#PWHS #Results #Europe #Bulgaria
Notes on the History of Professional Wrestling in Bulgaria
"Most likely, professional wrestling was first introduced in Bulgaria in the late 19th century in a couple of Bulgarian circuses. I haven't been able to confirm this as a 100% fact, but I've read certain things that make me believe that there were Greco-Roman pro bouts here and there as part of the circus program. In addition to that there were plenty of Bulgarians involved in pro wrestling outside of Bulgaria, but as far as Bulgaria itself was concerned pro wrestling first got started in the country in 1935. Well, technically, there were a few exhibition catch-as-catch-can matches in 1934 and one in 1933, but I wouldn't consider that the start.
It all started in 1932 with the creation of an amateur wrestling club that attempted to get amateur wrestling off the ground in Bulgaria as an organized sport. They weren't particularly successful, but that was the start of wrestling, any type of wrestling, getting media attention in Bulgaria. Additionally, most of the amateurs from that club would eventually turn pro and become the backbone of Bulgaria's pro wrestling scene. With pro wrestling's popularity exploding in 1935 amateur wrestling pretty much died off as a sport and it stayed dead until about 1946, but more about that later.
The main reason why pro wrestling started gaining popularity in Bulgaria was because in late 1932 the Bulgarian press began covering the careers of four Bulgarian pro wrestlers in Europe. The first two were Peter Ferestanoff and Pavel Ivanoff. Both were Graeco-Roman pro wrestlers, wrestling mostly in Central Europe (particularly Germany and Austria) and both were discovered and trained by one of the first Bulgarian pro wrestlers - Alexander Dobricz. Ivanoff wasn't having that much success so eventually the press forgot about him, but Ferestanoff was gaining a lot of attention because he was doing quite well for himself in the European tournaments. In the eyes of the Bulgarian public Ferestanoff was perceived as one of the top Graeco-Roman pro wrestlers in Europe.
The other two guys who eventually started receiving regular coverage in the Bulgarian press were Henry Stoeff (known as Harry Stoev in Bulgaria) and Dan Koloff. Both Stoeff and Koloff had spent most of their career in the States, but both had returned to Europe around 1933. Stoeff was a technically skilled light heavyweight who had had some regional success in a few states, but overall he wasn't that big of a name in the States. In Europe he was having a good run in England wrestling some of the top British guys and was also wrestling in France.
The most important name of the four to start getting regular Bulgarian press coverage was Dan Koloff. Koloff was a veteran of the sport and a well-established name in the States, having wrestled almost all the big names of the era and challenged for a few different versions of the World Heavyweight championship. He is perhaps best remembered for being one of Paul Bowser's most trusted men as Koloff served as policeman and manager for some of Bowser's World Heavyweight champions (Gus Sonnenberg and Henri Deglane to name two). In 1933 when Deglane decided to return to France and start a promotion there Koloff was one of the first guys he brought into the territory. In the years that followed the French territory became very successful and Koloff was pretty much the number two guy in France, behind Deglane, from 1933 till early 1938 when he retired. In Bulgaria his U.S. run didn't receive any press whatsoever, but his French run got a ton of coverage. As far as the Bulgarian public was concerned all they knew about Koloff was that he was regularly headlining shows with big crowds, winning all but a few matches in that five year period and generally he appeared to be one of the top professional wrestlers in the world. All of that made Koloff a huge name in Bulgaria.
A year and a half after they first became fixtures in the Bulgarian newspapers Koloff and Stoeff returned to Bulgaria in April of 1935. Right off the bat they were treated as big time celebrities. In fact, I am not exaggerating at all when I say that Koloff in particular was probably the most talked about celebrity of any kind in Bulgaria at that time. As soon as they arrived in Bulgaria Koloff and Stoeff started making plans for promoting Bulgaria's first ever pro wrestling events. The original plan was for five big stadium shows in Sofia (the capital and the biggest city) as well as a number of spot shows throughout the country. The plan was to have Koloff and Stoeff as the top stars, but also bring in Ferestanoff, as well as a number of foreigners (most from the French territory) and feature a few Bulgarian amateurs who were now in training to be pro's. As far as booking was concerned the idea was to draw with the concept of the big Bulgarian names taking on foreigners. Regis Siki, Jim Atlas and Dr. Len Hall were the talked about opponents for Koloff, but for whatever reason the latter two fell through. In the end these were the shows that Koloff and Stoeff ran in 1935:
September 8, 1935
Sadly, by all accounts the big Koloff/Ferestanoff match ended up being a very disappointing match in terms of quality as both guys were very passive and defensive in their wrestling (likely due to lack of trust, thinking the other one might try something) and that made for a very monotonous and boring match. The match basically ended in a 90-minute time limit draw, but they had a 3-man jury step in and rule the match in favor of Koloff. Thus Koloff won, but Ferestanoff saved face since he didn't actually get beat.
