Taking on All Comers


The Great Carnival Show


The "Athletic Show" was the top attraction of many an ole-time carnival. "AT Shows", as they were called, featured wrestlers and boxers taking on all challengers from the crowd. Large circuses also carried "AT Shows" as part of their Sideshow and as added attractions. The tradition goes back to the Middle Ages when wandering wrestlers faced opponents in the ancient fairs and bazaars. In America, the "AT Show" dates to the post-Civil War era and ran right up until the early 1960's. The athletic shows, often including female grapplers, also appeared on the old vaudeville stages and in burlesque theaters.

Dedicated to all the AT show fighter I've known,

There was once in Americana a contest to beat most
This event held almost daily by a most ungracious host,

The carnival grounds featured men who would fight if so dared
With local towns people who were quite often feared,

Athletic shows prospered as well as many local police
If the fix was in by a patch everyone got his or her piece,

On the bally a man shouted, "We take on all comers, challengers if you like"
"We're putt 'in up some cash for you to win if you could fight",

Egos were toyed with but never to be broken
Until money changes hands and is taken as a token,

The contest would commence once hands had been shook
And if the stakes were right one could always make book,

Many a mark enters the ring thinking this will be easy
Till he's looked in the wrestlers eyes and now feels queasy,

Matches start out often with some banter or a flurry
It's important for the shooter not to end this in a hurry,


Now the doomed "Towner" has left himself in quite the fix
Thinking he can win this by shear strength or by his tricks,

One shoots, maybe sprawls or even tries some sweeps
Another gouges or pinches or in other ways he cheats,

Once clinched then thrown and now properly ridden
His defeat is so sure it cannot now be hidden,

It is now quite apparent what mattered was not size
But the man that is winded had no chance of a prize,

Unique was the tongue in which Carney wrestlers could speak
But not by the man that now fell at his feet,

Athletic Arena circa 1950

Locals are enraged now their mans face down and counted out
If violent turns this angry mob, next "Hey rube" may be the shout,

Noses are bloodied many a time and men's teeth are often lost
But winning must be all to the showman no matter what the cost,

Ears cauliflower'd and rotor cuffs are torn
These are the condition of the old battle worn,

A neck could be broken, held in the deadly front face lock
A precarious position, like a gun when it's half cocked,

Seizing and then turning a neck so it is fully cranked
Often leaves an opponent with no doubt that he's been spanked,

A double wrist lock is often used to disable a mean opponent
A wrist held tight was a sharp twist, a turn could break him in a moment,

Hooking a man could be very vicious of crippling at best
Most efficient form of combat to be developed in the west,

Destroying a man's body and even possible his soul
To some masters of submissions this was all part of a planned goal,

World's Smallest Boxers by Snap Wyatt


Risking all was their job endangering ones life or maybe limb
Preparation for these journeys would always start off in a gym,

Conditioning was important of both body and the mind
Their legacy now written clear should stand the test of time,

Whether you be a fan a historian or maybe possible a foe
You'd respect any hooker with a motto "he's good to go",

These men engaged lumberjacks, ironworkers and the like
They scuffled with longshoremen or Indians who'd fight,

They took on the town bully a farmer or his friends
They won their matches with both smarts and will that never bends,

Catch as catch can wrestlers will go down in the books
As the men who submit others with hold known as hooks,

Many writers have long forgot or acknowledged to report
On the fearless men who risked it all for the sake of combat sport,

Men will always have their tales and mixed in there some truths
But let it be told the really tough made their was in carnival AT show booths,

Dedicated to all the AT show fighter I've known,

Richard "Army Maquire August 28th 2001


from Carny Style Wresting


Wrestler Frank Gotch on Left! - Sells Floto Circus


Poster advertising the wrestling sideshow at a small carnival near Bellows Falls, Vermont


Jimmie Chanos Congress of Athletes












Ohio 1930


Vermont 1934


Articles - Links - Videos

Carnival of Champions

Agent and Others

Circus Female Wrestlers

At the Turn of the XX Century

ME and HIM

George Moore - Fred Howe

The Great Corbett and Courtney Fight

Mick Fage's Travelling Wrestling Show

Les Darcy

‘Maitland’s Wonder Boy'

Jim Haynes


Outback Boxing Tents

Sammy Recalls Tough Times in Fight Booth

Scott Fuller - Grappler

AT - Show

Jack Gage's International Boxing Stadium

They Were the AT Shows

Carny Style Wrestling with Billy Wicks

Boxing Tent Legend

The Tent Boxer

Last of the Showman

The Last Outback Boxing Troupe - Fight Night

Circus Strongwomen & Female Wrestlers


Few Punches More - Fairground Boxing Show




Jack Dempsey, the Colorado boy who made good in the fight racket-and how-mounted a barker's stand Friday and sold tickets for the boxing sideshow of a circus which he has joined for a tour of personal appearances. Dempsey will referee boxing and make talks to the customers from the ring. Aug.1, 1941



Lady Wrestlers Unknown Artist



1918 Jack Albright's Wrestling/Boxing Tent



Click on Photographs to Enlarge


Boxing Show

William Stewart's Boxing Booth, 1933

Boxing Pavilion

Boxing Stadium

Hughuss Boxing

Jack Gage's

Boxing Stadium 1955


Boxing Show

All Comers Welcome


Boxing Show

Kid Summers

Hughes' Boxers, 1916

Pat McKeowen's Show, Goose Fair, 1961

Boxers on a Variety Show circa 1913

Furness' Show


Furness' Show


Stewart's Booth, 1950

Stewart's Booth, 1950

Mickey Kiely's

Willard Sells Circus












Rig Athletic Show











McKeowen's Boxing Booth, Bridgwater St Matthews Fair, 1980s.




Ron Taylor's Boxing and Wrestling Booth



W.H. Stewart and Sons



The Movie - The Ring, Brisson plays ‘One-Round’ Jack Sander a sideshow boxer taking on all comers,



Albury Show circa 1930s






Fair The Newcastle Hoppings Fair - We Take All-Comers











Lady Wrestlers Unknown Artist


Wrestlers Millard Bulsterbaum


Miniature Athletic Arena


Jimmy Demetral's Wrestling Arena



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