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Steve Yohe

Joined: 01 Aug 2006
Posts: 2628
Location: Wonderful Montebello CA

PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:46 pm    Post subject: THE ED "STRANGLER" LEWIS PROJECT Reply with quote

I'm posting my Ed Lewis paper at the Thesz site at WC and I'm going to also put it up here. Because it might look better. It's raw and unedited.---Steve Yohe
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Steve Yohe

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Location: Wonderful Montebello CA

PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


Facts within a Myth
Steve Yohe

Birth, Family and Nekoosa
Robert Herman Julius Friedrich, who later took the famous alias of Ed “Strangler” Lewis, was born on June 30, 1890 in the Wisconsin town of Sheboygan Falls. (1) Lewis, during his lifetime, always claim that he weight 12 pounds at birth.

His parents were Jacob Friedrich (b. December 28, 1858) and Mary (Molly or Molla Gueldenzopf or perhaps Amelia Gueldenzopf) Friedrich (b. March 22, 1866). Jacob was born in Deinheim Hessen, Germany and came to the United State when he was 23 years old to made central Wisconsin his home. He had worked as a farmer, woodcutter, and butcher but, by the time of Robert’s birth, was working in the finishing room of the Nekoosa-Edwards Paper Company. On February 1, 1912, at age 53, Jacob took a job on the Nekoosa police force and stayed employed for 28 years. He weight 200 pounds and had a reputation as a strong man, but it seems that Robert resembled his Mother Molly more than his dad. Molly weight almost as much as Jacob and was well proportioned. At church picnics, she would enter and win the young woman’s races. She was a hard worker and the backbone of the family. (2) The two had married on September 26, 1888 in the town of Port Edwards.

Robert, who went by the name Bob, was the third of five children: Fredrich (b Oct. 1887), Minnie (b July 1889), Hattie (b Jan. 1893) and Mary/Emily (b Oct, 1994). Seems the family left Sheboygan Falls, possible to Nekoosa, Wisconsin, but returned in 1894. In 1895, they returned to Nekoosa, where Bob spent most of his childhood. The actual home may have been four miles north/east of Nekoosa in the small town of Port Edwards.

Nekoosa was a village of about 1,000 people but it had a large paper mill where the father had found work. It was in Nekoosa that Bob attended public school. He grew big and active, doing all the things young boys do. As time passed, he started coming home with his clothes torn and dirty. This was a problem because it was costing money that family had very little of to waste. One day, Jacob was walking by the schoolyard and found his son wrestling just about every boy in the school. His patience was thin by that time, so he grabbed Bob and beat him in front of all his classmates. Bob was so embarrassed he refused to return to the public school, so he was sent to a German Lutheran school. He later was confirmed in that faith.

Bob played basketball, track and wrestled, but his favorite sport was baseball and during the summers he played on the town’s team. One Saturday they played a game in Pittsfield, Wisconsin. They won the game but were short on money for the trip home (now that’s the story, but I think Pittsfield is only 19 miles from Nekoosa and it seems like a plan that needed time to execute.). In the area was a local wrestler named George Brown, who had trained with the great Fred Beell. The baseball manager arranged for young Friedrich to wrestle Brown at the local opera house with admission being 50 cents.

Bob claimed to know only one hold, the bear hug, but Brown fainted, giving Friedrich his first pro win. The gate was $60 and Bob’s cut was $15.

Around that time, Lewis claimed that the local barber, a Carson Burke, gave him a book on human physiology and this studying the human body, would later give him an advantage in the wrestling ring. (He was the Gorilla Monsoon of his time.) Burke also gave Bob the Spaulding guide to wrestling. He used this knowledge to twist the bodies of every boy in the neighborhood. This brought a line of complaining parents to the door of the Friedrich home and Robert was once again in trouble.

At around 11 years old, Bob got a job as a water boy for a construction gang working on widening the road from the power plant to the paper mill. Near where the men rested was a narrow bridge or log going over a large stream or river. The men would get exercise by throwing each other off the bridge into the water. Their fun was ruined when the water boy started throwing all the grown ups in to the pond. The boy’s reputation grew with the locals and many times farmers would stop their work to watch him throw large men around. When he wasn’t wrestling the crew, Bob played watchdog, looking out for the boss, as the crew napped the afternoons away under shade trees.

When not toiling for the construction crew, Bob worked in a store for a Mrs. Gutheil making deliveries and lifting heavy loads on to farm wagons. Stories were told of Bob picking up 280 pound barrels of salt and carrying three bag of flower at a time. This Mrs. Gutheil had two or three other young girls working in the store, so Bob took to exercising in the back yard near a window in the hope of impressing them.

