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Europe

Amateur wrestling is so closely tied to Europe that its ties to professional wrestling and consequently the history of pro-wrestling in Europe are difficult to pin down. Many attribute the development of the sport that became modern professional wrestling to the career of George Hackenschmidt. His success in European pro-wrestling made him one of the biggest athletic celebrities of the day. Thanks to his contributions, pro-wrestling developed a reputation as a moneymaker and it remained viable. The sport has been popular throughout the continent for as long as their has been professional wrestling. Different countries had different stars, some different styles developed and some promoters had differing degrees of success, but it is suffice to say pro-wrestling in Europe has a rich history that definitely influenced the forms that appeared in the late nineteenth century. Many of the greatest talents and biggest stars of the early years of pro-wrestling were native-born Europeans or the sons of European immigrants. The ethnic flavor that has been essential to pro-wrestling since its birth was frequently provided by Europeans. From gritty Hungarians and fiery Irishmen to macho Italians and dangerous Germans, American pro-wrestling thrived off of grapplers from the old country that fans loved to cheer and jeer. Just as Europe influenced America, America influenced Europe. The showy brand of pro-wrestling that developed was imported back to Europe and it caught on. After the First World War, pro-wrestling in Europe began to really take off. Over the next three decades, it went through its ups and downs just like its American counterpart. After the Second World War, Americans returned home and the country boomed and so did pro-wrestling. In Britain, pro-wrestling was struggling to find its place. The gimmickry that made it popular in the 1920s, made it phony in the 1940s.

In Central Europe, areas were divided amongst promoters in a structure much like the National Wrestling Alliance in North America.  In the first half of the twentieth century, the area was rocked by two wars, regime changes and strained foreign relations, but the second half proved to be excellent for power broker promoters like Paul Berger, Gustl Kaiser and Nicola Selenkowitsch as well as smaller promoters who ran successful tournaments in various towns for decades.  There were ample opportunities for talent from across Europe to make good money in Central Europe.

The changes in England came in two waves.  The first was Lord Admiral Mountevans, who led the efforts to overhaul the sports' rules and regulations, establish weight classes and get rid of the outlandish features that had delegitimized the sport.  At the same time, promoters banded together and formed
Joint Promotions, their version of the National Wrestling Alliance. The major markets: Yorkshire, Liverpool, Manchester and Scotland were all on board, but the most significant member was the London affiliate, Dale Martin Promotions. The unification under Joint Promotions combined with Lord Mountevans' changes set the stage for a new style of pro-wrestling that centered on technical skill as wrestlers displayed myriad submission holds, pinning cradles and slick counters. This style frequently ensured that the best workers rose quickly, but allowed room for novelty acts whose distinctions got them over.

Like in the United States, pro-wrestling in Britain experienced a new level of popularity when it found a spot on television. In 1955, pro-wrestling was first featured across the country and it immediately helped the live shows and Joint Promotions' operations expanded and grew. Saturday afternoon wrestling on TV became a fixture for the next thirty years. "World of Sports" was one of the biggest TV shows in the country, airing right before soccer on ITV (along with the BBC, the only national broadcaster) and it featured numerous sports, including pro-wrestling. Commentator Kent Walton's calm play-by-play helped validate the product, which did not feature angles. Matches tended to be isolated affairs with a simple story within them that Walton got over masterfully and the formula helped British wrestling to its peak. By the mid-1960s, "World of Sports" was being watched by a massive amount of the population comparable to the largest booms in Japan and Mexico. The TV show created numerous superstars, who would take their fame on the road for local promoters who were part of Joint Promotions.

The exposure from TV wrestling gave groups outside of Joint Promotions new opportunities. There had always been
British Independent Promotions that ran on tight budgets, but now there were television stars who could draw significant crowds for local independent promoters.  Whether it was Paul Lincoln's British Wrestling Federation, the short-lived alliance called the Wrestling Federation of Great Britain or other small independents, however it was Brian Dixon's Merseyside-based All Star Promotions, which took over as the "top" group as Joint Promotions fell apart in the 1980s.

