In a world where mainstream wrestling is dominated by WWE, younger fans may have no idea how important the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship is to the sport’s history. The title dates back to 1948, was first held by Orville Brown and on Saturday Dec. 1, it will be defended right here in Pittsburgh.
It’s all part of the 14th annual Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) FanFest/Toy Drive, which has become the closest thing to a Holiday-season, television-free Wrestlemania on the East Coast. The event takes place at 7 p.m. at Spirit Hall in Lawrenceville.
Since 2005, KSWA has asked fans to bring new, unwrapped toys to the event to benefit needy children through the Allegheny County Holiday Project. Fans have responded by donating thousands of toys each and every year. A representative of the Holiday Project called the toy-raiser a “highlight” on their gathering season.
This year, the card will be highlighted by NWA World HeavyWeight Champion Nick Aldis defending his title against KSWA’s own Shawn Blanchard on Aldis’ Pittsburgh debut. Blanchard, who will have legendary manager James J. Dillon in his corner, is a 20-year ring veteran and among the most decorated independent wrestlers around. Aldis, aka The National Treasure, recently defeated Cody Rhodes, the son of the late, great former NWA Champ, the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes at last month’s NWA’s 70th Anniversary event in Nashville. He has taken his “crusade” of title defenses all over the country and he is preparing for his visit to Spirit Hall.
Over the years, FanFest has been a truly Pittsburgh-centric mix for all sports fans. Former Pirates broadcaster Lanny Frattare has served as guest ring announcer. In 2011, George “The Animal” Steele drew a capacity crowd so large that Pittsburgh city police officers had to turn away a crowd of 250. In 2012, Bruno Sammartino was on hand for his final independent wrestling event. In 2014, fans sang The National Anthem during Hacksaw Jim Duggan’s match. In 2015, Hillbilly Jim spent the second half of the show tossing back beers with the “Krazies.”
“FanFest is always one of the most anticipated shows of the year,” says KSWA Owner Bobby Orkwis, known in Lawrenceville simply as “Bobby O.” “It’s exciting because of the special guests that come in for the show. Plus, it’s always rewarding for us to show appreciation and give back to our great fans.”
There should be no shortage of excitement this year. In a recent email, Aldis noted that he “always delivered” in every match of his 13-year career. For his part, Blanchard says that he will “do anything necessary” to bring the NWA title to Pittsburgh, including employing Dillon to second his corner.
Meanwhile, real-life attorney “The Gavel” David Lawless, Esquire, the defending KSWA Heavyweight Champion, defends his title against Mitch Napier, the 617-day former title holder.
Golden Triangle Champion Anthony Alexander defends against fellow Pittsburgh product and international wrestling phenomenon, Sam Adonis. Adonis earned headlines earlier this year as an American wrestler performing in Mexico as a “Pro-Trump” villain.