During this period, stories have Bob being trained by his Nekoosa neighbor, Fred Bentz. I think, with no proof, that he also had made contact with famed Wisconsin wrestler Fred Beell.

Every Saturday, Bob would work out with a 220 pound farmer named Albert Coon. Friedrich pined Coon over and over, but the big guy never stopped coming back for more. Then came a lucky day when Albert got a pin over Bob. After that Coon stopped training and wouldn’t wrestle his friend. After Lewis became a great star, he would beg his pal for a rematch but Coon refused…. happy with his one victory over a champion wrestler.

Wrestling was the sport of farmland America. Roads were hard to run on, gyms were rare and baseball took too many people, but Farmers could always find someone to wrestle. A whole cultural ritual surrounded shoot “catch as catch can” wrestling in the mid-west and other areas of the country. Sundays were usually days off and local picnics were places for young men to gather and prove themselves. Bob was always a star at these events.

A major challenger to Friedrich was an older and larger boy named Art Crowns. They were friends, but a great rivalry formed between the two. A professor for a local school set up an official style match between the two, which Bob won after a throw almost cause Art to bit off his tongue. A few days later, Bob had to fight Art’s brother, George. Bob won that encounter too. The two Crown boys grew up to become attorneys in Wisconsin.

Besides wrestling, Bob’s next interest was young girls and he dated a Sioux woman named Maude Brooks for a period of time. It seems she also taught Bob a few holds.

Bob was good natured and likeable, with his reputation as a local champion growing by the week. In the winter, another such champion, Fred Abel of Madison Wisconsin, challenged Robert. The match was set up at the local opera house. The hospitable Bob met Abel at the train station and introduced him to the locals. This helped the gate. Bob won the match, but most thought the match looked like a “friendly” affair. (2a)

A few months later, another wrestler named “Lindsey”, from Neelsville, challenged Bob. Lindsey had a cauliflower ear and wasn’t nearly as friendly as the first wrestler. Lewis claimed the match was a two-hour draw that had Lindsey riding him the whole time rubbing his face into the mat. My feelings are that Lindsey was a pro working under an alias, trying to take advantage of the local gamblers. The people in Nekoosa formed the opinion that Bob had “worked” a least one of the two matches and felt betrayed.

His friends’ reaction hurt and offended Friedrich, so he decided to leave Nekoosa. Bob’s Uncle Emil was a superintendent at a paper mill in Rhinelander, Wisconsin and offered Robert a job and it was accepted.

1) The story of Ed Lewis, as reported in Newspapers, books and article, is a myth created by Lewis himself, his long time manager Billy Sandow, wrestling promoters and uninformed sports writers thru the years. In the very first sentence we can already find three controversial statements. The first is the spelling of Lewis’s true name. The second is the place of birth and the third is the birth date.

It is my plan to use newspaper reports of matches to form my base for this paper. I feel that reports of matches, written on the day of the event, have more credibility than stories of events told by the wrestlers themselves years later or stories that have been told and passed on by people who were not present.

In the late 1940’s, Lewis attempted to write his biography using a writer/collaborator going by the name Steve McPherson. We don’t actually know the identity of this Steve McPherson. During Lewis’s life, he was in contact with at least two men using that name. One was a sports editor of a newspaper in Bellingham…the other was a minor promoter of wrestling in Phoenix. McPherson may have been one of these men, we don’t know.

The godfather of all wrestling historians, J Michael Kenyon, gave me a photocopy of THE UNFINISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY years ago. The paper is basically just of bunch of unfinished notes and stories. Some of it is out of chronological order. In my view, it’s a mess, but it is the closest thing we had to Lewis’s own words and it tells stories about parts of his early life we can find in no other place. In forming the early portion of the personal live of Lewis in this paper, I’ll be trying to organize and make sense out of this biography. Someone else, who is better with word and can spell, may have better equipped to the job, but I work cheap.

So back to the three controversial statements:

Ed Lewis true name has been misspelled in number of ways. Fredericks, Friedrick, Fredrich, etc. On legal and family documents it’s spelled Robert Friedrich or Robert Herman Julius Friedrich.

In many reports, most of them from a late date, you’ll find Nekoosa Wisconsin listed as being the place of birth of Robert Friedrich. In reports from the actual town of Nekoosa, you’ll find them saying he was born at Sheboygan Falls. I can’t prove anything but it’s my feeling that the family lived in Nekoosa, but the birth took place in Sheboygan Falls because mother Molly Friedrich’s family lived in that city and she might have been looking for support. There also was a medical hospital or clinic located there. Later in Bob’s life, his father and brother would both traveled to Sheboygan Falls for medical treatment. After the birth, Molly returned to Nekoosa. In 1894, the family lived in Sheboygan Fall for a period before they returned to Nekoosa in 1887, where Friedrich (Lewis) spent most of his childhood. I would consider this statement a theory and not taken as fact. It also may be true that the Friedrich family actually lived four and half miles north/east of Nekoosa in Port Edwards. On Lewis’ passport application of June 15, 1923, he listed Port Edwards as his place of birth. The best information on this topic can be found in NATIONAL WRESTLING ALLIANCE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE MONOPOLY THAT STRANGLED PRO WRESTLING by Tim Hornbaker (page 62).

