All-In wrestling and the birth of hardcore wrestling in the UK

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Hamish Woodward

Some may think that ECW was the peak of hardcore wrestling, but in Great Britain, All-In wrestling dominated six decades earlier.

The All-in rules came into force in 1930, and changed the business of wrestling. It turned a dead industry into a powerhouse once again, although it came at the price of the quality of the product.

Chair shots, bloods and nut shots were commonplace, and were a key reason why All-in wrestling had to die just 17 years later.

(Note: This is NOT the same as AEW’s All In show from Wembley in 2023 and 2024. Click here to learn more about AEW All In at Wembley Stadium).

What is All-In wrestling?

The concept of “All-in wrestling” was invented in 1930. It was a new way to wrestle, due to the growing size of wrestlers in the era and the popularity of the sport growing in the United States.

The rules of All-in were introduced in 1930 by Atholl Oakeley. Oakeley was a wrestler and promoter, who helped reintroduce professional wrestling to the United Kingdom after it fell out of favour following the first world war.

The business was on a downturn due to how boring it had become. Matches could last hours, with the only way to win being to pin your opponent’s shoulders to the ground. This led to long, drawn out encounters that bored fans to death, as the wrestles grew so big and muscular that their shoulders simply did not touch the mat any more.

Business did pick up in the late 1920 with the “Gold Dust Trio” in the United States making it popular again, which led to Oakeley revolutionising the business in December 1930.

All-in wrestler introduced new holds to the wrestling business, and as such submissions became a viable way to win. Oakeley himself proclaimed, “No longer was it necessary for a man to look like an ox in order to be champion”. The crowds soon flocked to the music halls to see this new wrestling in action.

This new style of wrestling had an extensive rulebook, with numerous “fouls” that the wrestlers could not do in the ring. These would lead to a points deduction (As wrestling was fought in rounds, like boxing, in the UK), or even disqualification.

There were 12 potential fouls in All-in wrestling, including kidney punches, going shots and elbowing and kneeing the opponent in the stomach. While these seemed like very sensible rules, they weren’t supported by a wider organisation.

This led to absolute chaos.

All-In Wrestling Turned Nasty, And Quickly

With no overarching governing body policing the All-in wrestling scene, it quickly devolved into anarchy.

The term was used to basically mean a free-for-all, no-holds-barred affair. Rules were thrown out the window, but groin kicks, kidney punches and elbows to the stomach becoming commonplace.

Not only that, but weaponry and blood began creeping into the business. Chair shots became a regular occurrence, with fans baying for blood. With a lack of wrestlers who could put on high-level All-in matches, they soon began to wrestle this “garbage” style of lawless, hardcore wrestling.

The business got incredibly popular again during this time, which led to the demand for more. More wrestling, more violence and more blood was required. It was a race to the bottom, and the wrestling got so bad that it was even banned in London prior to World War 2.

This gave the business a wake-up call. It forced promoters to tone down the violence, and a new ruleset had to be created.

The Mountevans Rules of wrestling was created in 1947, ending All-In’s domination over pro-wrestling in the United Kingdom.

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