When/how did US professional wrestling transition from being competitive to being worked?

As I understand it, professional wrestling was initially a legitimate sport. Up until around 1920, the matches were mostly competitive (though there was a healthy dose of match fixing even then.) These matches were being promoted and sanctioned by some independent sporting organization (I know there were athletic clubs in New York, LA, and Boston for example), as well as national groups like the National Boxing Association and it’s spin-off National Wrestling Association.

1 Answer

Basically professional wrestling as we know it was pioneered by wrestler Ed “Strangler” Lewis and promoters Toots Mondt and Billy Sandow in the 1920s. They were the ones who essentially invented the “job” – Lewis was a legit shoot wrestler who could win the title at will, and Mondt and Sandow realized that having Lewis keep the belt for long periods of time would bore the fans and thus lead to smaller gates. So they had Lewis drop the belt whenever he wanted to generate interest and revenue, and he could legitimately win the title back from an opponent if he decided that would “go into business for himself” and decide to fight Lewis for real. Plus Mondt was also a legitimate wrestler who could rough up wrestlers if they didn’t stick to the script.

Mondt also deserves the credit for coming up with what he called “Slam Bang Western style wrestling” which moved away from on-the-mat Greco-Roman style of wrestling to the more familiar body slams, clotheslines, suplexes and fisticuffs that we see in professional wrestling. Mondt thought that this would be a better draw than the hour-long mat wrestling matches that Gotch and Hackenschmidt were delivering twenty years before.

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