British Wrestling History

There is a rich history of professional wrestling in the United Kingdom, going back nearly 150 years.

Originally a carnival attraction that built on the historic strongman competitions of the old days, the wrestlers would challenge people in the crowd to face them in a wrestling match in a bid to win money.

However, it soon became clear that these fights were fixed, and thus professional wrestling in the UK was born. These fixed fights were imported over from the United States, although the showmanship aspect of the sport can claim to be born in Europe and the UK.

Greco-Roman wrestlers began to take on ‘gimmicks’ or personas in the mid 1800s, which is something that was taken by pro-wrestlers after Cornish-American grappler Jack Carkeek brought the idea of the sport to England in the late-1800s.

Table of Contents

1800s: Jack Carkeek brings an early form of pro wrestling to Britain

In 1887, American amateur wrestler Jack Carkeek came to the UK to put on “shoot wrestling challenges” to anybody who thought they could last ten minutes with him. These took place in places like circuses and fairgrounds..

Carkeek’s fixed wrestling challenges would be the foundation in which British professional wrestling was built upon. The addition of showmanship turned traditional British wrestling into pro wrestling.

Learn more about Jack Carkeek’s influence on wrestling

1990s: Georg Hackenschmidt and World War 1

George Hackenschmidt, born in 1877 in Estonia, rose to prominence in the UK wrestling scene during the early 20th century, leaving an indelible mark on the sport. Known as “The Russian Lion,” Hackenschmidt’s journey to fame began with his exceptional athleticism and strength.

This victory catapulted him into the limelight and solidified his status as a dominant force in the wrestling world. The charismatic and well-spoken Hackenschmidt became a favourite among fans, drawing large crowds to witness his matches.


1910s: The Decline and Survival Amidst World War I Fallout

George Hackenschmidt was the top-drawing wrestler in the UK in the early 20th century, but he left the country to wrestle Frank Gotch in the United States in 1908.

This left a vacuum at the top of the business, in addition to fans growing tired of his dominant wrestling style. This lead to a more entertainment-focused sport instead, with various levels of showmanship on display.

In addition, the break-out of World War I threatened to kill wrestling in Britain.



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