By the time Bob Friedrich got to Chicago in 1913, he was billing himself as being born in 1891. He was being pushed as a young man and I think they dropped a year to fit. For the rest of his career it remained mostly 1891, but legal papers all seem to agree on 1890. Reports from Nekoosa also say 1890.

2) NATIONAL WRESTLING ALLIANCE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE MONOPOLY THAT STRANGLED PRO WRESTLING by Tim Hornbaker states that Jacob Friedrich was born on December 28, 1858 at Deinheim Hessen, Germany and immigrated to America. Molly (Molla) Gueldenzopf was born in Saxon-Wiemer, Germany on March 23, 1866 and traveled with her family to Sheboygan Falls in 1882. The two were married on September 26, 1887 under the Lutheran faith.

2a) Fred Abel is the name used in Lewis’ UNPUBLISHED BIOGRAPHY. Historian Dan Anderson thinks this person is Albert “Babe” Abel, who was born in 1889 in Madison and died in the same city in 1967. He rarely wrestled outside of Madison, and didn’t seem to have much success.
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Steve Yohe

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Location: Wonderful Montebello CA

PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


Bob’s job at the Rhinelander Paper Mill was working with a machine that spit out 100-pound paper bundles. He had to pick up two of them a minute and stack them from the floor to a height of 15 feet. He worked at this labor for 12 hours a day for over two years. At first he was an assistant to a George Fisher, but George broke down from the work, and Bob continued by himself. Lewis claimed this monotonous work was the hardest time of his life. During his later life as a pro wrestler, in a tough match that stress his endurance…he’ll think of his Rhinelander Mill job and say to himself: “If that didn’t break me…nothing will!” You can see how a job like this would turn young Lewis into super strong athletic with the physique of a Hercules. It wasn’t the static lifting of weights in a gym; it was the lifting of awkward objects up and down…over and over..for hours and hours that would created the strength and stamina need in a great wrestler.

One of the social centers in Rhinelander was a roller skating rink. It was known as an acceptable place for young boys and girls to meet. In the back of it Bob once battled the local bully in what Lewis claimed was hour and a half long fistfight in 30-degree weather. It was stopped after Friedrich had knocked the other boy down 25 times. Ed claimed he was happy about the stoppage because he was tired from all the punching.

Seems he was also playing basketball in the area, one report had Bob playing ball for Antigo at a basketball tournament in the town of Portage. He also was with an encampment of the Rhinelander company of the state militia around July 1908.

While in Rhinelander, Bob dated and fell in love with a girl named Mabel. He described her as fair of skin, blue of eyes, a Madonna with black hair…who was sweet, genteel, kind and amorous. He went with her for two years and the only reason they didn’t get married was because they were only 17 years old. When Bob left Rhinelander, he left Mabel. 20 years later, while wrestling in Ft Worth, he received a letter from a District Attorney. Mabel had became a drug addict, due to a bad marriage, and both husband and wife were in jail. Lewis bailed her out and told her to return home to Rhinelander. Of course, she didn’t. She showed up at a wrestling card in St Louis a year later looking worse. Lewis gave her more money and never saw her again.

You’ll read that Ed Lewis was a playboy. Always playing the field, having a good time. To me, he didn’t seem to be that type. He appears to be more of a good-natured type, always falling in love while thinking about and getting married. My definition of a true playboy doesn’t have the word marriage in it.

Friedrich’s reputation as a wrestler was building and he needed to move on to another level in his career. He traveled to Minneapolis around the year 1909. Minneapolis was the closest metropolis to Rhinelander and a major wrestling center. He got a job in the drug store of an Oscar Zirker, working as a clerk. He lived in an apartment located at 11th and Hannepin. His roommate was a cook and the rent was $5 a week.

Henry Ordemann, one of the best wrestlers in America, worked out with Bob. He trained in a gym owned by three boxing brothers. At the Cook’s gym, he met a Billy Potts, who acted as his manager, but was never paid.

Potts was able to book Friedrick into a handicap match verses the great Stanislaus Zbyszko on Feb. 10, 1910 at the Dewey Theater in Mineapolis. Zbyszko was in the middle of a huge national push, coming off wins over Frank Gotch (handicap match Buffalo Nov. 25, 1909), Fred Beell (Jan. 1, 1910 Buffalo), Tom Jenkins (Jan. 7, 1910 Cleveland), and Charles Cutler, (Jan. 11, 1910) to set up a super return match with the undisputed world champion, Frank Gotch. He probably was the second best wrestler in the world.

