At the turn of the twentieth century – before Wrestlemania, Monday Night Raw, and the creative mind of Vince McMahon transformed wrestling from sport to highly choreographed entertainment – professional wrestling was among the most popular sports in the world. Its champions were often revered for their fine physiques, their athleticism, and even for their good sportsmanship.
However, the birth of television in the 1940s and, more importantly, the advent of cable television in the late 1970s, allowed wrestling promoters to build and create heroes, to more fully develop storylines, and to mount extravagant pay-per-view specials that have made World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) worth more than three billion dollars.
These original images from the Stark Center’s photographic collections provide a small snapshot of the rich history of professional wrestling. From William “The Solid Man of Sport” Muldoon; to George “The Russian Lion” Hackenschmidt; to the pioneering women who defied gender norms by entering the ring in the 1940s and 1950s; to Austin’s own Mark Henry, with his 20-year run as WWE’s “World’s Strongest Man,” the spectacle of out-sized bodies doing backflips from the turnbuckles continues to imparadise the imaginations of its fans in America and across the globe.