Beginning with the Englishman Thomas Topham of London in the 18th century and culminating with Eugene Sandow, the German-born international figure who continued into the 20th century, a procession of wrestlers or strongmen appeared at fairs, in theatres, and in circuses, challenging all comers. Wrestling became a part of the training regimen of the German turnverein gymnastic movement in the early 1800s. Wrestling was popular as a frontier sport in the United States (Abraham Lincoln was a notable local wrestler), with bouts typically lasting until one contestant submitted and with few holds barred.
Greco-Roman wrestling and catch-as-catch-can, or freestyle wrestling, developed in the second half of the nineteenth century and eventually dominated international wrestling. Greco-Roman wrestling, popularised first in France, was named after the type of wrestling practised by the ancients. Greco-Roman wrestling allows only holds above the waist and prohibits wrestlers from wrapping their legs around an opponent when they fall. Originally professional and popularised at international expositions held in Paris, Greco-Roman wrestling events were held at subsequent Olympic Games except in 1900 and 1904.
The second style, catch-as-catch-can, was popularised primarily in the United Kingdom and the United States, first as a professional sport and then as an amateur sport after 1888, when it was recognised by the Amateur Athletic Association. Except for 1912, it was introduced into the Olympic Games in 1904 and was contested ever since. Catch-as-catch-can allows for waist and leg grips and is won by a pin-fall.
Wrestling in freestyle, also known as international freestyle, is a synthetic form of catch-as-catch-can that first appeared in the Olympic Games in Antwerp around 1920. International freestyle wrestling is loose wrestling that employs the Greco-Roman touch-fall rather than the pin-fall commonly used in Anglo-American wrestling.
Among the notable professional wrestlers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the Russian George Hackenschmidt, who began as an amateur Greco-Roman wrestler before turning professional and wrestling catch-as-catch-can from 1900. He held the world championship title until 1908. Frank Gotch, an American wrestler, defeated Hackenschmidt in 1908 and again in 1911.
After Gotch’s retirement in 1913, professional wrestling, which was already losing popularity to boxing, died as a serious professional sport. After that, though its audience grew, particularly in the United States, thanks to radio broadcasts and, later, telecasts, it became purely a spectacle.
Famous professional wrestlers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries include The winners, who were deliberately divided into “heroes” and “villains,” were determined by the promoters’ financial requirements rather than skill. Wrestling moves became more extravagant and artificial, losing much of their authenticity. Perhaps the most theatrical form of professional wrestling is lucha libre, which is associated with Mexico and is known for its colourfully masked performers and aerial moves.
Amateur wrestling in the 20th century:
While professional wrestling declined in seriousness throughout the twentieth century, amateur wrestling improved significantly during the same time period. Wrestling had no weight divisions at first (the only weight in the first Olympic Games was heavyweight), but weight divisions developed in amateur wrestling. (See freestyle wrestling for weight classes.) Previously, wrestling had been continuous and contested to one or two of three falls, sometimes with and sometimes without a time limit. Beginning in 1967, amateur wrestling was limited to three three-minute rounds in all international competition.
After studying various traditional wrestling styles, Anatoly Kharlampiev of the Soviet Union and others developed sambo, a type of jacket wrestling, in the twentieth century. Sambo gained popularity in the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, and Japan, and was recognised internationally in 1964. In sambo, a wrestler wins by throwing another wrestler cleanly on his back, or if the wrestlers go to the mat, the bout ends with one opponent being submitted. Sambo is similar to judo and Mongolian wrestling in that bouts last three minutes