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Circus wrestling and powerlifting at the turn of the century

Circus Female wrestlers at the turn of the XX century
Stories, Tales, Legends

Circus Wrestlers
"Women's wrestling". Caricature by an unknown British artist


At the edge of the XIX and XX centuries, women tried not to be second to men in any area. At that time a lot of strongwomen, female wrestlers and even female boxers appeared in the world. Female wrestling performances were often be accompanied by music; jurors and judges sometimes were selected among audience. Then wrestler pairs were announced and female wrestlers came out to the circus ring and demonstration of "double nelsons" and "bridges" began. Sometimes "mysterious masks" came for wrestling. Yet audience didn't take female wrestling championships too serious, because it was difficult to check if they were for real. All the more, even male wrestlers sometimes didn't wrestle for real at that time.

Heinrich Zille. Challenge for wrestling
Heinrich Zille
Challenge for wrestling

One of the popular forms of circus wrestling was challenging volunteers to wrestle against a circus wrestler (of any gender). Wrestling presentations in circus booths of this form were shown since the end of the XIX century. Under conditions when many wrestling matches on the circus ring were staged, such improvisations with more or less non-predictable results attracted spectators and tickled their nerves. On the presented pieces of the German painter Heinrich Zille (1858-1929) two episodes of such an entertainment are drawn. On the cartoon on the left a plump solid female wrestler meets a smug guy from the audience. There are a dumbbell and a bar on the floor which the lady just used for demonstration of her strength. Announcement of the wall says: Extraordinary presentation today! Belt wrestling. Miss Ada pays 100 marks to anyone who will manage to over wrestle her. Caption under the picture (on behalf of the clown-moderator) says: Illegal holds are prohibited. No punches, bites, pits and kisses! We should note that 100 marks at the border of the XIX and XX centuries was a lot of money, so Miss Ada and the promoters were quite confident in her.

Heinrich Zille. Wrestling in a pavillion
Heinrich Zille
Wrestling in a pavillion

On the painting on the right, drawn by the witness of the event, its shown how such a contest might proceed. A female wrestler (by her back) with the belt around her waist is grappling with a rusty guy from the crowd who just have grabbed her by the belt, picked her up and for the moment he is about putting (or throwing) her down to the floor without further ado. Not separated from the wrestlers the crowd of women, men and children is watching with interest. A smiling lady (at right in a hat) turned away from them, probably laughing at the ridiculous (on her opinion) situation when a woman took it into her head to seriously wrestle a man who is obviously very experienced in such deals. Distinctively, the both pictures represent the belt wrestling where opponents hold each other by waist belts (men seems to use pants belts). In fact, the belt wrestling seems to be an appropriate form for such contests because it limits undesirable possibility for men to touch some parts of a female body.

The book dedicated to the circus history The Booth ("Schaubude") by the Stefan Nagel (Germany), where we got the information about Zilles works, testifies that the circus amusement A volunteer is challenged for wrestling against a lady was very popular at those times. In the section where he tells about circus wrestling he mentions only such a form a woman wrestles a volunteer. Talking about mixed circus wrestling and about circus in general, Nagel writes: The erotic component obviously was an important in such exhibitions. Both women and men demonstrated their perfect body form outlines, strength, free play of the muscles, elegance of the movements which manifestation not only artistry but rather also provocative sensuality.

Marina Lurs
The strongest woman
of the Russian Empire
Marina Lurs

The Russian magazine "Hercules" reported in 1913: "Special attention is attracted by a female power athlete Marina Lurs. She is perfectly built and has massive but gracefully outlined musculature. Lurs performs weight tricks, which would be good for a strong male athlete. She works as a "Hercules" in an old kind circus. Each her trick is perfectly finished each her move expresses strength. However, at the same time, the body of Marina Lurs is not even coarse but it impresses you by its soft plastic lines Let's put pictures of Marina Lurs on circus placards and let all town ladies see this daughter of Eve who is deservedly proud by her strength and harmony". Odessa's newspapers in 1913 reported with gusto about visit some power lady Marina Lurs already having shocked the European audience. "Her best-known number was lifting a stick where nine men located as roosters on a perch. By the way, she was spinning this weight as well. And shame on those who think she has lost her femininity for their."

