If one were to ask a wrestling fan about their oldest occurrence of a wrestling event, most would point their fingers to the days before Wrestlemania, during the Golden Era of wrestling. Those were the days where wrestling boomed, when many of the legends we know today began their path towards greatness. However, this is obviously not where professional wrestling began. Today, we shall take a trip back into the past, just after World War II, and explore what was arguably the setting point for what we know today as the WWE.
Professional Wrestling started in the early 20th century as a performing art. Wrestling was considered a funfair attraction, which quickly caught on with the public, turning it into a franchise. The matches were similar to how they are today, being a work with a prefixed winner, albeit focusing more on submission offensives rather than flashy moves like today. More and more independent wrestling companies began to take shape all over the United States, but not only. Places like Japan, Mexico, and the United Kingdom also saw their share of popularity with wrestling, even going as far as to develop their own wrestling styles.
Going back to the US, around 1948, wrestling reached new heights after a loose confederation was formed between the independent wrestling companies, known as the National Wrestling Alliance, or the NWA. Lou Thesz was chosen to be the face of this new alliance, unifying the various world championships of the regional companies into a World Heavyweight title. Soon came the advent of television, and with it, wrestling began to be broadcast nationally during the better part of the 1950’s. Wrestling saw a boom in popularity, some labeling the period as the Original Golden Age of wrestling.
The NWA was the most dominant wrestling body of the era, having many promotions under its leadership. It was also during this time that other promotions spawned from the NWA, promotions that would soon rival it, like the American Wrestling Association (AWA), and the company that would come to be known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). The NWA nurtured what would soon become the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), until the promotion broke away from the confederation. Under the lead of the McMahon family, the WWF began to air all across the United States, promoting an easy to grasp program, with about 3 matches on a monthly episodic series.
This development broke the concept of regional wrestling, and as such, many companies experienced loss of interest, weakening the power of the NWA. It also didn’t help that the WWF started hiring top stars from across the regions, like Hulk Hogan and Bruno Sammartino. With time, the NWA faded away into a shell of its former self, still operating as a governing body, but overshadowed by the titan that the WWF would become. The NWA would end up being purchased by Billy Corgan in 2017, while its most popular child, the WWF, would end up rebranding as the WWE, the most popular wrestling promotion worldwide.
If it wasn’t for the NWA, we would probably not have a WWE today. With the emergence of new companies like Ring of Honor (ROH) or Impact Wrestling in Orlando, could it be said that regional wrestling still exists in some form or another in the United States? For now, the answer is not certain, we shall wait and see what the future holds for American wrestling.