Hey everyone it’s Alex again, and I hope you all enjoyed my post last week about #AskAnArchivist day! Today I wanted to share a quick snapshot of my current work at the Albert Gore Research Center. The Center is also home to MTSU’s institutional archives. One of the more interesting collections documents the many performances and events staged at the Murphy Center, MTSU’s sports and entertainment complex. Opened in 1972 with a seating capacity of 11,500, the Murphy Center served as Middle Tennessee’s principal venue for rock concerts and large venue shows until Nashville developed its own large scale venues in the 1990s and 2000s.
The Murphy Center papers document performances by acts such such as Led Zepplin, Tina Turner and even Kanye West. The records shed light on the contractual relationships, site planning, and execution of the many shows staged at the Murphy Center. While going through the documents I stumbled across the activities of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) during the 1990s. The WWF and other professional wrestling organizations came to Murfreesboro during the 1991 school year and performed several shows, all documented in our collection.
Despite the popularity of professional wrestling in the 1980s and 1990s, it took some convincing to get MTSU administrators fully on board with bringing the wrestling superstars to Murfreesboro. In 1989, two full years before the first event, the special events committee sought to convince administration of the advantages of the program. In a letter to University President Sam Ingram, the Vice President of Student Affairs stated, “the event will provide a good money-making opportunity during what has been a slow semester. Even though it will not likely be attended by many students due to the nature of the activity and exams, we do feel it will attract a large crowd.”
Fast forward to 1990 and the official planning of the WWF events began. One of the more exciting documents I found was the staging plan for the wrestling ring at Murphy Center. It is fascinating to see the way in which the planners wanted everything perfect for the wrestlers and fans. More documents describe other requirements by the WWF such as providing the correct sound system for announcers, installing specific barriers for the crowd, and important descriptions for the lighting. The WWF came to Murphy Center three times in 1991 and with each visit, corrections and improvements were made but for the most part the ring illustration stayed constant.
Among the other materials concerning the WWF are promotional items describing the events. Between the flyers and several lineup announcements made for the WWF events, it is easy to see how many famous pro wrestlers made their way to Murfreesboro. Names such as “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Hulk Hogan pull on my own childhood memories and show how big these events could get since many of these men were beginning or at the heights of their careers in 1991.
Though there are not many records documenting the reception of the WWF in the collection, the 1991 edition of The Midlander, MTSU’s yearbook, ran a story in their student section. A quote from one of the students in attendance for the February 8th event reveals a positive attitude saying, “even though the matches were predictable, the excitement and enthusiasm generated helped make it enjoyable for all the fans, including me!” This quote exposes a deeper truth about professional wrestling as a whole, though the competitive outcome is prearranged, the entertainment value of these events speaks volumes.
Researching the history of wrestling here at MTSU has been fun for me as a project because I used to (and sometimes still do) watch pro wrestling with my siblings. Coming across interesting connections like this is one of the exciting parts of working in an archive. If you would like more information about Murphy Center and its events please stop by and ask us!
If you want to learn more about the history of professional wrestling in the South, you can read The Tennessee Test of Manhood Professional Wrestling and Southern Cultural Stereotypes Southern Cultures 3:3 (1997): 8-27 by Albert Gore Center Director, Louis M. Kyriakoudes and Peter A. Coclanis.