Marina Lurs was trained by the weightlifting enthusiast A.I. Andrushkevich, who also trained the famous George Gakkenshmidt. She was considered as the strongest woman in Russia. Marina had been training since 1903 and four years later, she started participating in wrestling championships. In wrestling Marina Lurs more relied on her exceptional physical strength and skills in power tricks rather than on wrestling techniques. She didn't like fussing on the ground and tried to win from the standing. She combined wrestling and strength performance techniques, manipulating with an opponent body as it was a weight exercise.

Agafya Zavidnaya
Ukrainian Herculess
Agafya Zavidnaya

Marina Lurs had a very heat wrestling match against another Russian strongwoman Agafia Zavidnaya. Marina attempted to hug Agafia by her waist in order to pick her up but robust Agafia wasn't second in strength and just grew into the ground. Ladies were grappling for a while locking in standing position and each one tried to pick each other. Powerful Agafia started pouncing on Marina and jostling her back trying to topple her. To the whistling and screaming of the audience, Marina used her favorite move: when Agafia jumped up, she moved back, turned around, let her go by inertia and then pinned her down. In fact, the spectacle of close contact of two powerful female bodies was odd that time. If consider wrestler style of Marina Lurs, we must note that she was wrestling in feline manner "softly" and "tenderly", never inflicting any damage to her opponents.

The simple Ukrainian woman-nugget Agafia Zavidnaya was a born "Hercules" - she easily pressed 72-pound dumbbells by her little fingers and a phaeton with people was moving over a platform lying on her chest. Very few women ventured to wrestle her. She often successfully wrestled against men, such wrestling matches were supplements to her tricks with weights. After demonstrations of superhuman abilities of the woman-Heracles, a master of ceremonies solemnly said, In front of you this is the strongest and the most dangerous woman in the world who is able to topple any man. Agafia Zavidnaya challenges men in the auditorium! If a real man sits here we invite him to come out to the ring You shouldnt be much astute to figure out how those matches ran out Agafia didnt spare men too much and some of them were trampled down by the robust lady and were unable to rise on foot without help.

Vulcana
Vulcana was a combination of strength and femininity

The Irish strongwoman Kate Roberts (Miss Vulcana) who lived in England appeared on stage with acrobatic and power exercises and sometimes participated in circus wrestling. At the age of 30 she had the following anthropometrical data: height 57; weight 161Lbs; the following circumferences: chest 36, waist - 23, biceps 13, thighs 21, forearm - 1, neck 13. She was able to lift a weight 181Lbs by one arm. One of her personal records was twisting (press with substantial body deviation) by one hand 130Lbs. She performed power acts very easily and gracefully. There are many legends about Vulkanas exploits. One story tells how dressed up Kate broke into a brawl between two drunk marines in a London restaurant. Allegedly, she seized the both scrappers by the collar and tossed them to the sides. One brawler disliked that and having risen from the floor pounced on Kate with fists. What the surprise was for everyone after the dressed up lady grabbed him by hand and twisted it so intense that he stuck to the floor by his nose. Another legendary incident happened on a circus show in Bristol when volunteers were called to wrestle a local male wrestler. Being incognito among spectators Miss Vulcana dressed as an ordinary woman volunteered for the wrestling. The wrestler was embarrassed and attempted to refuse but the audience demanded the match so zealously that the circus owner ordered him to go and to pretend wrestling. However, unexpectedly the femininely looking woman grabbed the luckless wrestler by waist, threw him over her head and dropped to the mat remaining on foot

Vulcana wrestled rarely but if she did, she wrestled with men only in order to demonstrate physical advantage of a woman. Her favorite technique was arm-twisting which worked smoothly. Once being a fourteen-year-old girl on a Bristol street, she noticed a cab with a woman and a baby being dragged by a rabid horse. Kate rushed toward the horse and hung on the reins. Passers-by helped and the cab was stopped. When a pickpocket tried to rob her, she just squeezed firmly his hand and took the unlucky uncomplaining guy to a police precinct. You can give a hand to such a woman (get married) the criminal said. However, he would better not to say that because Miss Vulcana didnt understand the double entendre and immediately recalled her lawsuit in exchange with his hand and heart. Thats how the offender became an aggrieved party and was suffering for full twenty years Vulcana was the first woman who proved advantage of women over men, and her maxims regarding womens power was used by feminists.

