Tim Corvin spent years researching through library results, microfiche, and more for his definitive book Pioneers of Professional Wrestling: 1860-1899. There’s never been a book like this, particularly on these years because most experts thought predetermined finishes wrestling matches. Ones that were thought to have first started in 1880’s France before they became a mainstay of AT and Carnival/Carny shows in the U.S, Canada, and the rest of the world.
Tim said some of the earliest pro wrestlers and MMA stars compensated for their work. These included Civil War soldiers, Canadian Mounties, lumberjacks, miners, train and railroad camp workers, and more strength day laborers. France did have the world’s first masked wrestler (simply called that) in and around the 1880s. There was another who was the first to wear an actual costume to the pro wrestling ring as this legend wore his Broadway costume to the ring since he moonlit doing real theatre.
Tim Corvin discusses Pioneers of Professional Wrestling
Tim also discussed with cohost and former heel West Coast manager Buddy Sotello the evolution and progression of performance pro wrestling and challenge. He worked wrestling and how the unsuspecting, believing marks usually always got their gambling money taken. That was how the first wrestlers were paid, too. From those gambling on it which often led to gunshots, etc. If people felt someone was “throwing” a contest. Tim mentioned that his book had all sorts of great newspaper clippings of the era listing match results, angles, lithographs, and fun facts like that a Pre-President Abe Lincoln was one of the great American Frontier’s toughest catch-as-catch-can grapplers.
Or the exciting fact that even though many of these bouts had fully-predetermined finishes, they could go 7+ hours long! And that today’s fans wouldn’t stand or sit for that. That legendary Farmer Burns had such a strong neck. One that he could drop down 6 feet while in a hangman’s noose with no damage! Plus, Lou Thesz’ later manager, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, one of the first holders of what we consider the classic NWA, was regarded as “the dirtiest player of the day. He would often legit trying to maim other foes. Or wrestlers like The Terrible Turk and Singh pretended to be so violent; they caused riots of tremendous crowds. These true workers could go from town-to-town as there were no newsletter sheets nor tv. There was nothing alerting any potential audiences of what they’d pulled in prior towns.
To watch this week’s episode click below or here to watch past editions of Wrestling & Everything Coast to Coast.