We’ve had several kicks at the combat sports can and every time these things have turned into deformed monstrosities: wrestling turned into what the WWE calls wrestling and boxing became what I call a predictable bore. It wasn’t always like this … these sports are shadows of their once glorious former selves, and none more than wrestling, which became THE THING after we grew out of watching people maim each other with their bare hands in the third century AD.
(While nowadays the snapping of a leg or arm is a great time to pull out the yakety sax music on SportsCenter because we know the victim will be fine in six months, the pankrationists of Ancient Greece didn’t have that luxury. You turn your hands to mush against an opponent’s face, and you’ve got a new nickname. And job. Well probably not a job. For some reason I doubt the pankrationist’s safety net is any better than the UFC’s.)
Anyways long story short for the purposes of this post, let me just assure you that once the whole Jesus Christ thing got big, the days where you could go down to the Coliseum and watch Arrhichion of Phigalia snap a dude’s ankle off while simultaneously dying from a crushed trachea were over. Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I pulled a John McCain and banned pankration in 393AD, and that was the end of the first golden age of no holds barred fighting. It still went on all over the place over the next 1500 years, but we’ll talk about that later.
For now I wanted to talk about one of the super old-school wrestling superfights that happened at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. This was a unprecedented meeting between the courts of England and France in 1520 … while the whole thing was planned out to a T in an attempt to ensure that the kings of both countries came off as equals, both courts still totally tried to out-bling the other.
‘The Field of Cloth of Gold’ wasn’t just an early example of poor event naming – they literally pumped gold and silk cloth out by the wagon load for costumes and tents. Both courts did a good job of nearly bankrupting their countries during the three weeks of retardation, but in the end both sides remained relatively even in stature. That is until the night of a wrestling exhibition, where King Henry spontaneously challenged King Francis to a wrestling match.
The ‘match’ was straight up size versus style. King Henry VIII of England was a significantly bigger guy, but King Francis had the advantage of actually knowing how to wrestle. When Henry grabbed the French monarch by the shoulders and tried to haul him down to the ground using brute strength, Francis used a cross-buttock taught to him by the best French wrestlers (don’t laugh, this is a long time ago) to throw Henry on his ass.
This ended what was generally regarded up until that point as a very positive meeting between the two parties. While this incident is not thought to have any major effect on the massive political winds that swirled at the time, relations still withered pretty hardcore over the next three years followed by King Henry declaring war on France. Hmmmm.
While the tale of the wrestling kings has been widely spread, it’s worth noting that some British historians have their doubts about the authenticity of the whole thing. One claim is that the only original document proving this event took place was the memoirs of the guy who was in charge of wiping the King of France’s ass at the time. Really.