Wrestling With History

by Tracy R. Walsh

In a review of David Shoemaker’s The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling, Miles Wray evaluates the early years of the sport:

Professional wrestling is a beautifully American invention, and a reflection of a beautifully American impulse: wrestling matches at carnivals and fairs of the early 1900s were simply WWE_Legends_of_Wrestling_Andre_Giant_&_Iron_Sheik_DVD_covertoo boring for audiences to watch – they were uninterrupted hours of stalemated, ground-bound grappling. Promoters discovered that a match with a preordained result can provide the sorts of thrills, spills, and mercifully abbreviated running time that an actual competition between two wrestlers simply cannot. Add in a few scheming entrepreneurs over the decades, themselves intoxicated by the possibilities of ever-ubiquitous television, and it’s not too hard to see how wrestling evolved into the colorful, brash, heavy-metal spectacle that it is today.

Reading The Squared Circle, it’s obvious that there is at least one thing definitively superior about the early days of wrestling: the names. Up through the ’80s, wrestling was stuffed with whimsical nom de plumes that make Thomas Pynchon look like an unimaginative namer. A small but thrilling sample of superior wrestling aliases: Toots Mondt, Theobaud “Masked Wrestler” Bauer, The Mongolian Stomper, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Leaping Lanny Poffo, The Halitosis Kid, Big John Studd, Sputnik Monroe, The One Man Gang, Gorilla Monsoon, Burrhead Jones, Soul Train Jones, and Special Delivery Jones.

Update from a reader:

Back in the 1970s, I was walking through Cleveland Hopkins Airport and heard an announcement on the public address system: “Phone call for Mr. Butcher,” the voice said. “Phone call for Mr. Abdullah the Butcher…”

He had a colorful history.