You call it wrestling, they term it “working.” It may be happening right in your own home town tonight. As Shakespeare once said: “A rose by any other name,” etc.
By any name you choose to call it, wrestling is the roughest, most dramatic, and oftentimes the most hilarious sport before the American public today. Let’s get together right now and attend one of the thousands of mat contests taking place tonight.
Mingled cheers and boos greet the two mat contestants as they come into the ring. Wrestling opponents usually enter the ring alone, without benefit of the seconds so common to pugilism. The timekeeper rings a loud gong to silence the spectators and the announcer walks to the center of the squared circle for the usual ritual expected by wrestling fans. Amid mingled boos, cheers and jeers, the announcer introduces the principals, Champion Gus Papadikis and Harry Furey, challenger. The weights of the principals and the rules governing the match are also stated. When these announcing details are concluded, the referee calls the antagonists to the center of the ring and while the spectators stamp impatiently, examines the wrestlers’ bodies for evidence of grease and looks at their finger nails to make certain they are clipped short enough to prevent scratching.
Concluding his part in the bout’s prologue, the arbiter motions the contestants back to their corners and signals to the timekeeper. That worthy rings the gong again and the match begins.
The echoes from the starting bell have hardly died away before the favorite is atop the champion, applying punishing holds. The titleholder’s face is a picture of pain. By resorting to unpardonable fouls the champion manages to free himself from his adversary’s bone-breaking grips.
Papadikis crawls under the ropes like a frightened rabbit seeking shelter in a thorny hedge. The crowd boos. Furey remains inside the ropes in a menacing attitude, while the referee motions the champion to come back.
The spectators feel certain their boy is going to win. The local favorite is living up to expectations.
After a short breathing respite outside the hempen strands, the champion circles around the ring on the apron, crawls back through the ropes, advances to the center of the ring and again locks grips with Furey.
The crowd boos Papadikis as the champion punches the favorite in the ribs, knees him in the groin, rubs Furey’s spine, twists his neck, gouges, heels, slaps, kicks, and resorts to more unpardonable fouls.
Meanwhile, if the referee knows his wrestling business, he’ll threaten disqualifications, do a little punching on his own, scowl, shake his index finger, roll on the mat to get a closer view of the action and generally expend as much energy as the combatants.
But hell knows no fury like that of a clean type of wrestler aroused by an opponent’s dirty tactics within the ring.
Amid cheers, encouraging shouts and hysterical advice from the spectators, Furey becomes the aggressor and Papadikis the craven.
The challenger applies arm locks, scissors holds, head locks, uses flying mares and generally bounces the crown wearer around the ring like a tennis ball. The crowd is receiving from the challenger a demonstration of the benefits to be accrued from clean living, skill and physical perfection.
The tide of the contest has definitely turned in favor of the challenger. During the following thirty minutes of the bout, Furey has everything his own way. The crowd is pleased. It is witnessing an exciting melodrama with all the tried and true standard theatrical bits, including bravery, heroism, acrobatics, cowardice, comedy, clean living and the unexpected twists in the plot.
In the parlance of wrestling, “the heat is on.”
And this is the point in all standard wrestling scenarios where the “finish” occurs.
Sensing his opportunity, Furey throws caution to the winds and rushes in for the kill. Here’s where Papadikis demonstrates the stuff of which real champions are made.
As Furey comes in close, he is met by an apparently sickening punch to the jaw that knocks him sprawling to the ring mat.
Calling upon his physical resources, Papadikis manages to pick his almost unconscious antagonist from the mat, places the inert form across his broad shoulders, whirls Furey around several times, then slams him to the canvas, at the same time sprawling atop him and pinning Furey’s broad shoulders to the mat.
The excited referee counts three or five (a matter of local custom), then pats Champion Papadikis on his broad back as a signal to the crowd that the crown still rests secure on Gus’ bloody but somewhat bowed head.
The physically spent victor struggles dramatically to his feet amid the usual boos and cheers, while the prostrate subconscious challenger writhes on the canvas. The sympathetic referee helps Furey to his feet and the latter then manages to stagger to his own corner where more sympathetic persons help him on with his robe. As he leaves the ring, holding his jaw, the spectators greet him with more cheers.
Papadikis and Furey meet on the steps leading down from the ring apron and the vanquished foe offers his hand to the victor. The champion disdainfully ignores the proffer of congratulations and good fellowship, and the ever-alert spectators boo his unsportsmanshiplike attitude, as both wrestlers make their way up the aisles to the dressing room.
In the dressing room (and it must be borne in mind by the reader that bonecrushers usually dress and undress in one big room), the late contestants strip their tights off, shower, rub themselves down with oil and alcohol, dress, pack their bags and start out the door. The champion says:
“It was a good bout, Furey, let’s hope the one in Harrisburg on Wednesday goes over just as big.”
“Uh, huh!” the challenger grunts, “I’m working in a preliminary tomorrow night in Camden in a draw with Joe Rooney so I gotta get the twelve five. See you in Harrisburg.”
Furey walks out.
If you were an onlooker at the struggle described between Papadikis and Furey you were merely witnessing one of the many hundreds of wrestling bouts staged every night in the week in the various cities, towns and hamlets from one end of America to another.
The principals call it “working a program,” and the fans term it wrestling. Annually, thousands of persons afflicted with “wrestleritis” pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of these behemoths who travel the country from coast to coast working their “programs.”
Ninety-eight percent of those who pay their money to witness these gymnastic dramas and comedies believe it’s on the level. It’s probably the greatest entertainment spectacle today, containing acrobatics, comedy, buffoonery, pantomime, tragedy, interlude, curtain and afterpiece.
There are all the elements of the theatre, including the producer, publicity man, advance agent, stage manager and prompter.
Like Shakespeare’s famed line, the wrestlers “suit the action to the word and the word to the action,” and thus create in their bouts what is known as “heat,” or as Pope expressed it, they “awake the soul by tender strokes of art.”