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Dublin: 20 °C Thursday 13 August, 2020

Ever hear the story of the Irish wrestling champion who couldn't wrestle?

The Masked Man tells us the tale of Danno O’Mahoney.

Cork native Danno O'Mahoney was
Cork native Danno O'Mahoney was "clearly... not a good wrestler".

HOW DOES SOMEONE with no genuine skill or background in professional wrestling rise to the status of champion?

Wrestling writer David Shoemaker, also known as the Masked Man, explains all in his new book, The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling.

Speaking to, Shoemaker tells the story of Cork native Danno O’Mahoney — a 1930s star who managed to acquire an important place in wrestling’s history despite his limited talent.

“If you go back and look at wrestling in the American Northeast — in the first few decades, it was almost entirely driven by immigration,” Shoemaker explains. “Everybody knows about guys like Bruno Sammartino who had really specific ethnic backgrounds and they were there to appeal to that immigrant population in America that was usually a couple of generations in, so they had some money to spend on going to wrestling matches.

“It was these big immigrant populations that would come out to arenas like Madison Square Garden in New York and fill it up, just to see their country’s hero win the match.

“In Boston, there was a huge Irish immigrant population. A local promoter there named Paul Bowser, who was one of the great promoters of those early days, decided he wanted an Irish champion. He tried to get one really legitimate wrestler who turned him down, and so he ended up settling on this guy Danno O’Mahoney, who was probably the least skilled wrestler in the world. These were the guys that were getting Championship matches and put on a platform. It’s funny, because Bowser was one of the originators of the fake wrestling style.”

Shoemaker adds that Bowser was highly influential in transforming the perceptions of wrestling from an ostensibly competitive sport into the form we know it as today — namely, sports entertainment, in which its theatrical elements are more thinly veiled.

“He was the first guy who had a wrestler doing a flying football tackle, which was an implicitly fake move that you would sling a guy off the rope and tackle him. So he was really big on pushing the boundaries on what was legitimate and what was not. So it was no surprise that he brought in Danno.

“Even back then, you can see that New York and Boston writers writing about how ridiculous it was that he was the champion, because they could see clearly that he was not a good wrestler. But he did appeal very well to the Irish immigrant fan base and the fans more broadly. He’s not going to go down as one of the all-time greats, but he was an unquestioned success.”

YouTube credit: JNLister

YouTube credit: JNLister

The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling is published by Gotham Books. More details here.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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