Marie Ford
Marie Ford

Famous American strongwoman, boxer and wrestler Marie Ford (photo on the left) was born in New York in 1900. Having just 132 Lbs and being 56 she became an athlete in different sports. She participated in Marathon, acrobatics, boxing and wrestling. Strange as it seems, her favorite sport was boxing. Marie Ford toured all over the North America and challenged volunteers (women and those men who were not professional boxers and not heavier her) for a combat match (boxing or wrestling or their combination - by choice). At the beginning, women were challenged and after contests with them (if any woman happened) had been over men were challenged on the ring. At those times puritanical customs prevailed in America and very few women brought themselves to violate the decency rules and to participate in a mens activity. Nevertheless, sometimes Marie had hard time with robust female peasants with their big fists and well-trained arms and legs. If a hitch occurred with daredevils, Marie goaded people present claiming that there were no real men in the audience and that all cowards gathered here, etc.

Marie was well grounded in track and field which helped her move easily and agilely during boxing and wrestling matches keeping cunning smile. Boxing was her forte. According to Marie's manager, the secret of her success in boxing attributed to her prudent tactical approach: she loved flank attacks punching opponents at weird angles while aiming mostly at the body (yet usual boxing tactics then was to aim at the head and neglect the body). She had a habit of not aiming punches at someone's face unless a male opponent was too dangerous - then she used hooks at the lower jaw. She usually delivered blows in the same direction her opponent was moving at that moment helping lose the opponent's balance. In wrestling, she used her outstanding strength and quickness. Marie had her specialty she locked tight the opponent's neck and sharply threw him/her down and instantly pinned. Actually, Marie Ford was a pioneer of Pancration, the mixed combat style combination of wrestling and boxing. When competing with volunteers from the audience, Marie used a tactics of contemporary MMA fighters: she "softened" the opponent with accurate powerful punches and then (if the opponent hadn't been knocked out yet) vigorously grabbed him/her (usually by the neck), threw down and pinned. At those times, they wrestled just for a pin rather than for a submission.

The idea to combine boxing and wrestling came to Marie and her manager when she performed in the American South. A well-endowed black female giant challenged Marie to a fight; her name was Miriam (at that time race segregation existed and separate seats were reserved for blacks). Marie got into confusion - she herself had established the weight limit just for male opponents; now she didn't dare to give up and just asked the opponent if she wanted boxing or wrestling. Miriam answered that it didnt matter for her how to thrash and kick Maries ass offering both styles at once. The audience died down. There were not such a thing as weighting categories and if it was, the difference may be five or six categories. Miriam didn't beat about the bush and began beating Marie up by her huge fists. Marie didnt have anything to answer and she just took the defending stand and shielded her face and breast by hands. When Miriam started grabbing the tiny woman, Marie realized she would be heavily beaten and ran away from the aggressor while Miriam chased her around the ring. Trained by the Marathon, Marie hoped to exhaust Miriam but she didnt show any fatigue indication. Then Marie managed by ruse. The giant got carried away and didnt notice how Marie tripped her. Miriam crashed down and being taken aback was unable to repulse a pinning technique which Marie successfully executed... After that, the black hero Miriam was taken in the circus troupe and she acted successfully as a strongwoman, boxer and wrestler.

Martha Farra
Martha Farra


Ada Ash works with Shirley Strimple
Ada Ash in a wrestling match, 1940s

A few words about the most famous female wrestlers in 1920s and 1930s - the last decades which are considered in this article. In 1924 the 21 year-old Austrian beautiful strongwoman Martha Farra (at right she is winding a steel bar into her hand) who weighed just 55 kg proclamated herself as the strongest woman in the world - for instance, she managed to lift a platform of 3500 pound (1587 kilograms) to 75 centimeters over the floor. She also was training in freestyle wrestling and participated in wrestling matches.

