times Square, proving its effectiveness as an uncommon wrestling venue.
English Field at Union Park- Mat on the Mound, Virginia Tech
Stephens Auditorium- Iowa State
High Point Solutions Stadium- Battle at the Birthplace, Rutgers
While compiling this list we did our best to recall our personal favorites, or dig for any we may not have known about. However, we know there’s no way we got them all, so let us know about any we left off that you felt were deserving. Events at different venues like these build enthusiasm and interest for the sport, and it’s great there are people out there working to make it happen. Location is always a crucial factor, and these venues help in continuing the progression of the sport wrestling.