Pacific Northwest Wrestling

Pacific Northwest Wrestling
Pacific Northwest Wrestling
Acronym PW
Founded 1925
Style American Wrestling
Headquarters Oregon Portland, Oregon
Founder(s) Herb Owen
Owner(s) Herb Owen
Don Owen
Sandy Barr
Frank Culbertson
Don Coss

Pacific Northwest Wrestling (PNW) is the common name used to refer to several different professional wrestling companies, both past and present, based in Portland, Oregon, United States. The first such company (that would later become Portland Wrestling) was founded by Herb Owen in 1925.[1] It was the Northwest territory of the National Wrestling Alliance from the Alliance's inception in 1948 until 1992.[2] The area was brought to its prime by Herb's son, Don Owen, and this version of Pacific Northwest Wrestling saw many of the top names in the business come through on a regular basis. The Pacific Northwest was considered one of the main pro wrestling territories from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Portland Wrestling was forced to close its doors in July 1992. The closure came as a result of a slowdown in the wrestling business during the early 1990s, a declaration of bankruptcy by Portland Wrestling's main television sponsor, and negative fallout from a shift in regulatory emphasis by the Oregon Athletic Commission. The telecasts, which originated on Portland station KPTV, ended in December 1991 and were replaced on KPTV by syndicated WWF programming.[2]

Portland Wrestling's referee Sandy Barr purchased the company from the Owen family in 1992 and continued the tradition of professional wrestling in the Pacific Northwest under the name "Championship Wrestling USA."

A new wrestling promotion emerged in 2000, calling itself "Portland Wrestling" and claiming to be a restart of the original Pacific Northwest/Portland Wrestling. It stressed a title lineage (through Len Denton) to the old NWA PNW Championships. Unlike the Don Owen promotion, the new incarnation of Portland Wrestling was not an NWA member. Due to legal problems the company's owner encountered, the promotion was forced to close down in 2007 and the owner sold his ownership rights to former announcer Don Coss.

In 2009, Robert Spicher, a retired wrestler on the independent circuit known as Dr. Pain and established local promoter, began illegally promoting events under the name "Portland Wrestling". Spicher came under heavy criticism from the fans for promoting shows without having permission from the owners of the Portland Wrestling name.


The early years

The beginning of PNW

Pacific Northwest Wrestling started in the early 1920s when a former world middleweight and world light-heavyweight (Australian version) wrestling champion[3] by the name of Ted Thye came to Portland with plans to promote both boxing and wrestling. Thye hired Herb Owen as his assistant. While Thye was on a trip home to Australia, Owen had the ownership of the company put in his name. Due to rules in effect within the state of Oregon at that time, Owen now had sole rights to sponsor all boxing and wrestling within the state.[1]

Herb Owen started out just promoting boxing matches, but soon began promoting wrestling matches as well, focusing on lightweights. During this time, sons Don and Elton Owen began helping their father in the family business, helping set up cards and even stepping into the ring on occasion to box or wrestle.[1][4]

During the early years, Herb brought in boxer Jack Dempsey.[4] According to Barry Owen, Don's son, Dempsey even refereed some wrestling matches for Owen.[2] An unknown to many at the time, George Wagner, worked for Owen early in his career. While in the PNW, Wagner developed the character for which he would become famous, Gorgeous George. Wagner is reported to have married his first wife in the ring before a match in Eugene, Oregon.[2]

In 1942, following his death, Herb's son Don took over the company.[5] In 1944, Don Owen promoted several cards with women wrestlers, until female wrestling was outlawed in Oregon (as it would be until 1975).[2]

Don Owen Sports

The golden years


Don Owen

The National Wrestling Alliance was formed in 1948 with Don Owen as one of the founding members.[2] This started the beginning of what became known as NWA Pacific Northwest (Portland Wrestling).