Ultimately, the only thing that could kill Joint Promotions was its infrastructure crumbling. It started when aging promoters began to look for an out. In the early 1970s, Jarvis Astair began buying up the pieces of Joint Promotions, mostly notably Dale Martin Promotions, but also British Wrestling Federation. Unfortunately, he could not keep up and sold his assets and things were juggled around. One of the top stars from the boom, Jackie Pallo, began planning a new group with the Crabtree brothers and Johnny Dale (the "Dale" of "Dale Martin Promotions"). However, Dale died and Joint Promotions hired Max Crabtree to book their company, thus undermined Pallo's project before it got off the ground. With Crabtree at the helm, Joint Promotions took on a new look. Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, "World of Sports" featured amazing talent, however the biggest draw was an amazingly popular blue collar hero named Big Daddy. The third Crabtree brother was an aging, balding fat man, but his feud with Giant Haystacks, partnerships with the best young talent of the day and entrance to "We Shall Not Be Moved" alongside an army of children in his outlandish costumes made him a national celebrity. In the 1980s, British wrestling began to change as the top talents began seeking work elsewhere. The glass ceiling the Crabtrees had created led some to relocate to Canada or the US, focus on overseas tours of Japan, South Africa or Continental Europe.  Many though, left Joint for the All Star Promotions, which ended up getting a piece of the television pie.  Then in 1988, British wrestling was given a vicious one-two punch. First, they were moved to Saturday, which cut their viewing audience significantly (due to people typically working a half-day on Saturday) and the low rating led to the second and final blow - being taken off ITV completely. It devastated the industry in Britain. Several years later, the WWF ran Wembley Stadium, had one of the biggest shows ever and Britain was immediately targetted by both the WWF and WCW as a hot market. This drastically changed the role of British-style wrestling, further harming the domestic market for native products. The local market was further damaged by independents running "tribute" shows, which featured fake WWF stars. Although they drew some impressive crowds, they killed the market for other local promotions. Since then, there have been attempts to resurrect mainstream British wrestling, but nothing has succeeded.

Pro-wrestling on the continent never saw the success of British wrestling.  Despite the long-running heritage, popular native stars and a unique tournament approach favored by many foreigners, pro-wrestling in Central Europe never caught fire.  Otto Wanz, who promoted Graz, had his group, Catch Wrestling Association, which ran successfully for over twenty-five years. The CWA's ties to the American Wrestling Association and New Japan Pro-Wrestling gave it international flavor that made it an impressive entity. In the 1990s, the CWA became a breeding ground for some of the best talent in the world.  As time passed and WWF and WCW began encroaching on their territory, CWA began losing steam before closing its doors in 2000.


European Promotions (1890s-1950s)
Pro-Wrestling was popular across Europe from the late nineteenth century as an attraction alongside the strongman and physical culture contests that were happening in town and fairs. France, Germany and England would all be popular homes for a wide variety of stars. Before, between and after the First and Second World Wars, pro-wrestling would see different stars, different styles and different approaches that were popular. In the years following the Second World War, British and German wrestling was organized, towns were divided up amongst promoters and a cartel system became the norm. In the second half of the twentieth century, pro-wrestling reached its greatest popularity in Europe, but the significant promotions with domestics products would all die out.

Bert Assirati
Ernie Baldwin
Count Bartelli
Paul Berger
Jan Blears
Tom Cannon
Primo Carnera
Rene Ben Chemoul
Alan Colbeck
Shirley Crabtree
Jack Dale
Henri DeGlane
Jack Dempsey
Axel Dieter
"Bulldog" Bill Garnon
George Hackenschmidt
Horst Hoffman
Henry Irslinger
Karl Istaz (Karl Gotch)
Black Butcher Johnson
George Kidd
Dan Koloff
Rene Lasartesse
Gilbert LeDuc
"Strangler" Lewis
"Dr. Death" Paul Lincoln
Tommy Mann
Norman Morrell
Sir Atholl Oakley
Karl Pojello
"Dirty" Jack Pye
Charles Rigoulot
Billy Riley
Billy Robinson
Frank Sexton
Jack Sherry
Otto Wanz
Stanislaus Zbyszko