After a burlesque show, Zbyszko had agreed to pin three men in 30 minutes. The three were Joe Carr, Carl Mattson, and Robert Friedrick (spelled Frederick). Mattson was pined in 2 ½ minutes. Carr (a very tough middle weight) lasted six minutes, and Bob was pinned in 12 ½ minutes. After the match, Stan made a speech, saying that Friedrick was the strongest man of his age he had ever wrestled. This match was Lewis’s introduction to big time pro wrestling. (3)

During this period, Friedrick was having hard times. Food could even be a problem. His roommate cook worked at a lunchroom and Bob would hang out with a starved look on his face. Bob had too much pride to say anything but after awhile the staff would slip him something and the cook would bring home a sandwich for his friend. I wonder if this helped lead Lewis to one of his major vices…food.

Bob then got a job on the shipping room of the Jenn-Semple Hill warehouse, lifting things like stoves and kegs of nails. In Rhinelander, he had brought three or four suits of clothes, and with the money from a new job, he was turning into a clothes hog. He seemed to have very good taste, but he had very little restraint when spending money. (4)

North Dakota
He was then offered $2,500 to play on a pro minor league baseball team at Beach, North Dakota. He still wrestled, beating a good heavyweight named J. Power in the town. (5)

This fellow wrestler Power liked Bob, and help him set up a match with a pro named Jack James, who was coming off a hard battle with Henry Ordemann in Minneapolis. Bob knew a lot of important rich men in Beach and they were hot to bet on Friedrick. With strangers in town looking for Friedrich money, Bob told his friends that he didn’t think he could beat James. He was right and his objectivity saves some people money. Bob later felt that Power was setting him and his friends up the whole time.

After the baseball season, Bob got a job working for a friendly jeweler. For four months, he froze running a general store that stood alone on the prairie trail, 25 miles north of Glenn Ellen.

After that, a beautiful Indian girl got Bob a cowboy job on her father’s ranch near Terry, Montana. He always wanted to be a cowboy but the actual experience wasn’t as romantic as expected and this led him to take the trip back home to Nekoosa.


3) This match is the first newspaper reference to the man that would become Strangler Lewis. This was a major find by Don Luce, one of wrestling’s most respected researchers. The clipping (Minneapolis Tribune Feb. 10 and 12, 1910) has Lewis being pinned. Lewis, in THE UNPUBLISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY, claims he lasted out the 30 minutes for the handicap win. I used the clipping’s version, except for the Carl Mattson name which came from Lewis. Sorry if I screwed up a good story, but it is not hard to catch Lewis telling a lie to make himself look good.

4) THE UNPUBLISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY: Lewis claimed that, in his championship years, he owned 385 silk shirts, 35 to 50 suits, six trunks of clothes, a diamond stud pin and many canes for every occasion. Because of his 20-inch neck, even neckties had to be made to order. So not all of his money went to ex-wifes and old timers down on their luck. It should be noted that Lewis had very good taste in clothes and this probably helped covered up his lack of education while helping the public accept him as a sophisticated champion.

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Steve Yohe

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


Back in Wisconsin
The local Elks Club of Grand Rapids WI, knowing Friedrich’s reputation and hearing he was home, offered him a match with Fred Beell of Marshfield. Fred Beel was one of the greatest pound for pound wrestlers in history and the last man to ever beat Frank Gotch. (6)

The match took place in Grand Rapids WI on Jan. 3, 1911. The young Friedrich couldn’t do anything with Beell, who played with him. After seven and a half minutes, Beell choked him out using what was called a reverse headlock. The second fall saw Beell pin Bob in twenty-two minutes. Friedrich was glad when it was over. Beell gave a speech saying that Bob would one day be champion. Bob received $25 plus a neck with no muscular control for two weeks. (7)

Bob then barnstormed the area with matches through out Wisconsin. During this period he beat Walter Miller, Dave Sharkey and his trainer Albert Abel. He positively was involved with the pro wrestling business and his days of only thinking about “shooting” would seem over. To be a “pro” meant knowing how to “work”.

On September 4. 1911, Friedrich traveled to Chicago for a few days to watch the great Frank Gotch defend his title verses the first true world champion, George Hackenschmidt. The match itself was a disappointment but drew over 20,000 fans and $87,000 to Comiskey Park. As with most of Gotch’s matches he blew off his challenger in a stinker of a match, and the fans went home so unhappy that Chicago would remain dead to pro wrestling for a number of years.