On July 10, 1953, Don Owen started what was the first regular professional wrestling program on television.[6] Pacific Northwest Wrestling aired a weekly 60 minute live program originally called Heidelberg Wrestling, named for its sponsor, Heidelberg Brewing Co. of Tacoma, Washington.[6] The show was initially broadcast on KPTV, but moved to rival KOIN-TV in 1955. Along with the move came the show's new name, Portland Wrestling.[4]

The 1950s were good to Portland Wrestling, seeing wrestlers such as Ed Francis, Gory Guerrero and Tony Borne come to the territory.[3] During this time, John Harrison "Harry" Elliott, a former Oregon State University wrestling champion, and later the school's wrestling coach, began working for Don Owen as a referee and putting on spot shows in the territory. In 1958, Elliott obtained a contract with CBS Television to broadcast Seattle-based wrestling matches throughout all of Washington and parts of Alaska, British Columbia, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.[7] Elliott promoted these matches, as well as spot matches throughout Washington, Idaho and northeastern Oregon, while Don Owen continued to handle bookings for these matches.[8]


After the opening of Portland Memorial Coliseum in 1961, Don Owen occasionally promoted wrestling cards at the venue, drawing good crowds.[2] In 1966 Harry Elliott promoted, and Don Owen booked, one of the biggest matches ever in Seattle, packing out the Seattle Center Coliseum with 15,500 fans to see Lou Thesz beat Gene Kiniski.[7][8]

In 1967, Portland Wrestling returned to KPTV.[9] That year, management changed within CBS Television and PNW's regionally broadcast wrestling show was dropped which subsequently led to Harry Elliott's retirement in 1968.[7] Frank Bonnema, an on-air personality in KPTV's sports department, took over the announcing duties at that time, serving as the voice of Portland Wrestling until shortly before his untimely death on October 5, 1982 at age 49.[10]

Despite losing its regionally broadcast television program in 1967, Portland Wrestling was still doing well. In 1968, Owen bought and renovated a bowling alley at 8725 North Chautauqua Boulevard in North Portland, which became the Portland Sports Arena and the new home of Portland Wrestling.[2] The Portland Sports Arena was located here: 45°35′09″N 122°42′30″W / 45.58583°N 122.70833°W / 45.58583; -122.70833 (Portland Sports Arena)


The 1970s continued to be good to Portland Wrestling, with the addition of such superstars as Buddy Rose, Ed Wiskowski, Roddy Piper, Jesse Ventura, Lonnie Mayne, Jimmy Snuka and Stan Stasiak.[3] In 1976, Dutch Savage bought into Don Owen Sports and began promoting PNW cards in the state of Washington.[11] The Owens' promotion faced opposition from several "outlaw promotions" throughout the 1970s, but remained strong. For several years during the 1970s and 1980s, PNW's Portland Wrestling program was syndicated in an edited 60-minute version known as Big Time Wrestling, and was shown on stations throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Between 1976 and 1985, "Playboy" Buddy Rose became famous for drawing more money than any other wrestler in the history of Portland Wrestling. In 1982 and 1983, Rose wrestled for the WWF, but on his days off he returned to the Northwest and worked one-night stands for Don Owen. Rose was credited with sold-out venues on both the East and West coasts. In 1978, Rose was the United States Champion for Roy Shire Promotions in the San Francisco Bay area. As a team, he and Ed Wiskoski became NWA World Tag Team Champions, defending title matches up and down the West Coast for Don Owen, Roy Shire and Los Angeles promoter Mike LeBell.

The 1980s

Wrestling on television became a hot commodity during the 1980s. In 1982, Elton Owen, who had continued working in the family business as his brother Don's right hand man, retired. Elton died a short time later. Don's son Barry Owen began promoting in Washington. He would then take over promoting the weekly Friday night shows in Eugene as well as spot shows, eventually promoting most of the shows which had previously been promoted by Elton.[2]

Frank Bonnema suffered a heart attack in September 1982, just days after taping a Portland Wrestling episode. He would not return to the program, and died on the morning of October 5. On the October 9 episode of Portland Wrestling, veteran announcer Don Coss, who had filled in as host during this time, officially took over the announcing duties. Coss had previously announced televised wrestling matches in Salem, Oregon over the defunct station KVDO.

Many big-name stars appeared in Portland, the most famous of which was Portland native Billy Jack Haynes. Others such as Roddy Piper, King Parsons, Matt Borne, "Gentleman" Chris Adams, Rip Oliver, Buddy Rose, David Schultz, and others competed regularly. Owen had a working relationship with Jack Adkisson's World Class promotion in Dallas, which produced several talent exchanges - the most famous of which was when Adams and Parsons were sent to World Class in 1983. Both wrestlers became two of the most famous non-Von Erich wrestlers in the promotion's history, and became Texas mainstays throughout the rest of their respective careers.

