Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wrestling & The Golden Age Of Physical Culture

Before baseball was a major success, before football became the second national pastime, wrestling was the talk of the world. Even in the carnival ACT shows, wrestling was a way to make money whether by side bets or on a major bout in a small city. The most notable wrestlers of the day were Tom Jenkins, George Hackenshmidt, Frank Gotch and quite possibly the greatest of them all Ed “Strangler” Lewis. Wrestling as we all know is the oldest of sports and what better to help bring wrestling to the national spotlight then in the Industrial Revolution. It took more then these men to make a profit and matches were unpredictable as some lasted a few minutes to lasting a few hours.

 If there was ever a man long before Television swept the nation in America’s living rooms, he took wrestling to a height that only Hulk Hogan and Lou Thesz would achieve later in the century and that was George Hackenshmidt. A man born in Estonia, the most built developed man at that time and was considered to be at one point to another title, The World’s Strongest Man. Looking like he was carved from Granite, Hack sold out areas in Europe such as the London Opera House and in America drew one of the biggest crowds in Sports History wrestling Frank Gotch. By far one of the strongest competitors of that time but more importantly believe it or not one of the most conditioned. Hack lived and breathed exercise and wrestling as he build muscles and brains by writing a course that became his Magnum Opus: The Way To Live. Up until Hulk Hogan arrived, Hack was the guy that brought strength and muscle to the world of Professional Wrestling.

 Lou Thesz who was the most watched man in America in the early TV era, considered one man he didn’t question as the greatest of all-time (even though it’s still argued to this day) was a man who was known to beat anyone at any length of a match and whenever he wanted but still made a moniker as a boring defensive wrestler named Ed Lewis a.k.a Robert Julius Fredrick if I stand corrected. Although very well talented and could cripple any guy he faced, Lewis wasn’t all that of a offensive wrestler if history serves me right and he just didn’t do very well when drawing a crowd. During one match it lasted five and a half hours when spectators were expected to see a good hour of wrestling. Because of this notion, during the roaring twenties and the Depression of the 1930’s, the scientific style of wrestling became faded and the people needed excitement. With promoters and wrestlers alike they began doing performance matches which they don’t try to cripple each other but get the people in frenzy and this was the turning point from being a sport to becoming an entertainment spectacle.

 No matter what sport you love, there’s always going to the single greatest debate, “Who’s the greatest.” Wrestling is no different. During the Industrial Revolution, kids and athletes of all shapes and sizes flocked to YMCA’s and the early stages of Gymnasiums done by guys like Sig Klein’s gym in New York in the 30’s and also York Barbell Company along with a Health Club in Oakland, CA by a little known Physical Culturist and athlete himself Jack Lalanne. Wrestling for most people at that time and in Europe such as England, Germany, Ireland & Scotland honed their skills just to pass the time because of either money trouble, tension at home, odd jobs or even to become a professional. Back then, Wrestling gave you a sense of hope and to test your manhood of not only skill but character. A lot of great athletes came out as wrestlers at one time or another. Even big name Presidents were wrestlers in their lifetime like William Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Teddy Roosevelt and others but the most famous wrestler in the White House long before the Industrial Revolution was none other then Abraham Lincoln.

 Such big names during this era up until the TV era were names like Otto Arco, Gama, Hackenshimidt, Frank Gotch, Eugene Sandow, George F. Jowett, Tom Jenkins, The Mighty Atom Joseph Greenstein, Lou Thesz, Ed Lewis, Jim Londis, Toots Mont, Ad Santell, Stu Hart and many, many more. These men were the cornerstone before there was a WWE, WCW and ECW. The NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) was on the verge of becoming the top promoting company in the wrestling business at that time. Wrestling back then was far more real and scientific then the high flying, bloated up bodybuilding and chair swinging entertainment that it is today and wrestlers had to be in tip top shape and be able to go an hour or more in a match if they needed to.

 Money wasn’t a major deal at the time until Hack and Gotch came around and for them, they were practically the first two athletes to draw a major wrestling card as they had a series of Championship matches that lasted god knows how long but they kept at it until they had a final match in 1911 at Chicago’s brand new Comiskey Park where Hack lost another match to Frank Gotch.  Other then that unless it was in the Carnival shows, betting on a wrestler was as much a gamble as horseracing (maybe less). Side bets came left and right and most likely there were guys who took a fall to get a big payday like shaving points in a basketball or football game today. Like any gamble, there were guys who won and lost money on a good wrestler and very few great ones like Santel, Gotch and Jenkins ever lost a match before they ended up crippling their opponents. Like any athlete you want to bet on a man that is good, strong and intelligent in how he uses his opponents. Once the promoters began running shows in various cities around the country and the real style of wrestling faded, the gamble wore off and ticket profits became the stuff of legends.

 There are an extreme few wrestlers today that are as good, some better and some far less then the wrestlers of the past. If I had to name a few would be Ken Shamrock, Randy Couture, Dan Severn, Kurt Angle, Kazushi Sakuraba, Brock Lesnar and Matt Hughes that are keen wrestlers to tearing down their opponents, yes I realize a few of these names were in WWE at one time but seriously, I’m talking before they even talked to guys like Vince McMahon. Any wrestler whether in the WWE, UFC, King Of The Cage or even what use to be PRIDE in Japan should pay homage to those that came before them, learn their history, learn where they came from and how to model themselves after. It’s more worth while knowing your history then knowing your techniques. Knowledge is power, wisdom is strength, and conditioning & technique come last. Whoever is the greatest wrestler doesn’t matter and really shouldn’t ever matter, what does matter is what did you get out of learning from the best whether it’s from one wrestler or ten of them.

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