Another small sized strongwoman, American Ada Ash (1906-2004) was able to lift a platform with a horse on it. Ada was incredibly strong and brave she fought against a crocodile (see the left photo) suffering several serious bites in jaw, arms and legs. Being not afraid of crocodiles she was ready for physical combat against her equals and became a skilled wrestler and a wrestling trainer.



Along with her husband Al Szasz (also a great wrestler) she wrote three books dedicated to judo and self-defense (lower left photo shows the couple). Trained by her husband, she successfully participated in female wrestling competitions. As a matter of fact, at her time women wrestling was being gradually transformed from competitive (even not always real) actionn to the specific type of entertaining show that now is known as professional wrestling, the profitable branch of the show industry. In one of her wrestling matches against another famous female wrestler Nell Stewart (who was much younger than Ada), Ada accidentally fell out of the ring to the floor in a bad position and damaged her spine and she was disabled during almost two years.

The last famous strongwoman of this period who became a great wrestler was the English, Ivy Russel (born in 1907). She was very powerfully built and surpassed in muscle parameters the famous heavyweight boxer of her epoch, Max Schmeling from Germany. Owing to her incredible physical strength Ivy became a great wrestler (at the photo at right she wrestles a man). In 1932 Russell succeeded in establishing a female division in the distinguished British Amateur Weight Lifting Association. That same year she won the first sanctioned womens competition when she hoisted a 300-pound barbell over her head. While Ivy was competing as an amateur, she worked as a domestic servant. After her sporting triumphs she left her brooms and dustbins behind and became a professional wrestler. Thanks to her strength, beauty and publicity, she had a successful career in a rough-and-tumble sport. In 1934 she started attending the Victory Ladies Wrestling Club to train in wrestling, and just in a year she managed to gain the champion title in the female wrestling championship defeating all her opponents. Ivy reportedly decisively punished any skeptical man who doubted that a woman could be a real wrestler. Ivy just grabbed him into her steel hugs and instantly forced him to take his words back (look at the right photo).

Probably the most legendary Russian female circus wrestler was the redoubtable Masha Matlos (born Maria Poddubnaya), a sister of the great wrestling champion Ivan Poddubny actually very little is known about her. Before 1910, she was a six-time womens "world wrestling champion". (Matlos is the modified married name for circus bills - from Matlash). Circus bills advertised her as inviting all comers into the circus ring to try their luck in wrestling against her after she had disposed of her fellow troupers.

Just one occurrence is known when Masha was conquered by a female guest a tiny lady defeated her in all respects and pinned. The lady turned out to be the famous powerlifter Trefilova-Bubnova weighing only 114lb pressed 126lb which was enough to earn her third place in a mens flyweight powerlifting contest.

Anastasia Yudina
Anastasia Yudina

In 1900 in the city of Blagoveshchensk (the far east of Russia) Anastasia Yudina was famous. She had showed heroism during defending the city from the Chinese in 1900. She crossed Amur river in a boat in order to reconnoiter what newspaper wrote about Yudina feat: After three-hour superhuman efforts to control the heavy boat under enemy fire, her dress was riddled with bullets; her arms bled the distribution of the enemy troops. When Yudina came out at the river bank, Cossacks and volunteers met her with loud Hooray! An officer exclaimed: Long live our Siberian strong women! No doubt, Joan of Arc's feat pales into insignificance of the selflessness of Anastasia Yudina!

