Why Gravy Wrestling Is an Annual Tradition in One British Town

Competitors wrestle for greasy glory at the annual World Gravy Wrestling Championships in Lancashire, England. Alan Martin/ActionPlus/Corbis/Getty Images

Across the globe, cultures have unique competitive forms of performative combat. Japan lionizes the sumo wrestler. Brazilian capoeira fuses dance and martial arts. The sport of fencing evolved from swordfighting in 18th-century Italy. And in the English county of Lancashire, there's... well, there's gravy. And lots of it.

The annual World Gravy Wrestling Championship takes place the last Monday in August at The Rose 'n' Bowl pub in Stacksteads, a village about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Manchester. Celebrating its 10th anniversary on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, the event will see 20 men and 10 women take to the wrestling pool brimming with the meaty condiment.

"In Britain, gravy is more than just a condiment; it's liquid comfort," writes British food journalist Felicity Cloake. "It brings together a Sunday roast like a cup of tea brings together a group of strangers – bestowing a soothing, savoury homeliness on everything it touches."

And with the World Gravy Wrestling Championships, that gravy touches quite a lot.

A wrestling pool custom built for the annual event can hold about 400 gallons (1500 liters) of gravy.
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Competitors from as far away as the United States, Austria and Australia have traveled to Lancashire to wrestle in gravy.
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"This event is all about the fun factor," says the organization on its website. "We're not looking for serious wrestlers. Points are scored on fun moves, costumes and how much [wrestlers] can make the crowd laugh."
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Joel Hicks, pictured here in 2015, was crowned winner at the inaugural 2007 World Gravy Wrestling Championship. Only two wrestlers have ever won more than once; Hicks holds the men's record at four wins (2007, 2009, 2011 and 2015) in the men's division.
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The competition added a women's division in 2008, its second year. Emma Slater (left) and Sarah Healey are pictured wrestling in the 2009 championships; Slater is the only woman to have won more than once (2009, 2011).
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A diet rich in meat, gravy and beer could be causing a recent resurgence of Victorian-era diseases like gout and scarlet fever in Manchester, health experts said in May 2017.
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Event organizer Andy Holt (not pictured) is also the managing director of the Real Lancashire Black Pudding Company, and the gravy for the event is made in his company factory. But the competition gave up using traditional gravy a few years back. "We found the meat smell attracted wasps. It was a bit of a problem," Holt told The Guardian newspaper in 2015. "Now I make it with cornflour and caramel."
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The World Gravy Wrestling Championship is a fundraising event, and money raised in 2017 will benefit the East Lancashire Hospice.
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