Joint Promotions (1952-1988)
After pro-wrestling had fallen out of public favor, there were attempts to reorganize and regulate the "sport." A group of promoters banded together to form "Joint Promotions," a British version of the NWA. Like the NWA, they were able survive the hard times by sticking together, starve out any competition, blackball any troublemakers and control the prestigious championships. When television became popular, they made sure to secure the only TV deals doled out and it spelled huge financial success for the promoters. They had an iron grip over the industry spare a few independents for over thirty years. As the promoters aged and left, Joint Promotions' power structure began to crumble. Promoter Max Crabtree took over and helped British wrestling to another boom period with his brother Big Daddy as the massive star that people loved to see. This formula worked for a surprising number of years before it began to slowly kill Joint Promotions. It allowed for indy promoter Brian Dixon to gain some footing and he began luring away the best talent that did not leave out of frustration with the glass ceiling. Although pro-wrestling was still had a large viewing audience, ITV's Greg Tyke decided to cancel "World of Sport" and he began shuffling things around before British pro-wrestling was effectively taken off television. It was the deathblow to the weakened Joint Promotions and seriously harmed Joint's competitors as well.  


Big Daddy

Jim Breaks

Max Crabtree

Vic Faulkner

Giant Haystacks

Billy Joyce

Johnny Kwango

Steve Logan

Mike Marino

Mick McManus

Kendo Nagasaki

"Mr. TV" Jackie Pallo

Pat Roach

Bert Royal

Roy St. Clair

Tony St. Clair

Tibor Szakacs


CLICK HERE for the full Joint Promotions alumni list



British Independent Promotions (1950s-1980s)
The boom of TV wrestling in the 1950s, led to a wide array of independent promotions that started up across Great Britain. Although Joint Promotions had a firm grip on the sport, there was enough to go around and like in the US, Canada and Mexico, there were always a number of so-called "outlaw" groups that popped up here and there. Paul Lincoln was a successful rock promoter, but his love of pro-wrestling kept him involved and for the betterment of the business. In those early TV days, Lincoln secured some of the best talent and was not hindered by the attempted monopolization of Joint Promotions. Initially, he based his promotion around infamous tough guy Bert Assirati. Throughout the 1950s, Assirati was their legitimate star and when injuries slowed him they moved toward a new direction. Although Lincoln was never able to crack the TV market (he came close), he was able to successfully take his show on the road to Italy, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malta as well as Africa. Numerous pro-wrestlers also grew disgruntled with Joint Promotions and left their ranks to try promotion themselves. George Kidd, Joe D'Orazio and Jackie Pallo all had several promotional tenures of varying degrees of success. Other men like Jack Dempsey, Orig Williams and former Joint man Frank Rimer all had operations for long periods of time as well. However, it was Brian Dixon's All-Star promotions that would outlast the crumbling Joint Promotions in the late 1980s.

Bert Assirati
Count Bartelli
Wayne Bridges
Linde Caulder
Tony Charles
Jon Cortez
Shirley Crabtree (Big Daddy) [35%]
Al Hayes
Ray Fury
Les Kellett
George Kidd
Bob Kirkwood
Mike Marino
Brian Maxine
Earl Maynard
Jackie Pallo
Steve Regal
Johnny Saint
Mal Sanders
Lee Sharron
Tony Skarlo
Adrian Street
Jack Taylor
Steve Veidor
"El Bandito" Orig Williams





Catch Wrestling Association (1973-2000)
When it started in the 1970s, Graz promoter Otto Wanz was a strongman with limited in-ring ability. So, he regularly featured strongman feats and competitions. The promotion targetted Germany and Austria, but ran in South Africa as well. They attracted an excellent mix of seasoned veterans from Britain and the United States, young talent from Japan and North America and cultivated some decent native talent as well. The CWA was inarguably the promotion of Wanz for many years, but it transformed in the late 1980s. The company began spreading the focus in correlation to Wanz's 1990 retirement. The new CWA was a great environment for talent to grow and develop. An influx of talent gave them a shot in the arm in the early 1990s. However, its talent pool eventually began departing, it became increasingly difficult to replenish and the CWA finally dried up in 2000. 

