Professional wrestling, a performing art, is a popular form of entertainment in Australia, North America, Latin America, Europe, and Japan.
It developed in the early 20th century, with predecessors in funfair and variety strongman and wrestling performances, which could often involve match fixing, in the 19th century.
Wrestling as a modern sport developed in the 19th century out of traditions of folk wrestling, emerging in the form of two styles of regulated competitive sport, "freestyle" and "Greco-Roman" wrestling (based on British and continental tradition, respectively), summarized under the term "amateur wrestling" by the beginning of the modern Olympics in 1896. The separation of "worked", i.e. purely performative, choreographed wrestling (''admitted fakery'' or "kayfabe") from competitive sport begins in the 1920s.
Its popularity declined during World War II, but it was revived in the late 1940s to 1950s, the First Golden Age of professional wrestling in the United States, during which Gorgeous George gained mainstream popularity. In Mexico and Japan, the 1940s-1950s was also a Golden Age for professional wrestling, with Santo becoming a Mexican folk hero, and Rikidōzan achieving similar fame in Japan.
There was a marked decline in public interest in the 1970s and early 1980s, but with the advent of cable television in the mid 1980s, there followed a Second Golden Age as the United States experienced a professional wrestling boom, with protagonists such as Andre the Giant, Macho Man Randy Savage and Ric Flair.
The nature of professional wrestling was changed dramatically to better fit television, enhancing character traits and storylines. Television has also helped many wrestlers break into mainstream media, becoming influential celebrities and icons of popular culture.
Wrestling's popularity boomed when independent enthusiasts unified and their media outlets grew in number, and became an international phenomenon in the 1980s with the expansion of the World Wrestling Federation. Throughout the 1990s, professional wrestling achieved highs in both viewership and financial success during a time of fierce competition among competing promotions, such as World Wrestling Federation, World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Since the mid 2000s, there has been another decline in popularity of professional wrestling; NOAH's ''Power Hour'' and New Japan's ''World Pro Wrestling'' have been largely relegated to the midnight hours by their broadcasters. This was paralleled with a renewed interest in competitive combat sports with the rise of mixed martial arts.
== Origin ==
A tradition of combining wrestling and showmanship originates in 1830s France, when showmen presented wrestlers under names such as “Edward, the steel eater”, “Gustave d’Avignon, the bone wrecker”, or “Bonnet, the ox of the low Alps” and challenged members of the public to knock them down for 500 francs.
In 1848, French showman, Jean Exbroyat formed the first modern wrestlers’ circus troupe and established a rule not to execute holds below the waist — a style he named "flat hand wrestling". This new style soon spread to the rest of Europe, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Italy, Denmark and Russia under the names of Greco-Roman wrestling, Classic wrestling or French wrestling. By the end of the 19th century, this modern "Greco-Roman" wrestling style went on to become the most fashionable sport in Europe, and in 1898 the Frenchman Paul Pons, “the Colossus” became the first Professional World Champion.〔
The modern style of professional wrestling, popularized by the United States and United Kingdom during the late 19th century, is called the catch-as-catch can style. Originally thought of as unorthodox and more lax in style, catch wrestling differs from Greco-Roman in its allowed grapples; Greco-Roman strictly prohibits grabbing below the waist, while catch wrestling allows holds above and below the waist, including leg grips. Both catch wrestling and Greco-Roman were popular, and fully competitive, amateur and professional sports. But, from the late 19th century onwards, a sub-section of catch wrestling changed slowly into the choreographed sport entertainment now known as "professional wrestling", recognized as much for its theatrical antics and entertainment as wrestling ability.
At the turn of the 20th century, wrestling was introduced to the public as part of a variety act to spice up the limited action involved in the bodybuilder strongman attractions. One of its earliest stars was a Cornish-American ex-miner named Jack Carkeek, who would challenge audience members to last 10 minutes with him.
The development of wrestling within the UK brought legitimate Greco-Roman grappler Georg Hackenschmidt to the country, where he would quickly associate himself with promoter and entrepreneur Charles B. Cochran. Cochran took Hackenschmidt under his wing and booked him into a match in which Hackenschmidt defeated another top British wrestler, Tom Cannon, for the European Greco-Roman title.
This gave Hackenschmidt a credible claim to the world title, cemented in 1905 with a win over American Heavyweight Champion Tom Jenkins in the United States. Hackenschmidt took a series of bookings in Manchester for a then impressive £150 a week. Noting Hackenschmidt's legitimately dominant style of wrestling threatened to kill crowd interest, Cochran persuaded Hackenschmidt to learn showmanship from Cannon and wrestle many of his matches for entertainment rather than sport; this displayed the future elements of sports entertainment.
Numerous big name stars, both beloved babyfaces and hated heels, came and went during the early inception of wrestling within the UK, with many, like Hackenschmidt, leaving for the US. The resulting loss of big name stars sent the business into decline before the outbreak of World War I in 1914 halted it completely.
Wrestling's popularity experienced a dramatic tailspin in 1915 to 1920, becoming distanced from the American public because of widespread doubt of its legitimacy and status as a competitive sport. Wrestlers during the time recount it as largely faked by the 1880s. It also waned due to Frank Gotch's retirement in 1913, and no new wrestling superstar emerging to captivate the public's eye.〔
In response, three professional wrestlers, Ed Lewis, Billy Sandow, and Toots Mondt, joined to form their own promotion in the 1920s, modifying their in-ring product to attract fans. The three were referred to as the "Gold Dust Trio" due to their financial success.
Their promotion was the first to use time-limit matches, "flashy" new holds, and signature maneuvers.〔
They also popularized tag team wrestling, introducing new tactics such as distracting the referee, to make the matches more exciting.〔
Rather than paying traveling wrestlers to perform on certain dates and combining wrestlers in match-ups when they were available, they decided to keep wrestlers for months and years at a time, allowing long-term angles and feuds to develop.
In the late 1920s, the success of the more worked aspects of professional wrestling in America, like gimmickry and submission holds, were introduced to British wrestling. Amateur wrestler, Sir Atholl Oakley got together with fellow grappler Henry Irslinger to launch one of the first promotions to employ the new style of wrestling which was coined "All-in" wrestling. The great demand for wrestling meant there were not enough skilled amateurs to go around, and many promoters switched to more violent styles, with weapons and chairshots part of the proceedings. Women wrestlers and mud-filled rings also became common place. In the late 1930s, the London County Council banned professional wrestling, leaving the business in rough shape just before World War II.
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