On May 21, 1985, in honor of the Owen family's 60 years of promoting in the PNW, a supercard called 60th Anniversary Wrestling Extravaganza was held at the Portland Memorial Coliseum.[11][12] The show featured representatives from the NWA, AWA and WWF, including the World Champions of both the NWA and AWA and the World Tag Team Champions of the AWA all defending their titles.[11] The PNW accomplished in this event something the WWF/WWE have yet to achieve, a sold out Coliseum. Barry Owen claimed that this event had the highest attendance ever for a sporting event at the Coliseum.[2]

On January 21, 1986, Portland Wrestling held a followup to the supercard, called Superstar Extravaganza, also at the Portland Memorial Coliseum. The card was limited to NWA talent and was not as large and successful as the first Supercard.

The decline of Pacific Northwest Wrestling

The PNW took a number of hits in the late 1980s. Changes to a centralized Oregon Boxing and Wrestling Commission began to affect the industry, through new rules and fines levied at wrestlers and promoters.[2] Additionally, the expansion of the WWF and WCW into national promotions with nationwide television deals ran most local or regional wrestling concerns out of business. This left few territories for younger wrestlers to develop their skills, especially early in their careers, thus leaving very green talent for the non-national promotions. By 1987, Don Owen was the only remaining member of the original NWA group.[2]

In 1987, Len Denton, working for Don Owen, became the first booker for PNW,[2] while still developing who would become stars of the future such as Art Barr, Scotty "The Body" Anthony (later Raven), C.W. Bergstrom, Steve Dunn, and Timothy Well. Anthony, recognized as a good talker, was eventually used as Coss's wisecrack-making broadcast partner. Without new talent and other reasons, mostly lack of good sponsors, business continued to slide as the 1990s came around.

In 1991, Pacific Northwest Wrestling's main television sponsor (Tom Peterson's) declared bankruptcy. Despite remaining the highest-rated, locally produced show aired in the Portland television market, Portland Wrestling was canceled in December 1991 after 38 continuous years as a weekly program.[13] When the show was canceled, it was the longest running non-news show on television, and the third longest overall behind Meet the Press and the CBS Evening News. It still is one of the top 20 longest running shows on television[citation needed].

Don Owen continued to run wrestling shows throughout Oregon and Washington until July 1992, when he retired and sold the entire company, minus the Sports Arena, to Portland Wrestling's referee and future promoter Sandy Barr.[2] The Portland Sports Arena, as well as a former supermarket building next door which was used by Barr for the flea market he ran, were eventually acquired by a local church.[13]



Champions (when the company closed in 1992)

Championship Last Champion
NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Champion C.W. Bergstrom
NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team Champions The Grappler and Steve Doll
NWA Pacific Northwest Television Champion Scotty The Body

Trying to rebuild

Sandy Barr continued promoting wrestling in the Pacific Northwest under the company names of Championship Wrestling USA and IGA Wrestling. Barr created new titles for the promotion and abandoned the previous titles.[2][3] As Barr faced challenges when dealing with the Oregon state athletic commission similar to what Owen faced, he decided to move the promotion across the Columbia River to Vancouver, Washington. Barr purchased late night airtime on local television station KOIN for a couple of years, but was never given a stable timeslot. Barr would continue to run weekly shows until shortly before his death on June 2, 2007.

In 1996, Matt Borne became booker of CWUSA and crowds began to rise. Sandy Barr abruptly closed Championship Wrestling USA in 1997. The remaining weeks of television that had been purchased on KOIN were filled with programs from 1993. Matt Borne joined up with Ivan Kafoury, who owned a local radio station, and created the new Portland Wrestling. They ran shows at the Aladdin Theater in Portland and later a flea market near Portland Meadows. Their biggest success came in November 1997 when former University of Oregon football player Josh Wilcox made his pro debut in front of a crowd of over 700 fans.

