Guest Author - Vance Rowe
The landscape of professional wrestling has changed over the past seventy years or so as we know it today. Most people know or should know that wrestling has roots in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome and wasn’t until after the Civil War that professional wrestling entertainment was brought to America by German and Irish immigrants. Old World wrestling, which is a form of Greco-Roman Wrestling; was originally held in old German beer gardens and the purpose of wrestling there was to sell beer. The longer a wrestling match lasted constituted the more beer that was sold. Professional wrestling as we know it today has roots in the carnival. Wrestling bouts were first staged at carnivals and touring athletic shows. These athletic shows are where the term “yokel local” was coined. Carney wrestlers wore costumes and were given nicknames. Their biographies were also made up to make them more appealing to the crowd. The Carney wrestlers would challenge all comers, or the local yokels, and if the local would win the match, he would win a sum of money. However, the Carneys did not want to lose money so made it so they wouldn’t. A local could win a match in two ways in those days, either by pinning the wrestler or by staying in the match with him for a designated period of time. If the local won, he would win the money.
Wrestlers were lumped into three different categories in those days. They were either, hookers, shooters or journeymen. The journeymen were beginning wrestlers that showed a modicum of promise as a wrestler and had little wrestling ability and relied on showmanship to gain their fame. Shooters were wrestlers that had real wrestling talent and participated in competitive matches and hookers were wrestlers that used illegal holds and moves to win their matches to save the carnies money. It also was not unusual for a Carney to employ someone to hide behind a curtain with a bat or a board of some sort. If the local challenger was in a position to win his match by lasting the time limit, the wrestler would force the local behind the curtain and the local would be hit on the back of his head with the weapon of choice, allowing the wrestler to win the match and thereby allowing the Carney to keep his money.
Then came the Barnstormers. The Barnstormers is basically where professional wrestling comes from today.
The Barnstormers conspired with local wrestlers to determine the outcome of matches and bilk the audience out of their money as they made side bets on the wrestlers they thought they would win and unlike today’s wrestling, wrestling then was held in the highest secrecy and most of the wrestling terms we know today came from wrestling in those days. One of those words is “kayfabe”. Kayfabe is a term that is used to keep wrestling secrets, a secret. If two wrestlers were talking about a match and a fan was around, one wrestler would say “Kayfabe” and they would immediately go into their storyline act. It is a word that is thought to have its roots in the old carnival days. A Carney would save money by calling home collect and when asked their name, the Carney would say Kay Fabian which meant that that they arrived at their destination safely and that everything was all right. When the person at home heard this name, they denied the charges and hung up the phone.
Professional wrestling has come a long way since those days as far as showmanship is concerned but in many respects it has also stayed the same.