Gotch, a discovery of Farmer Burns, had been the dominate wrestler of the early 20th century. In bring the world’s title to America, he became one of the country’s first sport’s star. Only the heavyweight boxing champion was bigger, but by 1911 he was rich enough to be thinking about retirement. Promoters knew their futures were dependent on the creation of a new star and champion. A problem was that every time they develop someone, Frank would come out of retirement to beat him. Gotch was great for Gotch, but he was beginning to kill the business. (8)

Mc Gregor Iowa
On the north/east corner of Iowa was a small city located on the Mississippi River across from Wisconsin. This town, Mc Gregor, was connected via riverboat with Lansing Iowa, 30 miles north of it. Joe Zimmerman, a wrestling manager and hotel owner, offered Bob work and matches in Mc Gregor. After a match in the town, a DeForest Wolfe offered Bob a job cleaning chickens during the day and operating a movie projector in a small movie house at night. While living in Mc Gregor, Bob was making $4 a day and feeling pretty good about himself.

Friedrich started thinking of ways to make even more money. On April 15, 1912, the world was shocked by the sinking of the Ocean Liner Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland and it wasn’t long before people were attempting to make money off the public interest in the disaster. On May 14, 1912 a film called “Saved From The Titanic” premiered 29 days after the event. A Dorothy Gibson, who was one of the lucky rescued after the sinking, wrote and stared in the movie. The movie was filmed in less than a week and was 10 minutes long. This was 1912 and movies were still a new art form.

Friedrich and DeForest Wolfe, after a trip to buy a copy of the movie and a new projector, remodeled an old store in Lansing into a theater (named The Princess Theater). With in two weeks of the idea, they were showing “Saved From The Titanic” to packed crowds. Most movie tickets cost 10 cents in 1912, Bob and Wolfe were charging 25 cents to see the smash hit.

One problem the two hadn’t thought about was the Dunlevey family who controlled and pioneered the movie business in Lansing. The Dunlevey went to the town newspaper and revealed that the Titanic movie, being shown by their rival, was not from the actual sinking, but a reenactment with actors playing parts. In 1912, this blew the minds of the mid-west public, and Bob’s theater was soon out of the business.

In Lewis’s unpublished and unfinished biography written around 1947, Lewis compared his movie experience to pro wrestling. He said that just as people of 1947 have trouble believing the “Saved From The Titanic” story with the 1912 public believing the film was reality…so will the people in 50 years find it hard to believe that wrestling fans once thought that they were watching “bona fide athletic contest”, when they were actually being entertained by a carefully prepared theatrical spectacle.

Friedrich was unable to renew this license to run the theater because of the expose by the Dunleveys, who not only ran the movie business in Lansing but the mayor’s office, the postmaster and the newspaper. Bob lost his temper and in a rage tore up the newspaper office and pushed a lot of people around. Bob was convicted of disturbing the peace and fined $50. It seems the Dunleveys weren’t very popular, because the incident made Bob a local celebrity and his fine was paid by Dunlevey’s opposition and he may have even got his license renewed.

There was another girl in Lansing. A banker’s daughter named Meta. Bob got along with the mother, but the father wasn’t interested in seeing his daughter married to a wrestler.

In Iowa, we have a record of Bob meeting Helmuth Preuss, Ed Prior, Jack Little, Joe Carr and a man named Avery. The spelling of Bob’s name, as early as the Zbyszko match in 1910, is Bob Frederick. So it seems to have been his first ring name.


6) THE UNPUBLISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY: Lewis called the famous Gotch/Beel American Title change (Dec. 1, 1906, New Orleans) a “working exhibition.” Ed how could you? Don’t tell Mark Chapman…please.

7) The times and date came from the WOOD COUNTY TIMES OF NEKOOSA, research by Dan Anderson. But details of the match came from THE UNPUBLISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY. Lewis called the match a “working exhibition”. Once again I find it hard to believe that there hadn’t been contact between Fred Beel and Bob Friedrich before this date. Beel was one of the most famous wrestlers of his time and owned a big farm in the area in Marchfield. Marchfield is 41 mile north-west of Nekoosa.

8) There is a May 11, 1911 report in the WOOD COUNTY TIMES of NEKOOSA, that says Friedrich had wrestled a handicap match with Frank Gotch, in or around Grand Rapids, sometime after the Beel match, with the result of Bob being pinned in fourteen minutes.
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Steve Yohe

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


A New Name and Lexington, Kentucky
Late in 1912, Bill Barton, promoter and manager of Bill Demetral, came through Lansing. He was impressed with Friedrich and invited Bob to come to Kentucky for a series of matches. Friedrich agreed, but when the time arrived, Barton sent his letter with details of Friedrich’s bookings to Lansing Michigan instead of Iowa.