The physical belt that was used as the NWA Pacific Northwest title was used at various times by its owner Len Denton before being sold on Ebay in 2006. The last title claimant was local wrestling historian and part time pro wrestler Matt Farmer, who defended the title at local lucha libre shows.

The "New" Portland Wrestling

In late 2000, wrestling returned to Portland with the opening of Portland Wrestling. This new promotion claimed that its heavyweight and tag team title lineage were the same as the previous titles operated by Don Owen Sports. However, this "Portland Wrestling" was not an NWA member promotion, nor was it directly linked in any way to the original Portland Wrestling.

The new Portland Wrestling initially aired on Portland's WB TV network affiliate, KWBP-TV (now KRCW-TV). Frank Culbertson, Jr. (born ca. 1959), an advertising representative for the station, served first as ringside announcer and later as executive producer. KWBP changed hands in December 2002, and the new owners dropped virtually all local programming from its lineup, due to a decline in fan base. This development occurred at the same time Portland Wrestling was having major difficulties with the Oregon state government, in particular the athletic commission and the Attorney General's office.

On May 10, 2007, Culbertson, who was still running the operations of the promotion, was arraigned on charges of aggravated theft for allegedly embezzling $10,000 from Portland-based Broadway Cab Company, where he had been working in the accounting department as a controller.[14] This event came as a surprise to Coss who, in light of Culbertson's criminal charges, has expressed uncertainty on the future of Portland Wrestling.[14]


Current Champions when the company closed

Title Champions
Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Champion Dr. Luther
Pacific Northwest Tag Team Champions The Cartel Big Ugly and Vinny Massaro
Pacific Northwest Light Heavyweight Champion Timothy Thatcher

Dr Pain's "Portland Wrestling"

On June 10, 2009, local promoter and retired wrestler Bob Spicher (Dr. Pain) began running shows under the "Portland Wrestling" banner. Spicher is the owner of both Dr. Pain's Clinic Wrestling (DPCW) and Portland Xtreme Wrestling (PXW).[15]

In January 2010, Spicher and his company were served a cease and desist order signed by a judge that ordered them to stop using the Portland Wrestling name. As of March of that year, the name "Portland Wrestling" was still registered with the state of Oregon by Don Coss and his company Squared Circle Entertainment.[16]

As of October 19, 2010, Spicher was still promoting shows under the "Portland Wrestling" name. It was unclear at the time whether Coss or Squared Circle Entertainment had withdrawn their legal rights to the name, or if in fact Squared Cirlce Entertainment ever had the standing to register the historic name in the first place.

Northwest Wrestling Alliance (NWWA)

In 2006, Dan Closser and Terry Farness opened a small company called North West Wrestling Alliance (NWWA), in hopes that he could bring back some of the glory that the Pacific Northwest Wrestling scene once had. The NWWA grew to be the dominant company in the area and was the company carrying the legacy of Pacific Northwest Wrestling.[17]

On March 12, 2010, it was announced at the "Spring Break Extravaganza" that Bob Spicher had purchased NWWA and will be merging it with his current promotions during his April 16 show. At the April 16th Portland Extreme Wrestling Show it was announced that "Commishioner Zeek" would be placed in charge of NWWA until it could be fully merged with Spicher's other wrestling promotions.

DOA Pro Wrestling

In 2008, Terry Farness split off from NWWA and opened a small wrestling promotion called DOA Pro Wrestling in hopes that he could remove politics from wrestling. A large number of NWWA personnel, including booker J_SIN Sullivan, left NWWA at the same time and joined the fledgling DOA.


  • Bubba Blanchard
  • The Governor Wilson Caine
  • Draven Vargas
  • Jsin Sullivan
  • Mecha
  • Dr Kliever
  • Cedric the Hitman
  • Ed Moretti (Edward Giovannetti)
  • Wage Reichton
  • Iron Butta
  • MJ Aurora
  • The Grappler
  • Sunny Dayz
  • Psydsho
  • Latino Blanco
  • David Claudio
  • Lillith Closser
  • Rick Rogers
  • Demarcus James
  • Big Ugly JD Bishop
  • CJ Edwards
  • Lonestar
  • Demarcus James
  • Keith Atkins
  • Kendo Nagasaki
  • The Kendo Kid
  • JT Evans (The Player)
  • Derek Drexl
  • Wade Hess (The Outlaw)
  • Little Nasty Boy
  • Exile
  • Thunder
  • Havoc
  • Twist
  • Davey Richards
  • Azul Angel