Eccentric madam Yudina started surprising people by challenging for a "duel" a female power circus performer Gren who was touring over Russia. The circus owner was happy that people overcrowded the circus. The match was arranged as a real duel. At the order of a second the duelists had to run toward each other from the starting positions at the opposite sides of the circus ring. Wearing loose pants the ladies who had no wrestling skills fiercely pounced on each other, tightly embraced and started shoving all over the circus ring shifting from foot to foot. They didnt guess to move down to par terre and just wasted their energy for straight onslaught. After all, the women fell down and got rolled over the circus ring until Yudina managed to climb on top of her opponent and stay there for a while. She was announced a winner to the audiences joy which got literally got crazy. Inspired by the victory Yudina started participating in wrestling matches. Since no women wished to wrestle with her, she wrestled against men, which right hands were bound to their backs in order to equalize their chances. Yudinas husband, artillery officer who had good wrestling skills taught her some wrestling techniques and in a while she toppled almost all her male opponents (who still gave her the hand start). Once Yudina decided to shock public by offering her next one-armed male opponent fist fighting in boxing gloves. At the beginning, he refused but she insisted and for a while the men was defending by one hand from the woman who got all worked up until he was tired of that and delivered a slight body shot. Female psycho is not always predictable. The woman wasnt afraid to stand against bullet and bayonets; she wrestled many times. But after getting a minor punch to her back she just got hysterical and left the circus ring in tears. The outraged audience was ready to torment the embarrassed participant who didnt have too many choices either to be beaten by a lady or got beaten by the audience having beaten her. After that incident Yudina stopped participating in combative activities. What happened with Yudina later is a real mystery; it was rumored that she knocked together a band of men and women which robbed goldmines.

Larisa Belaya
"Russian Stove" Larisa Belaya

At the end of 1900 in a circus female powerlifter Larisa Belaya (Stove) from Siberia became famous. Tall and heavy Larisa (she had weight 265lb and height 6'1") was touring all over Russia and abroad showing ploys with weights and also practicing in circus wrestling which was organized very skillfully and evoked indescribable ecstasy of audience. Circus poster of 1900s said: "Undefeatable in wrestling Larisa Belaya. Just three days in Penza. Lifts and throws up weights. Challenges any volunteer of either gender to a wrestling match. She wrestled men very successfully for whom she had special ladies tricks.


Report in the newspaper Wiesbaden Dagblatt, irca 1905 (in German):
Katie, wrestling world champion
Who is the strongest woman in the world? Can women do anything men do? Now we know the answers! Two best female wrestlers met yesterday on the wrestling ring in the outskirts of Wiesbaden. Two muscular ladies had an extremely intensive fight. Who are these brave ladies? Formidable Russian giant, Fraulen Larisa Belaya (Russian Oven) and local strongwoman, Frau Brumbach. It was an incredibly fascinating battle! Frau Brumbach managed to lift and throw down her giant opponent! Outright victory! Fraulen Katie won the title: The world wrestling champion! This wrestling match became a landmark in womens sports and the emancipation movement.

The most famous match Larisa had when being about twenty travelled through Europe with a mobile circus and visited Brumbach family's circus where the father of young Katie Brumbach (future "Great Sandwina") challenged volunteers to wrestle against her. At that time (1900s), womens wrestling tournaments were very popular. Certainly, many female wrestling matches were staged (as men's were as well) but there were female wrestlers who competed for real without any shams and tricks demonstrating strength, boldness, skills and athletic rage. Circus family of Brumbachs took the opportunity and involved Larisa in a "French wrestling championship" where Katie, Larisa and a few other female heavyweights participated. Larisa had not easy time but won three matches out of four (having weight advantage though) but lost to Katie who turned out to be a little more brisk and skillful. Katie tried to arrange the tournament and her victory on it as a celebration and a triumph of a liberated woman. The match consisted of three rounds; in the first two rounds Larisa (265 lb) dominated by weight over Katie (187 lb). Nonetheless, she wasnt able to turn Katie on her back. In the third round she got tired and eventually was unable to resist indefatigable Katies attacks accompanied by powerful locks. After all, Katie managed to grab Larisa, lifted her and threw to the ground where Larisa found herself pinned. This match between Russian and German strongwomen was waged on the equal footing and kept the audience rapt until the very last moment. Larisa was acting persistently with dignity and deserved applause of the audience, albeit she had been defeated. This match was called The match of the century because it was as thrilling and hot as the best famous male wrestling matches were. It is important to note that the both robust participant came out to the ring wearing unusual for that time uniform - loose athletic clothing which looked like contemporary training suits - it was the bold Katie's innovation.

