The History of Bear Wrestling

When it comes to manly skills a few things come to mind, like; lumberjack, lion tamer, firefighter, etc. But then there is another level of manly, and that includes bear wrestling. Obviously it’s not common practice today, although some would say it’s probably safer than some other extreme sports.

Men were generally tougher in years gone by, it’s hard to disagree with that. There wasn’t the luxuries we are all accustomed to today, and a spot of bear wrestling was a good way to set the boys apart from the men. So let’s take a little look at the history of bear wrestling, and remember those brave enough to put it all on the line for the sake of proving their manliness.

It’s Gruesome Beginnings

It’s widely believed that bear wrestling started in the German and barbarian clans. With a bear being brought to the group of the toughest warriors, and after a wrestling session – the last man standing was declared the clan leader. Obviously this gruesome beginning couldn’t last, and the ‘sport’ of wrestling bears became a much more civilized activity in the years that followed.

Bear Wrestling in the 1900’s

Bear wrestling

Back in the early 1900’s animal cruelty and the regard for one’s own safety was a lot more lackluster. Wrestling bears was a well known practice back then, and large crowds of people would gather if the news of a match was spreading.

The idea of a man trying to impose his will upon a much larger, stronger, and more fierce looking animal was a fascinating concept. Some would agree it’s still fascinating today, but for obvious reasons no longer takes place. Well, at least not as far as we know, although it’s believed that it still takes place in remote parts of Russia.

Wrestling bears in Russia is something of legend. Kid’s would wrestle bears young bears while being watched by handlers. Young bears are particularly playful, and will roll around without posing a serious threat. But they are unpredictable animals, and the practice raises eyebrows and is frowned upon by many. Especially when it involves children.

Terrible Ted the Wrestling Bear

Terrible Ted the Wrestling Bear

Between the 1950’s and the 1970’s there was a bear named Terrible Ted, and he is probably the most famous performing bear of all time. The animal is referred to as a Canadian professional wrestler, and was part of wrestling promotions and circus performances. He was detoothed and declawed, so he could not do serious damage to humans when wrestling, and became a quite the spectacle.

Terrible Ted would perform matches with other professional wrestlers in front of audiences, and his trainer would offer money to anyone who thought they could beat Ted in a wrestling match. In fact, someone did take up an offer to do so. Pinning Ted and winning the match, but the trainer refused to payout. The controversy only added to the publicity for Ted, raising his profile and encouraging more people to take up the challenge.

Ted wrestled his last match in 1974, going out on a win like all good performers prefer to. There has not been any other known bears to follow in his paw steps since, and it’s probable we will never see another.

Should You Wrestle a Bear in the Wild?

Brown Bears Fighting

For most of us reading this the answer is fairly obvious. But for those of you who need some extra reassurance, you should never attempt to wrestle a bear. Ever. It is purely for the trained professionals, both animal and human. The bears that wrestle have had their claws and teeth removed, or if they still have teeth they will be wearing a muzzle. The men tough enough to have a wrestle are also trained professionals – and a little bit crazy!

If you do happen to come across a bear in the wild you’re in a spot of bother. You cannot outrun a bear, not on any terrain. This is why the best advice is always to play dead, or climb a tree as high as possible. Bears are pretty good at climbing, especially black bears. But people have climbed to safety before. Prevention is by far the best option, if you’re hiking in bear country be very vigilant, and even if you have a slight inkling that a bear may be near – get out of the area!

All images in this post are from Wikimedia Creative Commons and used under the Licensed Fair Use policy.

3 thoughts on “The History of Bear Wrestling

  • April 29, 2015 at 12:33 am

    That’s a pretty badass sport. I wonder what stops the bear from slapping someone’s entire face off in the ring. Even with a muzzle and without claws, those are some pretty fierce animals.

  • May 24, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    Another thing that’s left out is that the bear’s are trained not to use too much force. A single paw swipe from most bears could severely or even kill a man from its blow alone.

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