Wrestling in the USA

By Bob Dellinger
Director Emeritus
National Wrestling Hall of Fame

Wrestling already was an established sport among the Native Americans in the 15th and 16th Centuries, when the first Europeans began arriving on the North American continent. Little has been handed down about the various styles practiced, but they are thought to have varied greatly from tribe to tribe. There was a common thread of savagery that typified the pursuits of warriors.

The English in the Colonies and the French in Canada made wrestling a popular sport at their social gatherings in early pioneer days. Before long, practically every settlement had its own champion, and there would be contests between various title-holders. The colonists started out with the Greco-Roman style, but it proved too dull and wrestling evolved into a more wide-open style.

During the 18th Century, wrestling appeared to have mellowed from its early ferocity into a legitimate spectator sport, a bit on the rough-and-ready side, but legitimate. It was the major physical contact sport among men of all classes (boxing did not catch on until near the end of the 19th Century).

Perhaps the early finishing school for scufflers was the Rev. James Maury’s Academy at Fredericksburg, Virginia, an institution which turned young gentry into scholars and, as in the case of young George Washington, into able wrestlers as well. At 18, the big, shy Washington apparently held a ”collar and elbow” wrestling championship that was at least county-wide and possibly colony-wide. Washington never lost his touch. At the age of 47, 10 years before he became the first President of the United States, the Commander of the Continental Armies still had enough left to defeat seven consecutive challengers from the Massachusetts Volunteers.

The ”collar and elbow” style devised its name from the starting position. Standing face-to-face, each wrestler placed one hand behind his opponent’s neck and the other behind his elbow. While doing away with such tactics as bull-like rushes, the position opened up many possible skill maneuvers.

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