Wrestling has always had a vibe of being a holy (or righteous) way to settle differences. People wrestle with alcoholism, drug addiction, and other problems all to achieve a better and socially more acceptable way of life as deemed by society at whatever time you want to talk about. So it's no surprise really that to this day we still have "Good versus Evil," being portrayed inside of a squared circle. Sure, the representations of what is "Good" and what is "Evil" has changed dramatically over the years, in both professional wrestling and society itself. After all wrestling is these days and for many decades before just a reflection of society.
The connection goes all the way back to the Bible though. The most famous story of wrestling in that particular Holy book being the battle between Jacob and the angel. Of course Christianity is not the only scripture based a around a higher being that features wrestling. Hinduism has it's own God of wrestling in the form of the warrior monkey, Hanuman. Those who follow Buddhism traditionally hold wrestling match following the passing of the loved one and this in turn helps the deceased to pass over to Nirvana in a peaceful manner. And so on the connections with religion go.
Gods and deities were not the only ones to wrestle though. Oh no. Rulers of lands would often be heralded as great wrestlers. From ancient Egyptian pharaohs to monarchs of the western world. We all have heard of the gladiatorial battles hold in ancient Rome, the favorite sport of the emperors. It's even said the King of England lost a wrestling match to the King of France while they were going through the process of discussing peace treaties in the 1500's.
By the 1800's everyone was wrestling. Young, old, poor, rich, noble, it was considered one of the healthiest sports in the world and professional wrestling as we know it was just beginning to be formed ready for a take off. And still in newspapers in America and England, wrestling was still associated with the Holy and the action taken when trying to overcome some kind of affliction in their lives. Truly wrestling was either the "Sport of Kings" or the "Sport of Angels" depending on whether people were in a the ear shot of members of the cloth or a monarch.
As professional wrestling really took off in America during the late 1800's it was clear from fan reactions recorded in the newspapers of the times that the greatest crime a wrestler could commit was that of appearing to not try in his contest. They could not stand the dishonesty of certain wrestlers disgracing their "righteous" sport.
For the purpose of not wishing to open a can of worms with the question of "When was wrestling first pre-determined ?" We'll skip forward to the 1920's when it's one-hundred-percent agreed upon that wrestling added all kinds of elements of showmanship during that time frame.
By the time the 1920's had rolled around, it was no secret that hippodroming went on among professional wrestling, how much, as mentioned above, is open to debate. So when the Gold Dust Trip (Ed Lewis, Billy Sandow and Joe Mondt) started making major changes to the structure of wrestling, they effectively utilized storylines and more and more character wrestlers became ever present it wasn't too much of a shock to the fans.
Yes, there were those who were not happy the once noble sport was starting to fill up with "circus clowns," but enough people still enjoyed it to encourage the path professional wrestling took stayed on "fakir" side of things rather than the legitimate one. This raises the question of why was it accepted and why by the 1940's had it exploded into an absolute phenomenon?
Obviously there are many factors such as television, the ever growing feminist movement which most certainly had strong ties to pro-wrestling, but that's a topic for another day, and various other elements allowed the explosion. The key part though was the sense of promoters to realize that "Good versus Evil" was needed.
People sometimes the mistake when discussing the theory of evolution that once evolved all of the past traits are lost. That is not the case though, they may become re-arranged or toned down with the strongest of the traits taking over forming the evolution. That's exactly what pro-wrestling did. As anyone who watches mixed-martial-arts contests knows, they're unpredictable. They could be twenty-five seconds long with a flash of excitement or they could go the distance with real slow paced positioning and avoidance tactics.
The professionals simply dropped the unpredictable nature of the sport and drew on the foundations of wrestling being part of the good fight. Naturally when you have something good it needs something evil to defend against. Likewise if you have evil you need something good to attack. So, by pulling on the thousands of years of association with "Good versus Evil" promoters were able to sustain the audiences interest by keeping a very familiar and resounding message in the performances allowing them to focus on being more entertaining than a legitimate or a fixed contest acted out strictly as if legitimate could allow them to be.
Many wrestlers from the territory days cite the main drawing power was making the fans believe that if they did not attend the coming show to support their hero he may just lose to the latest nasty threat. That could still be seen with Hulk Hogan at the helm of the WWF or even with Stone Cold Steve Austin later on, the fans had to be there to see what happened and cheer their hero to victory.
Like I stated at the beginning what constitutes as a good guy and what constitutes as a bad guy has changed over time, but the as long as pro-wrestling exists there will always be a battle between good and evil and in the end the good will always triumph because it's professional wrestling and it represents triumph over adversity, beating the odds, and most importantly it's supposed to show that there is hope for the good guy.
By Jimmy Wheeler
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