Legit Wrestling

In 2005, Portland television producer Matt Legit (Matthew Merz) began airing classic Portland Wrestling footage (which had fallen into the public domain[citation needed]) on local Public-access television cable TV stations. KPTV had evidently wiped the original broadcast tapes, as Don Owen did not foresee the need to spend the $25 (US) per week KPTV had requested for keeping and archiving the tapes.[18]

The notion that broadcast-quality tapes of Portland Wrestling no longer exist is validated by the WWE Home Video release Born to Controversy: The Roddy Piper Story. The Portland Wrestling footage found in that DVD was licensed from Barry Owen, but the vast majority of it, which appeared to be from late 1980, visually appeared to be of a quality consistent with having been recorded on a VCR and dubbed from there.

In 2007, Matt Legit added the Portland Wrestling footage to his extensive archive on, which offered over 2,000 videos spanning 40 years of Pacific Northwest Wrestling and representing nearly every promotion that ever existed in the Northwest Territory. His account has however since been suspended due to claims of copyright infringement.

Early championships

NWA Regional Championships (Don Owen Sports era)

Championship Wrestling USA Championships

  • Championship Wrestling International Alliance World Heavyweight Championship
  • Championship Wrestling International Alliance International Heavyweight Championship
  • Championship Wrestling International Alliance International Tag Team Championship
  • Championship Wrestling USA Television Championship
  • Championship Wrestling USA Northwest Tag Team Championship

Other notable Pacific Northwest federations

  • BAW Wrestling
  • Championship Pro Wrestling (CPW)
  • DOA Pro Wrestling (DOA)
  • Empire Pro Wrestling
  • International Championship Wrestling(ICW)
  • International Grapplers Association (IGA)
  • New Generation Wrestling (NGW)
  • New Revolution Wrestling (NRW)
  • North American Wrestling Alliance(NAWA)
  • North West Wrestling Alliance (NWWA)
  • Oregon Championship Wrestling(OCW)
  • Oregon Pro Wrestling (OPW)
  • Pacific Northwest Pro Wrestling(PNPW)
  • PDX Wrestling
  • Pinnacle (AWA)
  • Portland Championship Wrestling (PCW)
  • Portland Extreme Wrestling (PXW)
  • Pro Wrestling War
  • Suquamish Championship Wrestling (SCW)
  • Tulalip Championship Wrestling (TCW)
  • West Coast Wrestling Connection (WCWC)

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Kayfabe Memories". 6 July 2004. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Kayfabe Memories". 6 July 2004. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  3. ^ a b c d Royal Duncan & Gary Will (4th Edition 2006). Wrestling Title Histories. Archeus Communications. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4. 
  4. ^ a b c "Owen legacy strong in Pacific Northwest". 23 September 1999. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  5. ^ Oregon Death Index, 1903-98 database on-line. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2000. Original data: State of Oregon. Oregon Death Index, 1903-1998. Salem, OR, USA: Oregon State Archives and Records Center.
  6. ^ a b "Heidelberg Wrestling at Yesterday's KPTV site". Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  7. ^ a b c "Seattle promoter Harry Elliott dead at 101". 26 June 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  8. ^ a b "The History of the Seattle Promotion". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  9. ^ "Portland Wrestling at Yesterday's KPTV site". 13 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  10. ^ "Frank D Bonnema (1933-1982)". Retrieved September 18, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b c "Kayfabe Memories". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  12. ^ "Kayfabe Memories: 60th Anniversary Show". Retrieved 2007-05-14. 
  13. ^ a b "Tom Zenk in Pacific North West: An interview with Barry Owen". Archived from the original on 2009-07-30. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  14. ^ a b "Portland Tribune: Wrestling impresario indicted". 2007-05-18. Retrieved 2007-05-23. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Northwest Wrestling Alliance MySpace page
  18. ^ "Portland Wrestling DVDs". Portland Wrestling Online. 2010. Retrieved September 3, 2010. 

External links

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