Open Access Thesis
Wrestling--History--19th century; Sports betting--Moral and ethical aspects;
While boxing and baseball have been common subjects of historical study, other sports of the nineteenth century have been comparatively neglected by historians. Professional wrestling, in particular, has received very little attention as a sport, as opposed to its twentieth century “sports entertainment” incarnation. What attention it has received has most commonly been through the lens of social history, focusing on wrestling as theater or its psychosexual overtones. Missing from its history is any consideration of the economic factors which influence the evolution of any professional endeavor. This paper explores the relationship between a wrestler’s payment and performance. Specifically, it examines how the practice of side bets – wrestlers wagering their own money on the outcome of their matches – influenced a wrestler’s choice of opponents, styles, and rules. It will demonstrate how the side bet contributed to the rise of catch-as-catch-can as the dominant style from amongst a host of regional folk styles, as well as the increased brutality of wrestling as a whole. In addition, it will explore the role of side bets in maintaining legitimacy – or at least the appearance of legitimacy – and how the decline of the side bet and wrestlers’ concurrent loss of economic control over the sport led to the rise of promoters and the eventual predominance of the “worked” or fixed match in professional wrestling.
Date of Award
Master of Arts
Department of History
1PDF file (iv, 80 pages)
2013 - Lee Casebolt
Casebolt, Lee, "From sidebets to sideshow: The influence of gambling on the development of professional wrestling in America, 1870-1911" (2013). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 81.