When did wrestling begin? Professional wrestling emerged for the first time in the late 1860s and 1870s in post-Civil War America. During this time, wrestlers were often athletes with amateur wrestling experience who competed at traveling carnivals. Wrestling exhibits were shown in the circuses, often labeled as “athletic shows” (or “at shows”), where experienced wrestlers offered open challenges to the audience. It was at these shows, often done for high-stakes gambling purposes, that the nature of the sport emerged.
In a 2010 interview with IGN.com, the late-great Roddy Piper painted a beautiful picture in response to the question: When did wrestling begin?
The quote was just too good not to share!
“Just picture the Carnival pulls into town, one that looks like Little House on the Prairie, and the covered wagons would come through and there’d be the Bearded Lady and the Strong Man and some animals.
And then there’d be the Wrestler.
And so the night before the carnival on Saturday, there’d be people at the bars. And the people from the carnival would find out who the tough guys were. And they would talk up The Wrestler. And so in the afternoon, the next day, everyone would come down and some local guy would take him on for maybe a nickel or something. And if you won you got fifty cents. And the wrestler would get him in a hold, and there’s a hold called ‘The Sugar Hold’ and it’s a hold in which it makes all the blood rush to your head and blood comes out of your eyes, nose and ears, etcetera.
But he doesn’t pin him.
So the Wrestler would catch him in this hold and slap him on the ribs and it would make the guy scream. Well, the crowd would get so upset and so angry that all of a sudden a guy would jump up and say, ‘I’ll take you on!’ And the promoter would come out and say, ‘Whoa!’ And the Wrestler would let the guy go and the promoter would say, ‘My guy just fought. You come back tonight!’
And they’d all come back that night. But the guy who stood up was part of the carnival. Everyone would come back and pay another nickel.
That’s the answer to when did wrestling begin.”
Quote above shared here with thanks to Matt Pender and our friends over at ‘Wrestling’s Glory Days’ Facebook page