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Professional wrestling is a mode of spectacle, combining athletics and theatrical performance, held primarily in North America and Oceania. It takes the form of events, held by touring companies, which minic a combat sport. The unique form of sport portrayed is fundamentally based on classical and catch-as-catch-can ("catch") wrestling, with more modern additions of striking attacks; strength-based holds and throws; and acrobatic maneuvers. Various forms of martial arts have influenced the genre. An additional aspect of combat with improvised weaponry is sometimes included.
The matches have predetermined outcomes in order to provide entertainment value, and all combative maneuvers are worked in order to lessen the chance of actual injury. These facts were kept highly secretive throughout the industry pre-Doomsday. That practice has continued amongst the various North American, Caribbean and Oceanic promotions. By and large, the true nature of the performance is not discussed by the performing company in order to sustain and promote the willing suspension of disbelief by the audience.
Originating as a sideshow exhibition in North American traveling carnivals and vaudeville halls, professional wrestling grew into a stand-alone genre of entertainment with many diverse variations in cultures around the globe. In North America, it experienced several different periods of prominence in cultural popularity during its century and a half of existence.
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Shoot style (aka Natchez Style)
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The origins of professional wrestling are murky, particularly as numerous records dating back to the 19th century and up to Doomsday were lost on September 25, 1983.
It is known that up to the 1950s, pro wrestling was presented almost strictly as straight-up athletic competition. Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt's matches in the early 20th century are considered by historians as the first significant matches in history. The industry struggled along until the advent of television in the 1950s.
With TV came a switch in presentation, from sport to show, as promoters introduced numerous types of characters, participating in feuds with degrees of drama and comedy, to the viewers. Large audiences throughout the United States and Canada would tune in to watch wrestling.
The history of the industry in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s leading up to Doomsday is better known, primarily due to programs from area matches and wrestling magazines maintained by enthusiasts in surviving regions of the North American continent. Those records, though, reflect the "worked" nature of the business - the magazines almost always presented the business as real, and the wrestlers as the promotions portrayed them.
While wrestlers from the early 20th century like Gotch, Hackenschmidt and Ed "Strangler" Lewis are still remembered, more and better records of their post-World War II counterparts exist in the post-Doomsday era. Historians, promoters and wrestlers will name such figures as Gorgeous George, Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, Dory Funk Jr., Bruno Sammartino, Jack Brisco, Harley Race and Ric Flair as the most influential in the pre-Doomsday era.
Formation of the National Wrestling Alliance
As of Doomsday, pro wrestling in the United States and Canada were still effectively subdivided by the decades-long territorial system.
The growth of cable television set the foundation for what could have been a major-league, nationwide promotion to take center stage within the business.
The biggest-known example of this was the Georgia promotion's weekly television program on WTBS, an independent station in Atlanta that was carried nationwide via cable TV. Outside of some cards promoted in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the Georgia promotion never went outside the state of Georgia, but its TV program could be seen wherever "Superstation" WTBS was carried on cable - including the homes of fans who helped support the numerous other territories throughout North America.
Had Doomsday not occurred, it is considered likely that one of the major regional promotions - perhaps Georgia; the Mid-Atlantic territory, centered in the Carolinas; the World Wrestling Federation based in the northeastern U.S. - or a brand-new promotion going nationwide from its inception, would be the first to go nationwide and break the monopoly held by the regional promoters.
Sadly, wrestling enthusiasts would never get the chance to see how things would have played out.
The major regional territories affiliated in some fashion with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) as of September, 1983:
- World Wrestling Federation (WWF) - northeastern U.S., from New England down to Washington, D.C.
- Mid-Atlantic Wrestling - Virginia, Carolinas, West Virginia
- Georgia - Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania
- Maple Leaf Wrestling - Toronto, Ontario
- Florida Championship Wrestling - Florida
- Southeastern - Alabama, Mississippi, eastern Tennessee
- CWA (Memphis) - central and western Tennessee, Kentucky, southern Indiana, eastern Arkansas, northern Mississippi
- Mid-South Wrestling - Oklahoma, parts of Texas, Louisiana, most of Arkansas
- World Class Wrestling - northern Texas
- Southwest Wrestling - south, east Texas
- American Wrestling Association (AWA) - one of the largest territories in the U.S., based in Minneapolis and promoting from Chicago to Anchorage and numerous cities in between, most notably Omaha; Salt Lake City; Denver; Las Vegas; and San Francisco
- Portland (Oregon) Wrestling - Pacific Northwest
- St. Louis Wrestling Club - the territory ran by long-time NWA President Sam Muchnick, exclusively holding cards in the city of St. Louis, Missouri
- Central States - rest of Missouri, plus parts of Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska
Latin American professional wrestling
The industry's Latin American strongholds were in Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Japanese professional wrestling
The most powerful and influential promotions were New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW), both of which were based in the Japanese capital of Tokyo.
Like other forms of sport and entertainment, wrestling came to a full stop in the wake of what most people though would be the war that ended the world.
