Written and Produced by Biography
15 December, 1997
Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling Narr. Steve Allen
Written and Produced by A&E
Special Documentary A&E
New York, New York
1 March, 1998
WCW/nWo: Sting Unmasked Narr. Toni Shiavone
Written by Eric Bischoff, Produced by Turner Broadcasting Co.
Special Interview, Turner Entertainment
5 May 1998
Nagurski, B. "Professional Wrestling"
Microsoft Encarta `99
Copyright INSO Corp. 1993-1998
PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING: SPORT OR ENTERTAINMENT?
"Do you smell what the Rock is cookin?" shouts The Rock. This is the new crude face of professional wrestling. But it wasn't always like this. Haven't you ever wondered about the real history of pro wrestling, not the history' of what happened last week on Raw or Nitro? People either watch it or don't, or some watch it and don't admit it. In any case, what is it really? Some call it a controlled riot with commercial breaks, a melodrama of mayhem, or a brawl with a referee. Whatever you call it, it's an old form of entertainment with plenty of ups and downs, but recently, it has become a part of mainstream America.
II. The Early Years
Wrestling is as old as human history. It has always been used for dominance or competition. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs all were great wrestlers. Plato's name literally means broad-shouldered, and he wrestled in his early days. The Irish used it as a way to settle differences. In fact, it was Irish immigrants living in Vermont who brought the sport to America. Because of this, Vermont would produce the best wrestling talent for the next 50 years. Presidents like Washington, Taft, and Coolidge were all rasslers, and Abraham Lincoln was very much a professional wrestler.
Professional wrestling began when veterans from the Civil War used the skills they had picked up in camp to grapple for money. Wrestling in the late 1890's was a very successful international sporting event. It was the most popular spectator sport in the United States. It was seen as more scientific than boxing, and football and basketball hadn't appeared on the national level. The use of magazines and newspapers made it possible to have a world champion. Most of these champions were from Europe and Asia, so American promoters dreamed of having a title shot. A by the name of George Hakinschmit was, at the time, considered unbeatable in his native Russia. He had unknowingly set the stage for the showboating that goes on today, by having strong man competitions that he won and having connections to Hollywood types. His matches with American Frank Gotch marked the high point and the end of pro wrestling as a real sport. Gotch used a crippling ankle lock (the same that The Worlds Most Dangerous Man Ken Shamrock uses) and got Hakinschmit to surrender the title. Hakinschmit then cried foul, saying Gotch had oiled his body before the match. Before the rematch, Gotch paid a German hooker' $5,000 to increase his chances of winning. No, not a hooker according to the present-day definition, but a dangerous wrestler who could cripple people in a heartbeat with illegal moves. When the German, Ed Santell, wrestled Hakinschmit in a friendly training match, Santell ravaged his opponent's knee with the ankle-lock. When Hakinschmit got in the ring that night, he had no chance of winning. When it was over, the newspapers found out about Gotch's manipulations and the sport's popularity declined. People tired of going to a match at 7:00 and leaving at 12:00. They were just too long. The public wanted more action. As a real sport, it's value was gone, but the entertainment value was just beginning.
Traveling carnivals were moving across the United States just after the Civil War, and with them they carried athletic or at' shows....