Were Gladiators the Original Wrestlers? | Smark Out Moment

Were Gladiators the Original Wrestlers?

Posted by Outside Interference Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Can gladiators be considered the original wrestlers? Not in the literal sense, of course, as wrestling itself has been dated back as far as ancient Sumeria, some 5000 years ago. What we really want to ask is how did gladiatorial combat relate to the combat of today's professional wrestlers? What elements of competition do these forms of combat share, and where are they fundamentally different?

Bringing in Crowds

In case you've missed it, wrestling is one of the biggest sports in the world, bringing together millions of fans from all walks of life. Gladiator games were much the same in this regard as they were considered to be a great unifier. While a lack of communication technology limited the viewership potential of ancient games, the popularity of the old-fashioned approach still set these competitions as some of the biggest the ancient world would ever see.

As any real wrestling fan knows, WrestleMania has long stood as one of the pro-level pinnacles of the sport. One of the most commercially and critically acclaimed was the seventeenth annual WrestleMania. Taking place on April 1, 2001, this stood as the most-watched pay-per-view event of the time, with in-person attendance measured at a record-breaking 67,925.

To compare this to gladiator combat, we would similarly have to turn to the most prestigious gladiatorial bouts, such as the fights in Rome's world-famous Colosseum. According to modern scholars, the Colosseum could bring in 50,000 viewers for its more anticipated games, with the possibility for even more if ancient Roman fire-codes were to be ignored...

Making Celebrities of its Competitors

Just as with modern professional wrestlers, gladiators were more than just athletes, they were famous celebrities. In the wrestling sphere, Dwayne Johnson is the best illustration of this level of success. Originally finding success as The Rock, Johnson now ranks as one of the biggest and most well-paid celebrities in the world, bringing in $119 million in 2018 alone.

On the other side of this world was Roman citizen Marcus Attilius, who went into combat to pay off debt and instead found fame, money, and glory within. In his very first battle, he defeated a veteran on a 13-battle hot-streak, and his further accomplishments would solidify him as a legend in Roman combat. So popular was Attilius, in fact, that ancient graffiti was discovered about him in 2007.

Leading into Other Media

Not content to stick to their platforms of origin, both wrestling and gladiatorial combat pushed out into other forms of mass media. In wrestling, we have seen this most commonly with video games, which have existed since early gaming generations and cover a wide range of different genres and forms.

Similar developments have taken place with gladiators, which still remain a common topic of gaming despite their long-extinct competitions. These range from traditional video games like the well-received Ryse: Son of Rome to more varied efforts. Even online casino games have seen fit to borrow from the gladiator theme, with titles like Gladiators Gold featuring as one of many Betway online slots taking a leading place among hundreds of other variants. The popularity is still there, even after all this time, and we're willing to bet that the same would be said of the legacy of professional wrestling.

Perhaps the most surprising example of this comes from ancient advertisements for real goods and products. This may seem unbelievable, but actual gladiators helped sell these products with their name and image. According to IGN, Ridley Scott even initially intended to include this in his Gladiator film but wrote it out under the belief that it would seem unrealistic.

The More Things Change

It's strange to think that despite all the time that has passed, and despite the fact that wrestling did not intentionally rely on gladiators for inspiration, the end result would be the same. Just like gladiators, wrestlers are entertainers. They also put a great deal of practice into their craft and utilize their celebrity to find immense reward for themselves and others.

Sure, there's no dismemberment or death in modern wrestling, but we think that's something most fans will happily live with. Wrestling already gets enough flak for being violent after all, and we can't imagine it would be an easy sell for either athletes or networks if this level of competition was still performed in the traditional way.

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