In today’s piece, Brian trawls through wrestling history looking at a series of firsts in the business including ladder match, battle royal, champion, superstar and more.
First off, despite what the title says, professional wrestling to me isn’t so much “fake” as it is predetermined. There is absolutely nothing fake about the injuries and sacrifices the men and women in this industry had and have endured throughout the years.This piece will look at some of the rich history of pro wrestling which many believed got its start in France in the 19th Century.
The First Pro Wrestling Champion
Today, there are countless wrestling titles all over the world, but the history of the wrestling title got its start in the United States. It is believed that the very first pro wrestling championship title was created in 1887. Evan Lewis defeated Joe Acton in Chicago, Illinois to become the Catch-as-Catch Can Champion.
Before the introduction of time limits, pro wrestling matches could go for hours and often did. When promoters wanted to make wrestling matches more “entertaining” for its fans, they instituted a time limit which traditionally was and is 60 minutes. The introduction of the pro wrestling time limit occurred in the days of Vaudeville.
The First Steel Cage Match
The first ever steel cage match happened in Atlanta, Georgia on July 25th, 1937. It was constructed out of wood and chicken wire and the combatants were Jack Bloomfield vs Count Petro Rossi.
On a side note, the WWWF aka WWE didn’t have their first steel cage match until 1975. It happened at Madison Square Garden in New York City on December 15th, 1975 between Bruno Sammartino and Ivan Koloff.
Tag Team Wrestling
Tag team wrestling is a big part of pro wrestling’s history. While singles matches were the norm for years prior to the advent of tag teams, it is believed tag team wrestling got its start in San Francisco, California. In 1901, to “spice things up,” promoters in San Francisco created tag team wrestling. It really didn’t catch on as a popular attraction until the 1930’s.
The famed battle Royal began in England in the 18th Century. It first started out as an all out brawl between pro boxers but was soon adopted by pro wrestlers as a special attraction.
The First Mega Star
Long, long before Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin, there was Frank Gotch. Gotch is considered the first real pro wrestling superstar. He wrestled in the early 19th century during a time when wrestling was mostly legit. He consistently sold out arenas throughout the United States and on September 4, 1911 faced George Hackenschmidt at Comiskey Park in Chicago in front of over 30,000 fans.
When Wrestling Became More Entertainment Than Sport
It was in the 1920’s with a group of promoters called the Gold Dust Trio that consisted of Ed ‘The Strangler’ Lewis, Billy Sandow and Joseph “Toots” Mondt. Together they created the industry’s first real wrestling promotion and took the wrestling matches out of predominantly carnivals and sideshows. They also made pro wrestling more of a spectacle than sport by creating feuds and angles.
The First Person to Break Kayfabe
Wrestling promoter Jack Pfefer was the first person to “expose” pro wrestling as being predetermined in a newspaper expose in 1933. While some were already becoming suspicious that pro wrestling wasn’t 100% legitimate, it was Pfefer who blew the doors off of that and told the newspaper the Daily Mirror all of pro wrestling’s secrets.
Why did Jack Pfefer do that and in the process almost kill the business? He felt betrayed by several of his colleagues for making deals and not including him to share their profits, so he became jealous and vindictive.
The Term ‘Sports Entertainment’
While many fans and some wrestlers despise Vince McMahon for allegedly coining the phrase “Sports Entertainment” instead of using professional wrestling, he actually isn’t the first to use that phrase. Lou Marsh a sports writer for the Toronto Daily Star used the phrase ‘Sportive Entertainment’ back on February 21st, 1935 when covering wrestling matches.
The First Black Pro Wrestler
Sadly, it is almost impossible to 100% confirm, but we do know one of the very first, if not the first black pro wrestler was a wrestler named Viro Small. Viro Small started out his career at age 16 in and was a former slave. He wrestled on the east coast under the moniker ‘Black Sam.’
The First Ladder Match
The creation of the ladder match was the brain child of Calgary Stampede wrestler/booker Dan Kroffat. In a feud with Tor Kamata, Kroffat came up with this specialized match in 1972. Pro wrestling has never looked back since.
Incidentally, it is believed the first time a ladder was ever brought to a ring happened in San Francisco in 1962. Ray ‘The Crippler’ Stevens did his infamous ‘Bombs Away’ knee drop on Pepper Gomez’ throat. It wasn’t an official ladder match however just a prop in an angle.
While pro wrestling has certainly evolved throughout the years from sport to spectacle, it cannot be denied of its history. Pro wrestling has been around long before many of the most popular sports and continues to thrive and change with the times.