This history of professional wrestling runs as deep as the Kanawha River in Charleston.
From independent shows that continue to pop up around the Kanawha Valley with some regularity, to the 1970s and 1980s when Charleston was a regular stop for Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance, fans in the area have an appetite for the business.
With Monday’s announcement that All Elite Wrestling, a new major promotion, will broadcast one of its first shows on TNT on Oct. 30 from the Charleston Coliseum, there has been a wrestling buzz around the Valley fans have not felt in nearly two decades.
AEW, backed by Tony Khan — son of Shahid Khan, owner of the National Football League’s Jacksonville Jaguars — and run mostly by wrestlers, will make its fifth television appearance on TNT when the group comes to Charleston following dates in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and Pittsburgh.
Charleston does not quite fit the mold of those other cities in terms of population, but the Kanawha Valley’s passion for pro wrestling made it an attractive option to host an AEW show.
Cody Runnels — who performs under his first name, Cody, and is the son of late wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes — is a wrestler who left World Wrestling Entertainment in 2016. Since then, with the help of his wife, Brandi, and fellow wrestlers Matt and Nick Jackson, as well as Kenny Omega (all of whom hold executive titles with the company), he has been one of the driving forces behind launching AEW.
Runnels said when it came time to select where AEW would host its first shows, Charleston had his attention.
AEW wrestlers put out a weekly show on YouTube called “Being the Elite” where, among other things, they have announced future AEW dates. This week’s episode featured the announcement of Pittsburgh as a host city on Oct. 23, then for their second announcement Cody grabbed a guitar and began signing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” before a graphic splashed across the screen announcing Charleston would host the Oct. 30 episode of AEW on TNT.
“Charleston was always kind of on my hot list, I suppose, of places to go,” Runnels said. “It’s actually top-five for me, just from my experience when I was on the WWE loop. It’s kind of a similar love I have for Charleston that I have for a place like Savannah, Georgia. It’s a really unspoiled, incredibly excitable market, and those are some of the most fun crowds you can perform in front of. I consider Charleston a jewel of the east. I thought of it in the same limelight as like a ‘Steel City,’ Pittsburgh. Plus it gave me the chance to sing ‘Country Roads,’ so that was cool.”
Dave Meltzer, longtime editor and publisher of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, said streaming numbers from AEW’s previous pay-per-view shows played a large role in determining where the company hosted its TV product, but Rhodes said that was only part of the equation.
“Like I said, [Charleston] was on my hot list whether we did well there or not,” Runnels said. “We were very strategic in picking D.C. as the very first TV because of that data, but every town since has been more of this tour heading down the eastern seaboard. It’s going to be unique. I don’t think people are going to expect us to cover as much land as we’re going to cover. It’s very much a worldly company with a diverse talent profile, so we want to get to a lot of places.”
Every pay-per-view AEW has put on has sold out within hours, if not within one hour. The same goes for AEW’s upcoming TV dates in Washington, Boston and Philadelphia. Tickets for the Pittsburgh and Charleston shows go on sale at noon Friday (and can be purchased at AEWTix.com, as well as the Charleston Coliseum box office), and hopes are high for another strong showing.
The Charleston Coliseum can hold more than 13,000 fans at maximum capacity, and Meltzer theorized the AEW capacity, once stages, entrance ramps, the ring and cameras are set up, will be around 9,000 for the October show.
“This is a real test,” Meltzer said. “Charleston is definitely the test. Each week, in theory the novelty aspect goes away a little more but in your case it’s probably going to be a real big event in the town, as opposed to some of the other towns that have, like, an NBA franchise where it won’t be as big. So you’ve got that going for it. If they can sell out Charleston on the first day with 9,000 tickets, that would be unreal. That would be, honestly, to me, the biggest success they’ve had to date.”
Runnels said he agrees selling out the Charleston show will be a major test for AEW, but also said he expects a full house on Oct. 30.
“I’ll never forget this time in my life when, for example, Boston and Philly are a double sellout on the same day within hours,” Runnels said. “I’ll never forget that, but I was always prepared for these shows not to be instant sellouts — only because the brand is new and I’m looking to grow. This will definitely be a test.”
“We’re never cocky about anything, even when it seems like we are,” he added. “I’m just excited that Charleston gets to be part of this very first wave of AEW on TNT TVs. It’s live and Charleston is an absolutely stellar wrestling town. Bell to bell, that’s what we’re giving. It will be a test, but at the end of the day I expect a full arena.”