Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


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.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of History

First Advisor

Robert Martin

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (iv, 80 pages)



File Format


Included in

History Commons