The History of Pro Wrestling has its roots in the 18th century in England, but in those days the business was very different to today.
In the old days it was promoted as a sport. Different styles such as “catch as catch can”, and the more basic Greco Roman dominated the early days. The Catch style in it’s original form originated in Lancashire and led eventually to both the Olympic freestyle wrestling, and the catch style used predominantly in the United States.
In the old days wrestling was usually found in circus’s and travelling shows. A common tactic was for the ringmaster or whoever to offer anyone money to either pin or last so many minutes with the resident “champion”. This was borrowed from the most basic form of shoot wrestling which dated back to ancient Greece and ancient Rome (hence the name “Greco-Roman”).
The opening collar and elbow tie up we all know today had it’s roots in Ireland and was first used by Irish immigrants in the American North East in the 1830’s. The American style developed during the civil war and eventually led to the first notable “title” victory in 1877 when William Muldoon defeated Christol in two straight falls – recorded by the National Wrestling Association as the first championship.
There is no indication as to when the results of matches started being fixed for entertainment purposes, although in 1856 apparently Paris banned wrestling because of “crudely fixed results”. Speculation indicates that the victory obtained by Frank Gotch in 1911 was not in the way arranged as Gotch went after an injury when he wasn’t supposed to. By World War 2 however, results were definitely being fixed.
In the old days, wrestling was regulated (if you could call it that) by boxing promoters. The National Wrestling Association consisted of a group of such promoters. However as the business evolved, the industry distanced itself from boxing promoters leading to the formation of the National Wrestling Alliance in 1948. This made way for arguably the first recognised gimmick in pro wrestling – provided by Gorgeous George.
The business was forced to promote itself as entertainment as well as sport, much to the chagrin of many traditionalists. The changes that have affected the business in the last twenty to thirty years have been far more pronounced than at any time in the previous decades. The fact that it is now impossible to hide the fact that the shows are by and large dramatic presentations rather than legitimate fights means that some promoters try to bring back the sporting aspect for realism while others stick to being “fake” and use it to entertain. Both aspects have their advantages and their disadvantages. The “fake” aspect relies on new ideas and the creation of excitement through good booking and writing, but a limit on such ideas without revamping old ideas makes this more difficult to achieve. The “real” aspect increases the risk of injury to wrestlers, particularly those who are not properly trained in the basics.