Chris Benoit

Roland Bock

Col. Brodey (Magnificent Maurice)

Robbie Brookside

Bull Power (Vader)

Achim Chall

Masahiro Chono

Danny Collins

Axel Dieter

Barry Douglas

Dave "Fit" Finlay

Shinya Hashimoto

Marty Jones

Klaus Kauroff

Rene Lasartesse

Skull Murphy (Steve Young)

Rasputin

Rambo (Luc Poirer)

Mark Rocco

Samurai Shiro (Shiro Koshinaka)

Johnny Saint

Roy St. Clair

Tony St. Clair

Franz Schumann

Lance Storm

David Taylor

Klaus Wallas

Otto Wanz

Ed Wiskowski

Steve Wright

Mile Zrno



All Star Promotions (1976-) 
Promoter Brian Dixon was one of several independent promoters who ran when "World of Sport" and Joint Promotions were the driving forces in British wrestling. Dixon had a great formula, running seasonal holiday sites and bringing in stars with ample TV exposure. The politics associated with the Crabtrees drove many of the workers away and "All Star" became one of the best alternatives. In 1986, ITV cancelled "World of Sport" and began playing with pro-wrestling's on their television. Eventually, All Star became part of a rotation with the established, but often pathetic Joint Promotions and the big budget blockbuster WWF from America. When that relationship ended and Joint died, the scene remained strong enough that All Star took over many of the noteworthy titles and champions (that it had not already lured away) and quickly solidified itself as the top company in Britain. Although the domestic product has never fully recovered and many argue Dixon is stuck in the past, All Star continues to be the most successful promotion in the country in that it runs regularly, runs frequently and draws several big crowds from time to time.  


Wayne Bridges 
Robbie Brookside 
Danny Boy Collins [64%] 
Chic Cullen 
David Finlay [71%] 
Steve Grey 
Marty Jones [68%] 
Alan Kilby 
Kid McCoy 
Drew McDonald 
"Mighty" John Quinn 
Mark Rocco [68%] 
Johnny Saint [72%] 
Mal Sanders 
Tony St. Clair 
Dave Taylor




Non-Europeans who toured Europe  

Andre the Giant

Spiros Arion

Barbarian

Ted Dibiase

Bobby Duncum

Tatsumi Fujinami

Terry Funk

Eddie Gilbert

The Great Kokina (Yokozuna)

Stan Hansen

"Mississippi Mauler" Jim Harris (Kamala)

"Cowboy" Bret Hart

Bruce Hart

Owen Hart

Barry Horowitz

Takayuki Izuka

Chris Jericho

Don Leo Jonathan

Kendo Kashin

Satoshi Kojima

Kwik Kick Lee (Akira Maeda)

Sammy Lee (Tiger Mask)

Ed Leslie (Brutus Beefcake)

Jushin "Thunder" Liger

Peter Maivia

Osamu Nishimura

Akira Nogami

Bob Orton, Jr.

Butch Reed

Road Warrior Hawk

Jake "The Snake" Roberts

Rip Rogers

Mike Rotundo

Dick Slater

Texas Hawk (JBL)

Texas Scott (Scott Hall)

Ultimate Warrior

Sailor White

Hiroyoshi Yamamoto (Tenzan)



I'd like to thank John Lister, Dean Ayass, Dave Meltzer, Darren Matthews (Steven Regal/William Regal) and britishwrestlersreunion.co.uk as my main resources. And, of course Royal Duncun and Gary Will's contributions to wrestling-titles.com setstats 1