It was only as those in surviving regions realized that life could and had to continue, and survivors were assured that their basic needs would be met, that entertainment and sport in general would be brought back on any large scale.
Wrestling was no exception. Its combination of sport, drama, comedy and pathos was well-received across the continent, though it varied between worked and shoot style.
It first reemerged in the late 1980s in the form of local promotions throughout the southeastern United States, as those areas began to rebuild from Doomsday. Some promoters claimed to be the continuation of the old NWA and/or the main promotions that ran cards in those regions; an example is in Rome, Georgia, where five promotions calling themselves Georgia Championship Wrestling attempted to gain a following from 1987 through 1999, all with their own "NWA World Champions".
In Kentucky, Angelo Poffo and his sons, Randy "Savage" Poffo and "Leapin'" Lanny Poffo survived Doomsday by virtue of being in the western Kentucky town of Paducah on Doomsday. After a few years serving under the United States and Commonwealth of Kentucky armies, and promoting out of the soon-to-be CK capital of Elizabethtown, they made their way back to their pre-DD hometown of Lexington, re-establishing their International Championship Wrestling promotion on a region-wide basis.
The southeastern promotions continued to present a worked, athletic style of wrestling to their audiences, from Blue Ridge to Hattiesburg, with the notable exception of Natchez.
In Natchez, a "shoot" style of wrestling emerged under pressure from the local government, which heavily governed and regulated the sport for decades before easing up in the mid-2000s.
Strong promotions eventually emerged in Rome; Blue Ridge; East Tennessee; Kentucky; Gainesville; Virginia; and Jonesboro, all of whom loosely cooperate in the second post-DD National Wrestling Alliance which was reformed in 2004.
Wrestling also reemerged in former Texas, first with local promotions in Midland and Nacogdoches that gradually spread throughout their respective regions. Lone Star Wrestling, based in Midland, was formed as an affiliate of the Mexican AAA promotion in 1989; it has grown to promote matches throughout former Texas; in surrounding survivor states such as Broken Bow, Pine Bluff, Hattiesburg, Stillwater and Dinetah; and in Mexican towns near the Rio Grande River.
Elsewhere, wrestling has re-established itself as a popular form of entertainment in the northeast U.S.; Superior; western North America; Victoria; and Alaska.
Randy "Savage" Poffo
A wrestling promotion formed in Evansville, Kentucky, in 1995 using Jerry Lawler as its main attraction.
International Championship Wrestling (ICW) is probably the first post-Doomsday promotion to restart operations in North America. Headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, the company was started in the late 1970s by Angelo Poffo and is currently run by his sons, Randy Poffo (aka Randy Savage) and Lanny Poffo.
ICW was scheduled to hold a card in the western Kentucky town of Paducah on Doomsday. Being that Paducah was not hit, the wrestlers and referees were safe in the short-term; like everyone else at the time, their concern shifted towards survival.
The ICW crew, led by the company's main star, "Macho Man" Randy Savage (Randy Poffo), helped local law enforcement keep the peace in the first several weeks after Doomsday. In March 1984, after hearing persistent rumors of the survival of Fort Knox near Louisville, the ICW crew decided to set out for the military base.
They arrived in Elizabethtown on May 27, 1984. Many ended up enlisting in the U.S. Army. When it became known what they did pre-Doomsday, the former wrestlers were ordered to put on exhibition matches for entertainment purposes. At first limited to Fort Knox personnel, the matches were soon opened up to civilians and moved off base to various locations (primarily Elizabethtown High School's football stadium in warm/hot weather, and the North Hardin High School gymnasium in cold weather).
In 1985, rumors of the survival of wrestlers from the Memphis, Tennessee-based Jarrett Promotions group reached Elizabethtown and Fort Knox. ICW and Jarrett Promotions had a contentious rivalry pre-Doomsday, with ICW wrestlers often challenging Jarrett wrestlers to fights and matches (the rivalry had gotten to the point where Jarrett-employed wrestlers carried guns with them when crossing into Kentucky).
After a near-riot at North Hardin High School's gym in Radcliff when the top Jarrett Promotions wrestler - Jerry "The King" Lawler - did not show up as rumored for a ICW World Title match between Savage and Ronnie Garvin, local officials threatened to ban the wrestling matches.
U.S. Army General Donald Thompson - the commanding officer at Fort Knox - knew the matches were one of the few forms of entertainment left and great for morale. His discussions with city and county officials about the future of the matches in Hardin County always came back to the near-riot in Radcliff. His solution to the whole mess was to produce Jerry Lawler, using a man from nearby Bardstown who looked a lot like the wrestler.
After four months of training by the ICW crew, "Jerry Lawler" debuted, unbilled, in a match at Bardstown High School in September 1985. He surprised everyone by having enough charisma and athletic ability to convince the fans that he was, in fact, the real deal; he even sounded like him, as best as people could remember. Given the events of the last two years, and how good the faux Lawler was at coming across like the real Lawler, fans were willing to accept him as the real Lawler, perhaps much more so than they would if Doomsday had not taken place.