Due to the huge weight Larisa Belaya was moving over a wrestling ring too slow, so she was unable to resist quickly and sharply conducted moves. Thats why she instantly lost to the male flyweighter and to Maria Loorberg. At the same time, her unique parameters: size, strength and combative heart would ideally match female form of Japanese wrestling sumo. Its a pity that they didnt know sumo in Europe in her times.

By the way, offering contest with the audience was very popular and occurred on many circus performances. Such a contest consisted not only in wrestling match with a strongwoman but more often it was an offer to pick up the weight which she just lifted and manipulated with.

An incident happened with Anna Durova, a daughter of the famous animal trainer and clown V. Durov during touring in Ashchabad - she defied wrestling a local man. When Anna juggled with heavy maces a spectator shouted claimimg that the maces were made of cardboard. Piqued Anna immediately challenged the guy to wrestle against her. He was declining for a while but people pushed him out to the ring. The wrestling turned out to be very persistent and long (20 minutes is long even for professional athletic wrestling). Furious Anna was desperately trying to pin him. Although she didnt manage that she had obvious score advantage.

Circus wrestling A club named Lets Wrestle existed In Voronezh at the beginning of the XX century reminding a contemporary athletic gym. It was created by the wrestling enthusiast Aleksandr Veselov. Girls were training in the club side by side with men. The men from the club wrestled on circus rings and beyond them; for the girls Veselov organized demonstrational contests. Veselovs students showed nice wrestling throws when sparring male volunteers. According to spectators, they handled wrestling techniques and moves with great skills. At the same time a son of his time, Veselov stood against real competitive female wrestling considering it to be dangerous for women. He limited them by training and perfecting moves. The advantages for women training in wrestling he saw in improving flexibility and stamina as well as in developing self-defence ability. Later, one of his former female students successfully parried a rapists attack. In this connection the famous Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote the lines: A woman, dont be a fool and do physical training!

The following advertisement was published in a local newspaper in Samara (Volga region, Russia): Dont miss your chance! On August 25, for the first time in the world history, female single combat Pancration will be held in the Tent Circus in Strukovsky garden. The following moves will be allowed in the fight: punching, breaking, throwing and dragging opponents. The best female fighters in the world will participate in this great battle which will last until one of them surrenders or gets helpless. Who are these courageous bold ladies? Our province is represented by the unconquerable peasant woman from Stavropol county Evdokia Konopleva, nee Lopatkina, mother of three. She has been an invariable participant in village wall fist fighting events as well as in amusing fisticuffs and wrestling one-on-one. She repeatedly beat up men and women in local villages and also successfully wrestled in circuses in Volga region and Ural. Her opponent is the powerful maiden Ekaterina Petushkova from Nizhniy Novgorod who lived for a long time in Paris and London where she learned fist fighting and wrestling crafts. In Paris Ekaterina took lessons from the best wrestlers including famous Raoul Buchet. In London she was training in the English sport boxing. Many gentlemen and ladies have been knocked down and pinned by Ekaterina Petushkova. So, who will take over? The trained in regular combat and educated girl or the self-taught peasant woman fighter? Skills of the classic French wrestling and English aristocratic boxing or Russian bravado, strength and easygoing style? It will be a real and merciless combat for a principle and for a prize. Dont miss your chance to see a miracle! Unfortunately, any reports about this unusual match are lacking and we dont know whether it was a staged circus performance or a real battle of real women. We dont know even if the event took place at all. But the advertisement is interesting.

