Since the beginning of sport, Americans have thoroughly enjoyed seeing people going at it. From eye gouging, to bare knuckle boxing, to today’s professional boxing, to mixed martial arts,
Professional wrestling has been around for centuries, but not exactly in the form that we know of now. The Greeks and the Romans were the first to wrestle professionally back around 3000 B.C (Beekman 2006). At the time, professional wrestling was a completely real sport. Through the 19th century, fights were so brutal that they sometimes resulted in severe injuries, including fighters being paralyzed and even killed (Beekman 2006). At the turn of the 19th century, William Muldoon was seen as the epitome of a professional wrestler. He was the world champion; he dominated in his fights, and had the personality to go with the status. Muldoon was such a good professional wrestler that he was compared to John L. Sullivan in boxing (Beekman 2006). Muldoon also fit the bill of Muscular Christianity, which is becoming a physically fit Christian and thus a good role model for others to look up to (Schultz 2008). Incorporating religion with sports was quite common during this time period. For Mundoon (the father of professional wrestling), the sport in general was about change drastically.
In the 1920s, after World War 1, fans were not happy with the big muscular wrestlers battling one another each night. They demanded agility and speed, which at the time boxing provided them. Thinking about their profits, professional wrestling switched from being a legitimate fighting sport, to being sports entertainment (Lindman 2000). The switch from genuine fighting to staged fighting caused professional wrestling to lose its mainstream coverage. This included the loss of exposure in the sports section of newspapers. However, fans started to rally behind this new form of wrestling, especially with the new medium of television. (Lindman 2000) This allowed fans to cheer on their favorites and jeer at their antiheroes each week.
Since then, fans have been enamored with professional wrestling. In the 1940s, Gorgeous George (George Wagner) captivated fans with his elegant robes, elaborate entrances and long bleached blonde hair (Slagle 2000). Gorgeous George was one of the characters who led professional wrestling to where it is today. Wagner influenced wrestlers like “Superstar” Billy Graham, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Jesse “The Body”
Thanks to professional wrestling, celebrities like Hogan, Austin, and Johnson are all extremely popular in mainstream society. All three men have used wrestling to expand their horizons, with Hogan going from the most famous wrestler in history in the 1980s to one of the paparazzo’s golden boys in the 2000s.
Today, WWE has gone back to the days of finding the big muscular fighters, thinking that is what draws the crowds. Vince McMahon, the Chairman of WWE, believes going after legitimately tough amateur wrestlers like Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, and Bobby Lashley are what the fans crave, rather than the smaller, faster charismatic wrestlers (Glader 2003). However, McMahon is not looking back at the long residuals that wrestling has given him to follow (Schultz 2008). It is not the ridiculous bodies that people come to see, but the ridiculous characters and story lines. Wrestling is about athletes beating each other senseless, for reasons that are so unfathomable that they cannot possibly real. That’s good because the reasons are not real; they are all a show...A show in which the fans will always continue to love.
Beekman, S. (2006). Ringside: A history of professional wrestling in
Glader, P. (2003, September 12). “WWE pins its hopes on ‘real’ wrestlers” Wall Street Journal, pp B1
Lindman, M. (2000). “Wrestling’s hold on the western world before the great war”. The Historian.
Slagle, S. (2000). “Professional wrestling hall of fame”. Retrieved April 5, 2008, from http://www.wrestlingmuseum.com/pages/bios/halloffame/georgebio.html
Schultz, J. (2008a). Module 2: Sport in the New World (2008b). Module 3: Sport and the emergence of Modern America.
History of professional wrestling volumes 1-7. Crowbar Press.
Official Site of World Wrestling Entertainment. (2008). Retrieved April 5, 2008, from www.wwe.com