Soon after the big Koloff/Ferestanoff show Koloff and Stoeff returned abroad while Ferestanoff stayed behind for a while longer and headlined four successful Greco-Roman pro wrestling shows throughout the country, him versus a foreigner being the main attraction: versus Marjan Waluszewski on September 29 in Svishtov (drawing 6,000+ fans), a rematch with Marjan Waluszewski on October 6th in Ruse (8,000 fans), versus Jan Urban on October 13 in Gorna Oryahovitsa (4,000 fans) and versus Jan Urban again on October 20 in Veliko Tarnovo. Obviously, Ferestanoff won all four bouts. Interesting sidenote: the story with Waluszewski was that he was a protege of the famous Polish wrestler Teodor Sztekker who Ferestanoff had defeated before so now Valushevsky was trying to avenge his mentor.
In 1935 there were two other groups that were running pro wrestling events in Bulgaria. One was a local group in Stara Zagora, lead by a Bulgarian who had done some wrestling in France and Italy. The other one was lead by Lazar Dobricz - one of the most famous Bulgarian circus promoters of all-time and brother of the aforementioned Alexander Dobricz. Between July 8th and July 26th Dobricz, in association with an Austrian by the name of Franz Doberl, organized a Greco-Roman pro wrestling tournament in Sofia. The following wrestlers took part in the tournament: Emile Czaya, Franz Kawan, Albert Sturm, Jeji Goldstein, Uxa Stibor, Todor Bankoff, Arcadi Goyer, Constantine Stoycescu, Cinica Cyclope, Jon Chernoyonu (I'm not 100% sure about the English spelling of the last four names so they might be incorrect). Unfortunately, I don't have all the tournament results but what I do know is that Emile Czaya won the tournament, followed by Kawan, Sturm and Bankoff. Peter Ferestanoff was approached about being in this tournament and originally the tournament was to be build around him, but he ended up not participating, which made Bankoff the only Bulgarian in the tournament. That put some spotlight on him and given his solid showing in the tournament Bankoff became one of the very first new stars of Bulgarian pro wrestling. After the tournament was done several of the wrestlers in the tournament went on a two a half month tour around the country. The shows were a mix of Greco-Roman and catch-as-catch-can/American wrestling and Bankoff and Czaya were billed as the top stars. By all accounts the shows did good business, as did the tournament as well, but sadly I don't have exact numbers for them. Interesting sidenote: as a special added attraction to the shows Czaya would wrestle around with a bull.
As 1935 was drawing to a close, with the three big Bulgarian names now back abroad, the brand new crop of Bulgarian pro wrestlers started to gain some more traction and run shows themselves. Two names in particular stood out as being the big new stars: Todor Bankoff and Dimitar Stoycheff. Stoycheff was the bigger name of the two since he had worked some high-profile Koloff shows and Koloff had put him over to the press as the best Bulgarian prospect. In addition to that, originally Stoycheff had trained with Nikolai Petroff (a Bulgarian Greco-Roman wrestler who had been a big name in European wrestling towards the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century) and Stoycheff being a student of his gave him even more credibility. And so, with Bankoff and Stoycheff leading the charge shows were now being promoted without Koloff/Stoeff/Ferestanoff on the card and interest in those shows was strong.
In 1936 Koloff and Stoeff returned for a second season of big shows. This time around, given that the local Bulgarian wrestlers were now more experienced in pro wrestling, Koloff and Stoeff used more Bulgarian wrestlers on the shows.
July 5, 1936
For whatever reason the 1936 season got cut short. I'm not sure what the exact reason was, but I have a few theories: Koloff had picked up an injury, they couldn't secure good foreign opponents for Koloff and didn't want to risk running more big Sofia events without a strong opponent for Koloff after the last show with Passmann bombed or it could be due to the falling out that Koloff and Stoeff had soon after. I don't know. Either way, Koloff wouldn't wrestle in Bulgaria for more than a year.
Something else started happening around this time and that was Bulgarian wrestlers beginning to go abroad. A number of guys had runs in France, most notably Todor Bankoff (who went by Mehmet Arif in France, a Turk gimmick) and Peter Konstantinoff (who had become Koloff's favorite protege), while Stoycheff and Andreeff had runs in Turkey where wrestling had gotten hot. So with the three biggest names out of the picture and wrestling abroad, and more and more of the new Bulgarian wrestlers spending time outside of Bulgaria as well, the number of wrestling events run in the country decreased greatly. Events were still being run with local guys, but not at the level they were at before in terms of regularity or attendance.
The last big Sofia show of the 1930s took place in 1937 when Koloff returned for one final match. Well, at the time he likely didn't know it would be his final match in Bulgaria, but it turned out to be as soon after he retired due to health issues. Koloff's opponent for the show was the reigning European Heavyweight Champion Al Pereira (a.k.a. Al Perry), who had beaten Koloff for the championship in Paris several months prior to that." - Phil Lions