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WWF Riot in Little Rock, 19 years later: The true story

The truth about what happened on that December night in Little Rock, when the fans went bananas!

Barton Coliseum has been home to many wrestling events over the years.

Little Rock, Arkansas is a fine town. It's a normal, southern, Capital city, full of people from all walks of life. Like any other city, Little Rock has its faults. The homeless population has grown significantly, there's a limit on the number of quality jobs, and of course, there's a side of town that visitors might want to avoid. 

However, it's still home to me. My friends and family are all here, my home is here, this is where I make a living and so on. As far as I'm concerned, it's not that bad of a place. Some may not agree, but it's home to me, and I have a lifetime of memories in this quaint, southern city. 

Of all of my childhood memories, many of those memories involve the old building known as Barton Coliseum. Barton was the place I watched my first live wrestling event and then many others afterwards. 

In the mid-1980's, Barton Coliseum was a regular stopping point for Mid-South Wrestling. In fact, between Mid-South, Memphis Wrestling, as well as other local territorial wrestling promotions, Barton Coliseum held a wrestling show at least two times per month. 

This was the peak of live wrestling, from my point of view, simply because I was able to go to so many of these live events. 

In late 1997, Monday, December 15, to be exact, WWF came to town. In fact, for months leading up to the show, this event was being advertised as a Raw TV taping. At the time, there had never been a Raw taping in Little Rock, so fans were eager to get to this show. 

Let me stress that fact, this show was definitely advertised as a WWF Raw TELEVISION TAPING. There were two billboards throughout the city, both of which clearly stated RAW TV TAPING, plus a radio interview with Rocky Maivia, where he too mentioned how excited he was for "tonight's Raw in Little Rock." 

Needless to say, fans came, expecting a Raw taping.

I can remember lining up at the doors, around 5:00 pm local time. Our tickets said the doors opened at 6:00 pm, so we figured we had plenty of time, which we did. Upon our arrival, I remember seeing people lined up by the thousands. Fans, young and old were waiting to get inside for what we believed to be a Raw taping.

After waiting in line for nearly an hour and a half, a security guard came to one of the doors and said that they were still setting up, but doors would open soon. This satisfied the anxious crowd for the moment, as we assumed they were simply busy setting up an elaborate Raw staging area. 

Well, after another thirty minutes, the doors opened at 7:00 pm, and fans were elated to be finally going in, for what we assumed would be a historic night for our town. As we entered, the first thing we noticed, was that there was only one merchandise stand open. This seemed a little odd, especially considering over 7,000 fans were expected to pack the venue. 

Nevertheless, I stood in line for a while and bought a souvenir program, and an Undertaker shirt. After visiting the merchandise stand, my friend and I made our way around the corridor and approached the curtain that we were to enter, in order to get to our seats. Once we went through that black curtain, that's when everything began to go south.

As we entered the seating area of the arena, we noticed there was no Raw stage; there was no announcers table, there were no special lighting, nothing. There was a large curtain in the corner, which was where the wrestlers would enter through. That was it. 

The mood inside the venue was much more subdued than the cheerful legion of fanatics that stood outside in the frigid cold for hours. What we learned next, was what sent everything into a total frenzy. 

Our seats were on the floor, three rows from the ring. My friend, Michael and I had saved and spent a lot of money to get these tickets, expecting to see a Raw taping. Keep in mind; we were only 18 years old at the time, and money was hard to come by. This was literally our Christmas gifts to ourselves. 

Anyhow, we decided to take our seats and make the best of the situation. Even at this point, we thought maybe there was a mistake, or maybe they would still have a TV taping, just without the setup. We didn't know what to think, neither did the other seven thousand disappointed fans in attendance. 

Finally, one of the WWF security workers walked by us, and someone on the front row asked him if this was a TV taping, to which he replied "nope, it's just a house show. Raw was taped last week." That's the exact moment when we felt absolutely defeated, and disgusted.

Soon after we took our seats, the show started. While some disgruntled fans opted to leave, we decided to stay. The box office was very clear in letting us know there would be no refunds, so we had no choice but to make the best of a lousy situation. 

In the first match, Kane defeated Chainz in a very boring, lethargic contest, which might have lasted all of three minutes, maybe. In the next match, The Undertaker defeated Intercontinental Champion Rocky Maivia, in a non-title casket match. 

Now, this should have been an epic encounter, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. 

This match was also rushed and went maybe 6 or 7 minutes total.

This photo shows the aftermath of when police deployed tear gas

Following the Taker match, fans began throwing paper, food, and bottles at the wrestlers. At first, security was able to retain control, and the show went forward. However, as the night went on, and the matches were continuously rushed, fans got more irritated by the moment. 

Not to mention the venue was serving alcohol in glass bottles....GLASS BOTTLES?!?? I'll give you one guess where those empty glass bottles ended up. Yep, in the ring.

By this point, my friend and I were also being hit in the head by flying debris, so rather than just leave before the show was over, we decided to go up to the top row, to avoid being struck by a chair or something else. The main event for the evening was supposed to be Stone Cold Steve Austin and Dude Love vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Shawn Michaels. 

During the entrances, Michaels was hit in the head by some sort of glass object. HBK immediately grabbed the mic, and told the crowd these exact words- "Due to your immature bullsh*t, the show is over!" 

That's when the upset crowd turned into a full-scale riot. 

Fans threw any and every thing they could get their hands on, into the ring, or at anyone who even looked as if they worked for the WWF or Barton Coliseum. At one point, one of the security guards was jumped by fans, then they took his shirt off of his back and set it on fire. 

By the time things escalated this badly, there was probably still 3,500 or so fans remaining inside the building. Most of whom were rioting, while a few of us were just staying out of the line of fire, hoping things would die down. In the midst of all this chaos, there was all of maybe 15 or 20 security personnel working to combat thousands of drunk, angry fans. 

Eventually, city and state police were called to diffuse the situation. 

Once the police arrived, they deployed tear gas canisters, which seemed to do the trick pretty quickly. When it was all said and done, there was hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, dozens of fans sent to the hospital, and multiple people arrested. 

It was an unfortunate series of events, which could've easily been avoided, had the WWF powers that be, simply not lied to the fans. I will never condone violence as a means to resolve a situation such as this, but we should have never been lied to, to begin with. 

Oddly enough, the company ran a house show the night before, at the Memphis Pyramid where the Memphis fans rioted as well, and their show was also cut short. While there are many rumours as to why that happened, the fans who went, claim that only about half of the announced Superstars actually showed up.

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