Ivan Chufistov
Ivan Chufistov

In 1910s in Yaroslavl the well-known Russian male wrestler Ivan Chufistov had a wrestling match against two tough ladies at once - sisters Teresa and Louisa Carlucci, Italian acrobats and wrestlers. Chufistov chose very successful strategy he just concentrated only on the older and stronger sister Teresa, ignoring all attacks from Louisa (since his enormous strength allowed him to accomplish that). Despite desperate attempts of Louisa not to allow him to defeat the sister, he managed to pin Teresa. After that she was unable to stand up weighed down by double weight of Chufistov and her own sister leaned heavily on his back. Louisa realizing her hopeless situation immediately jumped on feet and ran out. Then he gallantly took the toppled lady (quite heavy) on his arms and carried her out. It was gossips they had some short affaires

Sisters Natta and Carlotta Kiddya
Circus wrestlers
Sisters Natta and Carlotta Kiddya
on the "Molliere Circus" in Paris

Another interesting incident happened in Kharkov. Wrestling matches between male wrestlers were held there. In the meantime between the matches brave volunteers were invited to wrestle circus athletes for money prize. Usually none of spectators was able to withstand trained wrestlers and the prize was not touched for a while attracting more and more spectators and participants. The paradox though was that eventually it was awarded to... a woman. Once a woman wished to challenge the prize. All wrestlers categorically refused, considering that non-appropriate for men. But it was impossible just to turn her down because the organizers hadnt had a good sense to preliminary exclude women from challenging the prize. The tight-fisted circus owner didnt want to lose money and ordered to urgently find the only female wrestler they had in the troupe in order to place her against the challenger. But she wasnt busy in the circus that day and hadnt been found. The owner had no choice but to ask his wife-acrobat who assisted him on the circus ring to go against the volunteer. She had watched wrestlers and their training for a long time and not just knew wrestling secrets and tricks but also participated in their developing. Thats what encouraged the owner to push her to the ring. At the beginning the wife said no but eventually agreed probably because she didnt want to say goodbye to the money either. She just wished to change dress. So did her opponent and while she did, circus assistants carefully double-checked if she was a real woman (perhaps being aware of the incident with the tiny opponent of Larisa Belaya). To the owners annoyance the spectator quite easily disposed of the owners wife throwing her to the mat as a bag. Who was that woman remained unknown.

Female wrestlers
Female wrestlers
Cartoon, 1912

Some wrestlers wives also learned wrestling skills, which sometimes happened to be useful on the circus arena. Once in Odessa a local wrestler got cold feet against a visiting wrestler and announced that his opponent allegedly was too weak for him, so he ordered out his wife to wrestle him. Of course, the opponent refused that (thats what the coward counted on) and a local referee was about counting his defeat. But the visitor in turn called his wife who managed to administer a beating to the hostess and even broke her a rib. Thats the story how a wife took the punishment for a husbands cowardliness.

Similar incident took place in Kiev where a furious wife of a loser wrestler demanded satisfaction from a winners wife. Personally involved the two ladies changed from wrestling to a fierce lady-like tussle, which would be classified today as catfighting. With difficulties and to audiences displeasure, the brawling ladies were pulled apart and a draw was announced.

In order to increase fascinating of circus wrestling entrepreneurs sometimes dressed male wrestlers as women and made their contest looking like two strong skillful ladies were wrestling. Such female wrestling abounding in lots of precise techniques and moves incredibly impressed circus wrestling fans. Once such a hoax was shamefully unmasked in the famous fair in Nizhniy Novgorod where a woman came out of audience and asked for a match with one of female wrestlers just for fun. The lady-wrestler had no choice but accept the challenge. As soon as the match starts and the made up wrestler pinned down the opponent at a brick pace, the lady grabbed hold of his breasts and just ripped off the whole superimposed construction. It turned out though that a competitor who owned a city circus arena bribed her.

Alexander Khromov
January 30, 2003
Revised in April 2011
incere appreciation to Yury Shtern for help and making additions
Specially for Female Single Combat Club


Eternal femininity
Women wrestling. Satyric drawing by artist R. Kristen, 1900s
The captions says (in German): "Ladies wrestling. Eternal femininity"
From Werner Sonntag;'s collection


Wrestling between a skinny and a fat woman
Wrestling between a skinny and a fat woman
From the resource CardCow


>>> Female Combat History
>>> Circus wrestling and athleticism at the turn of the century


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