Without Bob knowing it, Barton booked Bob Frederick to meet William Demetral in Louisville on January 10, 1913. As the match approached, Barton realized his new star wasn’t coming, so he looked for a substitute. (9) He found the veteran wrestler Bob Managoff willing, but Bob Frederick had been billed for a week. Managoff was always willing to change his name or nationality for a payday. So Barton used Managoff, under the name Bob Frederick, and it was he who did the job for Demetral.

With in a week, the real Bob Frederick (Friedrich) showed up in Louisville. With another Frederick (Managoff) in town, Barton created a new name for Bob. He became Ed “Strangler” Lewis, a take off of the name of the famous wrestling champion of the 19th century, Evan “Strangler” Lewis. There was no intent of honoring an old champion, they just liked the sound of it.

On Jan. 24, 1913, Ed “Strangler” Lewis had his first match in Louisville or anywhere else, beating none other than Bob Frederick. He would use that name, given to him by Bill Barton, for the rest of his life. (9a)

Kentucky was one of wrestling’s hottest areas in 1913. Based mainly in Louisville and Lexington, it had a good promoter who booked regular cards using major talent from Chicago. Lewis liked Lexington and would homestead the area for over two years. For much of his career he would be billed as being from Kentucky.

Lexington was one of the richest cities of the South. During the Civil War, it had been occupied mainly by the Union and wasn’t destroyed like much of the South. It still had the feel and culture of the pre-war South and it was the center of the horse racing industry. It was occupied by a large sporting crowd, coupled with a very sophisticated and unique social life. Lewis’s personality seemed to take on much of the characteristics of the southern gentleman as he grew as a person and a wrestler in the city.

Lexington was promoted by Jerry M. Walls (or Wallus) and he managed Lewis for the next few years (with a verbal contract). During 1913, Lewis had wrestling programs with William Demetral and Dr Ben F. Roller. Both men were world class wrestlers. Demetral was called the Greek champion and Light Heavyweight world champion. Roller was a main eventer on a national level, a true hooker, with good skills as a performer, but, like a true pro wrestler, willing to exchange wins and losses for a good payday. In his losses, he liked to use the same finish, always getting injured in the deciding fall. Through it all, he still maintained the reputation of being one of the sports best wrestlers. Lewis’s

association with Roller in 1913, gave Lewis the status of a true main eventer and he was seen by most fans as a true contender to the world title.

During the summer of 1913 (July & Aug), Lewis worked in a Wisconsin (some reports say Oregon) lumber mill chopping wood to improve his strength and condition.

On Sept. 18, 1913, Lewis won a version of the American title from Dr. Ben F. Roller when the Doctor injured his ribs and couldn’t continue. Lewis wrestled Demetral on September 29 in a match so violent that it was stopped by police and both wrestlers were charged with disorderly conduct. That resulted in Mayor J. E. Cassidy banning pro wrestling in Lexington but he was over ruled by the local board of commissioners. Lewis lost his claim to the so called American title on October 21, 1913, when he was hurt from a fall into a orchestra pit during the rematch with William Demetral. (9b)

On April 1, 1913, Frank Gotch had his last major title defense defeating the great European champion George Lurich in two straight easy falls. He once again announced his retirement and Gotch said he wasn’t interested in wrestling again unless he was offered a super match with someone who could draw major money. No one at the time realized it, but Gotch’s health was failing.


9) The real Bob Friedrich was beating Cyclone Thompson at Galesburg, Illinois on January 10, 1913.

9a) The origin of the Ed “Strangler” Lewis name came from THE LEWIS UNPUBLISHED BIOGRAPHY , but the story has been backed up in the Louisville Newspaper results and in a Bob Managoff interview that was published in the CHICAGO TRIBUNE of April 9, 1933 :REFEREE DEFENDS ACTION IN AWARDING FALL TO SAVOLDI by George Strickler. The only difference in the stories of Managoff and Lewis, is Managoff claiming he created the name (Ed claimed it was Bill Barton) and that he beat Lewis (newspapers list Lewis as the winner).

Managoff had a long career and is remembered for four things: his part in giving Lewis his name, being in the ring with Frank Gotch on July 18, 1916 when the champion broke his fibula ending any hope of the wrestling world seeing a Gotch/Stecher match, being the referee in the famous Londos/Savoldi double-cross of April 7, 1933 and being the father of a NWA world champion Bobby Managoff in 1942.

9b) CATCH WRESTLING by Mark Hewitt page 117--- Lewis wrestled in bare feet during the September 29, 1913 match. This was something done by wrestlers of the time, mainly Lewis and Londos, when they wanted fans to think a match was a shoot. Without shoes, it makes it harder for a foe to hook the ankle or use ankle locks. MMA fighters of today know this and go bare foot.
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Steve Yohe

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


Chicago in 1913
In November of 1913, Lewis was brought into Chicago to be given a major push by promoters Ed White and Joe Coffey. It was Ed’s audition for a major national push.

