Right now wrestling is going through a boom period. There are multiple mid-level promotions gaining popularity in the United States with Ring of Honor, Impact, and Major League Wrestling. Then there New Japan Professional Wrestling’s American expansion and a very hot indie scene. That is not even mentioning the top level where for the first time in over a decade the largest promotion in the world, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), has competition in the form of All Elite Wrestling.
Polish hockey has a lot of similarities to professional wrestling. Both are filled with a lot of behind the scenes drama, sketchy financials, and are scripted. Today though, we look at Poland’s connections to professional wrestling overall.
While the WWE has made a few appearances in Poland in the form of their live shows, Poland wouldn’t have their own wrestling promotion til Do or Die Wrestling (DoDW). DoDW was started by American wrestler Don Roid. Roid had been wrestling in Germany when he meant a Polish girl who later became his wife. Roid moved to Poland full time in 2005. Four years later in 2009, he started DoDW.
In an interview with Vice, Roid talked about the beginning of DoDW, “I moved here in 2005 to be with my wife, but that didn’t stop me from walking into the ring. I started performing around Europe—mainly in France, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. It took me four years to create Do or Die Wrestling, the first Polish federation, and at the same time the first wrestling school in Eastern Europe.”
“I’m not sure Polish people understand what pro wrestling is. Their history is full of wars; they were always engaged in a battle with someone—so the very idea of fighting, even for sport, is a very serious deal to them. In general, as a nation, they are very serious. Americans can chill out a bit. We understand that this is just entertainment. It’s still a sport, as everything that happens in the ring hurts quite a lot, but it’s strictly for the enjoyment of the audience”
Given the uniqueness of their product, Roid thought that DoDW would be an instant hit, but alas that did not happen, “I thought that people would go crazy about it, considering there had never been anything like it in Poland before. I thought that teenagers would want to sign up for training and then join the federation. I was wrong. But I still managed to create a Polish wrestling team that not only performs here but also fights abroad.”
DoDW would later earn a valuable addition in Joe E. Legend. Legend was a longtime professional wrestler with experience in the WWE, Pro Wrestling Noah, and various international promotions. In DoDW he was a valuable trainer for many young Polish wrestlers and even held the DoDW international belt at one point.
DoDW would close their doors in 2015 after six years of bouts. It wouldn’t be the end of wrestling in Poland though, as another promotion had sprouted in the country.
Maniac Zone Wrestling (MZW) was created in 2014 by former Don Roid trainees Shadow and Jedrus “The Polish Hammer” Bulecka. Polish Puck reached out to Shadow to learn more about his promotion. “Maniac Zone Wrestling was created 5 years ago by two guys: Me and Jędruś “The Polish Hammer” Bułecka. At the beginning it was so hard to take ‘something big for us’ but right now we a are strong polish wrestling promotion.”
On what fans could expect to see out of MZW, “Well..the MZW is based on colorful and interesting characters and also we have a wrestlers with so many styles. We likes effective and spectacular fights here.” Then also on the goals of MZW and the future of professional wrestling in Poland, “The current goal for us is to make our promotion bigger and bigger. We want wrestling in Poland to become popular cause right now it’s not… I think that every year there are more and more wrestling fans so we have to keep going and do what we can do the best.”
Kombat Pro Wrestling (KPW) would rise from the ashes of DoDW. They would be formed in October of 2015 and had their debut show, KPW vs The World: Hung(a)ry for Power, on November 14th in Gdansk. The debut show was ran with Hungarian Championship Wrestling.
Since then the promotion has continued to grow. Just like their first show international talent has continued to be brought in to mix with their Polish wrestlers. This includes WWE talent Primate.
Both KPW and MZW are filled with Polish talent, but not much Polish talent has traveled outside the country to reach the biggest stages yet. In the early 20th century, wrestling was filled with Polish immigrants to the states. The first of these wrestlers was Stanislaus Zbyszko. Zbysko had established himself as one of the top Greco-Roman style wrestlers in Europe. Zbysko eventually came over to the states and put on some fantastic matches including an hour-long draw with legend Frank Gotch. Wrestling at this time was more of a real sport but shifting into more of a shoot. Zbysko was still able to claim the World Heavy Weight Championship twice including a 1925 match, where Zbysko turned a worked match into a real one and repeatedly pinned former football player Wayne Munn til being awarded the title in a match Munn was booked to win. Zybsko is regarded as one of the best legitimate wrestlers of all time, and another legend in the business, Larry Zbyszko, adopted his last name as a tribute.
The most interesting of these early wrestlers was Polish Strongman Stanley Radwan. The Krakow native was incredibly strong and some of his feats seem unbelievable. He was able to pull cars with his teeth and remained undefeated in wrestling for 20 years.
One of the most famous stories is about an event that took place at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the same concentration camp that Anne and Margot Frank spent their final days. Radwan was captured during the Nazi Germany invasion of Poland. Radwan attempted to escape the camp by pushing over a brick wall. The news of the feat attracted the attention of Adolf Hitler. Per Ohio Magzine, Hitler ordered Radwan to put on a show for him and some other Nazi leaders. Radwan refused and then was meant with a gun pointed at his head, where he promptly bit the gun chamber closed. After the war, Radwan immigrated to the United States and began his strongman and wrestling career.
Stanislaus Zbyszko’s younger brother Wladek was also a wrestler. Wladek Zybszko was a two-time AWA World Heavyweight Champion and wrestled from the early 1910s and into the 1950s. Another notable Polish wrestler from this time was Abe Coleman. Coleman was never a championship wrestler but is credited with the invention of the dropkick. Coleman wrestled from 1928 to 1958. The Lodz native was described as a solid mid-card worker and is believed to be the only wrestler to live to be over 100 years old.
Since the end of the pioneer era in wrestling, there have not been many big Polish wrestlers. Ivan Putski is the biggest name since the early days. Putski was a tag team specialist winning tag team gold in Big Time Wrestling, Southwest Championship Wrestling, and the World Wrestling Federation. He was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame in 1995.
The most recent Polish wrestler to make it big in wrestling is Babatunde Aiyegbusi. The Wroclaw native was originally an American football player. Babatunde was a star offensive linemen in the Polish American Football League. His strong play in Poland earned him a chance with the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League. He was released after three preseason games. In April 2016, he signed with WWE as apart of their performance center. Babatunde appeared in some large multi-man matches before making his singles debut on January 14th, 2017. The 6’10 355lbs wrestler is quite the monster and has been booked as since winning almost 80% of his matches since debuting.
Wrestlers with Polish Heritage
There are also plenty of people that have stepped into the squared circle with Polish heritage. Plenty of Hall of Famers and former champions.
Debut – Ring Name – Notable Career Achievement
1947 – Killer Kowalski – WWF Hall of Fame 1996
1947- Johnny Valentine – 3x NWA Television Champion
1967- Ole Anderson – 2x AWA Midwest Heavyweight Champion
1970 – Greg Valentine – WWE Hall of Fame 2004
1986 – Scott Putski – 1x GWF North American Heavyweight Champion
1990 – Rob Van Dam – 1x WWE Champion
2000- Trish Stratus – 7x WWE Women’s Champion
2001 – Beth Phoenix – 3x WWE Women’s Champion
2002 – Chris Masters – 1x Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship (This title was once won by A pint of beer, a cat doll, and various other intimate objects.)
2003 – Velvet Sky – 2x TNA Women’s Knockout Champion
2010 – Jacob Novak – WWE NXT Season 4 contestant