The Origins of Wrestling – Facts and Information About the Sport

How Wrestling Started

Wrestling is one of the oldest forms of combat, referenced in the Iliad and depicted in 15,000-year-old cave drawings in France. Early Egyptian and Babylonian reliefs show moves still used today.

Always popular in ancient Greece, wrestling held a prominent place in the Olympic Games. It was developed by ancient Greeks as a way to train soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. After defeating the Greeks, the Roman Empire borrowed from Greek wrestling but eliminated much of the brutality. The Greeks feared the true history of the sport would be lost, and so Greco-Roman wrestling was born.

During the Middle Ages wrestling was popular, including in royal houses in France, Japan, and England. Much later, American settlers brought wresting traditions with them from England and discovered wrestling to be popular among the Native American tribes. During the early years of America’s development, amateur wresting was very popular, making appearances at county fairs, carnivals, holiday celebrations, and military exercises. Of the many styles practiced during that time, however, only the catch-as-catch-can survived, evolving into the style used today at the collegiate level.

Significant Dates in Wrestling History

1888: New York City, NY, is host to the first organized national wrestling tournament
1904: Saint Louis, MO, is host to the first wrestling competition of our modern Olympic Games
1912: The International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) is founded in Antwerp, Belgium
1912: Ames, IA, is host to the first NCAA Wrestling Championships
1983: USA Wrestling becomes the national governing body of amateur wrestling
1987: Lorenskog, Norway, is host to the first world women’s wrestling championship
2004: the Olympic Games now includes women’s wrestling

Historic Wrestling by Country

China: a wrestling style called Shuai Jiao originated from China and has over 4,000 years of history
Egypt: documentation of wrestling appears on tombs (2300 BC) and Egyptian artwork (2000–1085 BC)
Greece: wrestling was a popular form of martial art (1100–146 BC)
Rome: Greek wrestling was adapted into Roman wrestling after the Romans conquered the Greeks (510 BC–AD 500)
Arabia: according to Arabic literature, Muhammed defeated a skeptic in a famous wrestling match
France: King Francis I beat King Henry VIII of England in a wrestling match in 1520, at the Field of the Cloth of Gold
Scotland: a variation on catch wrestling, or catch-as-catch-can, was developed by the Scots
Ireland: the collar-and-elbow style, which was eventually introduced in the United States, was developed by the Irish

Modern Wrestling

Modern wrestling standards and regulations were developed by FILA, an organization that recognizes two categories of wrestling disciplines: international and folk.

The category of international wrestling includes eight distinctive disciplines:

Freestyle Wrestling
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Combat Grappling
Beach Wrestling
Oil Wrestling (Turkish)
Sambo (Soviet Union)

The category of folk wrestling is defined as a traditional form of wrestling unique to a culture or geographic region. Folk wrestling is not regulated by FILA nor are its various disciplines recognized by FILA as styles of international wrestling. Examples include:

Backhold Wrestling (Europe)
Cumberland Wrestling (England)
Catch-as-Catch-Can (England)
Kurash (Uzbekistan)
Gushteengiri (Tajikistan)
Khuresh (Siberia)
Lotta Campidanese (Italy)
Pahlavani (Iran)
Pehlwani (India)
Penjang Gulat (Indonesia)
Schwingen (Switzerland)
Shuai Jiao (China)
Ssireum (Korea)

Famous Wrestlers

Abraham Cann (English): nineteenth-century champion
George Dole (American): won the US Olympic gold medal in 1908
George Hackenschmidt (Russian): twentieth century champion
Khashaba Jhadhav (Indian): won the Olympic bronze medal in 1953, the first individual medalist in Indian history
Georg Lurich (Estonian): famous Estonian heavyweight athlete
Giovanni Raicevich (Italian): World Champion in 1907 and again in 1909

College Wrestling Programs. Athletes at risk of concussion.

Wrestling Recruiting Information

Wrestling Scholarships. College Wrestling Recruiting.

Wrestling Camps

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. Athletic Scholarship Information.

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