All-in professional wrestling
All-in wrestling was the first wave of professional wrestling in the United Kingdom to be based on the Catch As Catch Can style of wrestling. It was conducted under the All-In Rules of 1930 in which (unlike Olympic freestyle wrestling) no holds were prohibited.
The name All In later became synonymous with more anarchic professional wrestling shows, leading to censure by local authorities by the late 1930s. Consequently, the All In label was disowned by most British wrestling promoters following the adoption of the 1947 Mountevans rules.
Professional wrestling in the Greco Roman style had enjoyed considerable popularity in Britain during the Edwardian era, but had dwindled and died out by the outbreak of World War I. While various styles of amateur wrestling continued as legitimate sports, grappling as a promotional business did not return to Britain until the beginning of the 1930s when the success of the more worked aspects of professional wrestling in America, like gimmickry and showmanship, were introduced to British wrestling.
It was with this revival that the more submission-based Catch As Catch Can wrestling style, which had already replaced Greco Roman wrestling as the dominant style of professional wrestling in the United States back in the 1890s, became the new dominant style in Britain. With Lancashire catch-as-catch-can already a major amateur sport particularly in Northern England, there existed a ready-made source of potential recruits to professional wrestling.
Amateur wrestler Sir Atholl Oakley got together with fellow grappler Henry Irslinger to launch one of the first promotions to employ the new style of wrestling which was coined "All-in" wrestling. Though, like many wrestlers throughout the business, Oakley would claim his wrestling was entirely legitimate, his claim was highly dubious. According to Pro Wrestling Press, Under the British Wrestling Association banner, Oakley's promotion took off with wrestlers such as Tommy Mann, Black Butcher Johnson, Jack Pye, Norman the Butcher, College Boy, and Jack Sherry on the roster, while Oakley himself would win a series of matches to be crowned the first British Heavyweight Champion.
The business was reaching one of its highest points at the time, with the best part of forty regular venues in London alone. The 1930s craze for 'All in' wrestling went by the wayside when quality was sacrificed for quantity. The great demand for wrestling, however, meant there were not enough skilled amateurs to go around, and many promoters switched to more violent styles, with weapons and chairshots part of the proceedings. Women wrestlers and mud-filled rings also became common place. In the late 1930s, the London County Council banned professional wrestling, leaving the business in rough shape just before World War II. Permits were also revoked in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1938. In April 1938, Justice Charles of the King's Bench Division in London declared that it was "not a sport."
After the war, attempts to relaunch the business in 1947 failed to catch on with journalists who condemned the gimmickry calling the show fake. The revelation of this, and the general chaos which had surrounded All In Wrestling prior to the War, prompted Admiral Lord Mountevans, a fan of the sport, to get together with Commander Campbell (a member of the popular "The Brains Trust" radio panel show), member of parliament Maurice Webb and Olympic wrestler Norman Morell to create a committee to produce official rules for wrestling. Subsequently, the term All In was largely disowned by British promoters, who now referred to their style of wrestling as Modern Freestyle.
In popular culture
Despite the rejection of the name "All In" by British wrestling promoters, the term continued to be used in the UK to refer to professional wrestling - often in a derogatory sense by non-fans. An example of its use in this context is in the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "All In Cricket" which depicts two cricketers dueling with cricket bats in a wrestling ring.
- Blue Blood On The Mat, Sir Atholl Oakley, Summersdale Publishers Ltd 1994 edition
- The Wrestling, Simon Garfield, Faber & Faber 1996
- History of British wrestling (Pro Wrestling Press May 2002). In John Lister, ed. (2005). Slamthology: Collected Wrestling Writings 1991-2004. Lulu, ISBN 978-1-4116-5329-0
- Stead, R. Maillard (November 3, 1937). And Talking of..."Wrestling": 'All In' Wrestling--and Wrestling No "All In" Wrestling Professional Methods Mat-Work Does Not Fit Two Amateur Codes. Christian Science Monitor
- Staff report (January 9, 1938). "All In" Wrestling Condemned. The Age
- Staff report (April 3, 1938). "All In" Wrestling. English Judge's Views. "Not A Sport." The Sydney Morning Herald
- Barthes, Roland (1957) translated by Annette Lavers (1972). Mythologies. Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-374-52150-9