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Reviewed by:
  • Historical Dictionary of Wrestling by John Grasso
  • Keith McClellan
Grasso, John. Historical Dictionary of Wrestling. Lanham, Md.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2014. Pp. xxx+ 414. Appendix and bibliography. $114 cb.

Over the past five years, Jon Woronoff has edited a series of fifteen Historical Dictionaries of Sports. The most recent addition to this series is devoted to wrestling. Sports historian John Grasso, the author of this book, has contributed five titles to the series.

Wrestling, like horse racing, is not a singular sport. Over the past ninety-three years, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) wrestling has differed from the freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling practiced by the International Amateur Wrestling Federation, the governing body for the Olympic games, and professional wrestling is as different from amateur wrestling as the Hamiltonian is from the Kentucky Derby.

In the 1950s, when I was a student at Iowa State Teachers College, before attending the University of Chicago, our college of 3,000 students produced more National NCAA wrestling champions (between 1946 and 1953) than any college in America. The college sent three wrestlers to the 1928 Olympic games and placed first or second in the NCAA National Championship in 1946, 1947, and 1950. More people attended the school’s wrestling meets than its football or basketball games. Moreover, when I coached swimming at the Waterloo YMCA, Danny Gable, perhaps the greatest amateur wrestler and wrestling coach of all time, was on my swim team. Iowa and Oklahoma colleges, I might add, have dominated amateur wrestling in the U.S. throughout the history of the intercollegiate sport. Iowa colleges have placed first or second in thirty-six of the eighty-three NCAA national championships, while Oklahoma colleges have placed first or second more than thirty times.

Unfortunately, this Historical Dictionary of Wrestling is almost entirely about professional wrestling, which most serious amateur wrestling fans would classify as entertainment rather than sport. This assessment is verified on page 400, “Around 1990, [the professional wrestling industry] publicly acknowledged that it is sports entertainment and not a true sport,” “while giving the appearance of a legitimate contest, [the wrestlers] are in actuality trying not to hurt one another.”

For the millions of fans of professional wrestling, this dictionary is an indispensable resource. It gives the names of the inductees to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, the nicknames and ring names of hundreds of professional wrestlers together with their birth and death years, tag team wrestling stables, a chronology of professional wrestling, and Wrestlemania events.

The dictionary itself is dominated by biographies of professional wrestlers, Olympic gold medal winners, boxers who wrestled, and professional wrestling terms such as “dropkick” and “head butt.”

This book is a fitting homage to Ed “Strangler” Lewis, “Argentina” Rocca, “Chief Jay Strongbow,” and the other early wrestling and television wrestling stars. [End Page 128]

Keith McClellan
Oak Park, Michigan


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