On November 3, 1913, Lewis debuted at the Chicago Globe Theater on the first card of the wrestling season. He was matched in the main event with Paul Martinson, a semi-star, but someone willing to “job”. In the semi-final was Charles Cutler, who was the biggest name wrestler working out of Chicago and a off and on claimant of Frank Gotch’s old American title. Lewis was billed as a collage boy from Lexington, who was teaching at the University Of Kentucky and being described as the new Gotch.

Much of a pro wrestler’s persona depends on the finishing hold they use. With Ed “Strangler” Lewis, he promoted himself around his one single hold more than just about any wrestler in history. His first finishing hold in Lexington was the strangle hold, due to his name, but that couldn’t be used long term because it was illegal in most places. He, or the people around him, must have realized this in 1913, and Lewis started using a hold called a “neck yoke”. This hold was a type of reverse nelson bordering on being a strangle hold but legal under wrestling rules. Lewis would take the hold like a front face lock and force his opponent’s chin into his own chest, this cut off much of his air supply. The weaken wrestler was then flipped to the mat as Lewis skillfully applied a leg scissors and arm bar on the way down. The stunned wrestler would then be an easy pin. It seemed to be a move that required some technique, but Ed weighted only 205 pounds and was known then for his quickness and ability to move. In Chicago, the promoters claimed the young “Strangler” was “famous” for the move.

Ed defeated Martinson in impressive style (10) and remained unbeaten through out the month setting up a major match with Charles Cutler on November 26. The promoters were trying their best to promote the Cutler/Lewis match, even having the two wrestlers stage a mock fight in a downtown restaurant on November 17, a move that backfired when the press treated the event as a made up publicity stunt. (10A)

On the 26th, in a match described in the pro-Lewis press as Ed’s first big test, the Strangler was defeated by Cutler. Cutler took the first fall in 1:01:30 with a cross body lock. Ed came back to win the 2nd fall with his “neck yoke” in 11:45. The last fall ended suddenly when Lewis submitted in a Cutler head scissors at 29:00. The attendance in burned out Chicago was around 1,000. (11)

Later Chicago promoters would push Cutler as world champion, but I don’t think it was an attempt to turn him into a major star. I think they viewed him as a “trail horse” and were just using him as a champion to lose to the next true star, and that star wasn’t going to be Strangler Lewis.

The Lewis push continued. Two days after the Cutler match, Ed got a huge write up in the Sunday Chicago Tribune with photos of young Ed using the feared “neck yoke”. He gave his history and talked about his education, with most of the story made up. (12) I call this lying, but nicer people use the term “ballyhoo”.

Lewis next major match in Chicago was against Gus “Americus” Schoenlein on December 29, 1913. Americus was a major national star but huge in Baltimore and had wrestled every major wrestler in the sport. Americus defeated Lewis in straight falls, pinning Ed twice after he was thrown by a “under crotch hold” in 5:10 and 50:00. The second fall saw Ed land on his head with a thud. Lewis was carried to the dressing room, unable to walk. (13)

This pretty much ended the first great Lewis push in Chicago. The Cutler match was a hard struggle but Amercus had showed superior weight (25 pounds) strength and the victory was without any excuses by Lewis. The critics claimed that Lewis was quick and strong but lacked weight at 205 pounds (without any fat to be seen) plus experience verse the top wrestlers. The next wrestler to get pushed in Chicago was Wladek Zbyszko, the younger brother of Stanislaus Zbyszko.


10) CHICAGO TRIBUNE Nov. 4, 1913

10A) From CATCH WRESTLING a fine book by Mark Hewitt we find that Lewis returned to Lexington to defeat a Young Olson, billed as the younger brother of feared shooter Charles Olson, but the publicity photos for the match are of the actual Charles Olsen. It’s very possible that the wrestler was Charles Olsen, who was always using aliases to rip off gamblers. But I don’t buy it, because Charles had wrestled in Lexington earlier in the year.

