** Click here for Episode 119 **
Oh dear. Olly’s answer to Dean in Peterborough‘s question about wresting last week caused quite the ruckus amongst listeners, who furiously wrote in to correct Olly’s pronunciation of Vince McMahon, his misapprehension of The Facts, and, essentially, everything. At considerable length. First up, Mike:
The history of pro wrestling becoming fixed you gave was as fake any wrestling match!
Unfortunately you’ve bought in to the “official” history as promoted by Vince K. McMahon and the WWE. The idea that Vince J. McMahon – the current Vince’s father – was responsible for the faking of pro wrestling is utter, total bullshit.
The fixing of Pro Wrestling matches dates back the William Muldoon in the 1880s who would have men under his employment go to towns, perform matches and build up the appearance of the champion Muldoon would then come into town, draw a big crowd and beat one of his men. In January 1890 the Police Gazette magazine reported that Muldoon and Evan ‘Strangler’ Lewis had “been giving wrestling exhibitions in Philadelphia” and in 1905 the same magazine stated “nine out of ten bouts are now prearranged affairs”.
The reason for it being fake is very simple – to avoid getting injured in order to have more matches and make more money.
I’d also raise issue with the statement at the McMahon’s took wrestling into major arenas and out of ‘dirty little clubs’. Pro Wrestling had been a regular fixture at Madison Square Gardens since the 1880s and in 1908 a match between Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt main evented at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in front of 30,000 people.
The government regulation issue you raised was almost correct. The McMahons announced that it was fake in 1989 to avoid the athletic tax in New Jersey, but they certainly didn’t make it fake at that time.
Maximilian sees Mike’s beginner’s guide to wrestling, and raises with the following tract:
Here is a quick history of fakery in the world of wrestling.
Let me just interject here: Maximilian is fibbing. Strap in for the duration!
Wrestling as a touring show began in the late 19th century in America and was originally distinct from the legitimate sport of catch wrestling. Carnival wrestling exhibitions would wow audiences with spectacular matches, colourful costumes and on-going feuds in much the same way as they do today. The term for the showy, fictional elements of a wrestling show, ‘kayfabe’ comes from this period. It is thought to be a contraction of the name Kaye Fabian which carnival workers would use when making a reverse charges call to loved ones at home. Upon hearing the name from the operator the person receiving the call would know the person had arrived and was safe, well and making money.
At this time though, most wrestling contests were still legitimate contests although most championship and big stakes matches were openly corrupt. The line started to blur more between these two forms after the retirement of catch wrestling legend Frank Gotch in the 1920s. With few big names in the sport, its popularity began to wane. In response to this, three wrestlers, Ed Lewis, Billy Sandow and Toots Mondt, known as the ‘Gold Dust Trio’, formed their own promotion and introduced many more showy elements from carnival wrestling into the professional wrestling world such as tag teams, distracting referees, bouncing off the ropes and of course, more pre-determined results. This is largely seen as the time when wrestling switched from mostly real to mostly ‘worked’.
Eventually this model of carnival style exhibition over legitimate contest spread to other countries like the Mexico, Canada, UK, Germany and Japan. The WWF (formally WWWF, now WWE) did indeed pioneer nationwide TV coverage of a single pro-wrestling product but then they also pioneered story lines involving incest and necrophilia and are by no means the leading lights in the great working class entertainment tradition that is professional wrestling.
It is important also to respect the distinction between the words ‘worked’ and fake. Wrestlers find the term fake offensive when applied to what they do because it implies that being suplexed or fallen on by a 25-stone man somehow doesn’t hurt. The outcome of matches is pre-determined but much of the action cannot be completely faked and performers risk their lives and their careers every time they enter the ring, injuries such as torn muscles, fractured bones, broken necks and shattered pelvises are commonplace. The term worked simply means the opponents are co-operating in creating the best possible story for that particular match and distinguishes it from a ‘shoot’ or legitimate wrestling contest.
The WWF and McMahon family can be said to have had, at best, a mixed effect on the form of entertainment they have popularised and do not require any more credit than they already have.
Thankyou, Mike and Maximilian, for that primer. I have learnt many things from it, primarily the word ‘suplexed’, and never to let Olly do research again for fear of the resultant tide of retribution.
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