In the storyline, Savage at first ignored the man claiming to be Lawler. When Savage finally exclaimed "YOU'RE HIM! YOU'RE REALLY HIM!" to him during a card at Radcliff in November 1985, the fans fully accepted him as the real Lawler.
This set the stage for a series of matches that, pre-Doomsday, would have been dream matches in the region. Lawler was by far the most popular wrestler in the southern Indiana/Kentucky/Tennessee territory controlled by Jarrett Promotions owner Jerry Jarrett. Savage was considered one of the top talents in the entire United States, but one whose involvement in the ICW "outlaw" promotion, along with his reputation, effectively blackballed him from being hired by one of the numerous territorial promotions that blanketed the U.S.
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The ICW moved its headquarters back to Lexington in 1989. Randy Savage retired as the group's world champion in 1998, though he had several return matches from 1999 through 2008. Savage otherwise enjoyed retirement in Lexington, usually making appearances at University of Kentucky football, basketball and baseball games.
World Wrestling Association (Brisbane)
Began as part of a project between the government of Australia and the American Provisional Administration to keep American culture alive in the wake of Doomsday. The World Wrestling Association was founded in 1985 by a Brisbane-based promoter, and has become the major promotion in Australia, also holding cards in New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Alaska, Hawaii, Taiwan, Singapore and Papua New Guinea.
Wrestling from West Texas (Midland)
The major promotion in the Texas survivor states. Headquartered in Midland, West Texas. Affiliated with Mexico's AAA promotion.
AAA (Mexico City)
One of the major league promotions in Mexico.
CMLL (Mexico City)
One of the major league promotions in Mexico.
World Wrestling Council (Puerto Rico)
The main promotion in the Caribbean, headquartered in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The only surviving member of the pre-Doomsday National Wrestling Alliance.
Natchez Wrestling Club (later known as Natchez Fighting Club)
Began as a traditional pro wrestling promotion in the city state of Natchez. The ownership of the Natchez Wrestling Club (NWC) passed through several hands throughout the 1980s; the talent - made up of unknown locals who worked during their off-hours - decided in 1986 to turn the worked nature of the "business" into a shoot: in other words, make it real.
This led to matches made up of not of legitimate classical wrestling, but bonafide fights and brawls, fought to a legitimate conclusion. The company was kicked out of Natchez High School Gymnasium after school officials attended the third weekly card to be held under "shoot rules" and saw unruly fans, drinking "copious amounts" of moonshine and tearing up the gym, while the wrestling matches turned into brawls that often spilled over into the school itself and the parking lot.
The Natchez Wrestling Club responded by moving its matches into an abandoned farm outside Natchez. Three months into the Natchez Wrestling Club's shoot emphasis, the injuries piled up, and the club came under scrutiny from local politicians and law enforcement.
Eventually, the NWC split - two officials (both of whom both fought in the ring and worked in the office) formed the Natchez Fighting Club, while the remaining wrestlers and officials officially shut down the NWC. Unofficially, NWC cards were held all over the region, in abandoned towns, farms, supermarkets, wherever a large crowd could be held and the law wouldn't think to find them.
The Natchez Fighting Club (NFC) was established in 1989, with special rules intended to established a shoot form of professional wrestling, written up and overseen by the newly formed Natchez City Wrestling and Boxing Commission. The new rules placed great emphasis on classical wrestling, psychology and boxing and banned brawling and so-called foreign objects from matches.
By the mid-1990s, the NFC had become known for its distinct shoot wrestling matches (while also periodically holding boxing and martial arts exhibitions).
Virginian Wrestling (Charleston)
After the Virginian Republic government had a falling out with International Championship Wrestling in 1996, the government formed Virginian Wrestling to take ICW's place.
Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling (St. John's)
The main promotion in the Atlantic region, headquartered in Canada but also promoting cards in Vermont, Aroostook and the northern townships.
Florida Wrestling (Gainesville)
Promotes cards in the Florida survivor states.
Superior All-Star Wrestling (Marquette)
A privately-owned organization initially formed with government funding in 1989. In order to get votes to approve the Tri-League Games Act allowing for funding for the formation of professional football, baseball and ice hockey leagues in Superior, the Congressmen sponsoring the act also wrote into it funding for a variety of side projects. Among them was money to jump-start a professional wrestling promotion, operated by a "friend" of a Congressman said to be "iffy" on the Tri-League Act.
That promotion, based on what the operator and his associates remembered of the pre-Doomsday American Wrestling Association (the territorial promotion in the region), also received coverage on the government's television network. It became one of the more popular programs on the network, and exists to the current day despite having gone through four ownership changes in the past 20 years. Superior All-Star Wrestling promotes shows in Thunder Bay, Wisconsin and more recently in the International Falls city-state.