11) CHICAGO TRIBUNE Nov. 26, 1913

12) CHICAGO TRIBUNE Nov. 30, 1913

13) CHICAGO TRIBUNE Dec. 30, 1913
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Steve Yohe

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


1914 and Billy Sandow
Lewis went home to Lexington, but returned to Chicago for another major match verses Fred Beell on Feb. 2, 1914. Lewis tricked Beell with a “side roll” to win the 1st fall in 9:37, Beell made Lewis submit to a headlock in the 2nd and he pined Lewis in 10:35 after a toe hold in the last fall. So Lewis lost again and he didn’t return to Chicago for the rest of 1914. (14)

Before 1918, most of the power in pro wrestling was in the hands of managers. To be a major star in the sport, you needed a strong manager. Managers didn’t just manage bookings and money, they provided training for their performers and probably booked the actual matches. The manager with the biggest star, who could draw the most money, would control who won or lost. Most of the time that meant his wrestler won, and if another manager didn’t like the situation, he didn’t have to take the big money match. Sometimes the dominate manager would pull a switch, if there was more money to be made losing. Even Gotch did big money losses to Jenkins and Beell. The manager also made bets and made sure his grappler got his cut from gamblers. A good manager might have meant more to a wrestler than great wrestling ability.

By 1900, Farmer Burns was the biggest manager in wrestling and he control most of the major wrestlers and ran barnstorming through out most of American. In 1914, he was in decline and losing control with his champion, Frank Gotch, wanting out of the business. Most felt Gotch had one more big match in him but it would have to be against someone worth his time, who could give him that last big payday.

In Lexington, Lewis was managed by Jerry Walls, a carnie who became involved with wrestling as a promoter and showman. He worked with Lewis for two years without a written contract. Ed didn’t seem to respect him very much After he got Lewis through the door of stardom, but didn’t seem smart enough to get him any further.

On Jan. 28, 1914, Lewis was once again matched up with Dr. Ben Roller in Lexington. Roller won the first fall with a crotch lift and slam for the pin in 41 minutes and Lewis won the second using the “neck yoke” in 21 minutes. The match was filled with a lot of out of the ring fighting and after one such occasion, Roller slammed Lewis to get the pin, but it seemed to be a mistake by referee Wallace Yeager, because Ed shoulders were clearly off the mat. The fans were upset over that and the fact that Police Gazette rules state that the two wrestlers on the ropes needed to return to the center of the ring before grapping restarted. So Roller’s win over Lewis was a cheap one and another match would be needed down the road. (15) This was a pattern most Lewis matches would follow.

During his stay in the South, Roller was being managed by Billy Sandow. Sandow was a fine lighter weight wrestler, who worked as a trainer and ran a gym in Chicago. His true last name was Bauman and he had two brother, Julius and Maxwell, involve in the wrestling game as promoters. In 1914, he was trying to make a name for himself as a manager. Roller loved to talk, so he didn’t need Sandow out front, but it would seem that Sandow was working with Lewis and helping the young wrestler get over via his series of matches with the Doctor. We know Sandow was connected with Lewis in Chicago because in photos of Lewis published in the Chicago Tribune on Nov. 30, 1913, Ed is shown working out with Sandow.

On Feb. 4, 1914, a Lexington storyline created for the newspapers was that Billy Sandow was bringing in a well known “unknown” to meet homeboy Lewis. The “unknown” later was revealed to be Marin Plestina, the last great heavyweight developed by the Farmer Burns camp.

On Feb. 5, Lewis was taking on all comers at the Lexington Ada Meade theater. The deal was a challenger would get $1 for each minute he lasted verses the Strangler. Lewis wrestled Sandow that night and pinned him in 10 minutes. Billy made $10 or so it seemed.. (16)

Lewis and Plestina met on Feb. 10, 1914 at the Lexington Opera House. The match ended up being a two hour draw, so a return match was set up for Feb. 18, with the strangle hold being legal. Referee Heywood Allen, promoter in Louisville, disqualified Lewis in 43 minutes for rough work, including wrestling off the mat and refusing to break. Plestina then pinned Ed after a slam in five minutes. Even in losing two straight falls, Lewis had a way of not losing clean. Sandow was present at both matches. (17)

With Frank Gotch claiming to be retired, the best wrestler in the world was most likely Stanislaus Zbyszko, who was attempting to claim his own world title. Zbyszko met Lewis on March 23, 1914 in front of the largest crowd in Lexington wrestling history. The match was a handicap match in which Zbyszko had to pin Ed twice in an hour. This type of a match was considered an exhibition, with no title or record in danger, but were done constantly in the early days of pro wrestling. I believe they were done mainly for gambling, which generated more money than gates or attendance. It also was a way to build to rematches and advance wrestlers. Most of the major stars of the time had lost such matches, including Frank Gotch losing one to Zbyszko (Nov. 25, 1909 Buffalo) before their famous match in Chicago on June 1, 1910.

The pro-Lewis crowd cheered their boy on, as Lewis broke hold after hold put on him by Zbyszko. In fact, it seemed like Ed was being tied into knots by Stan, and was only breaking them with sheer strength. At the forty-one minute mark, Stan put on a toe hold Ed couldn’t get out of, and Lewis gave up. For the last 19 minutes, Lewis ran around and even off the non-roped mat to avoided contact with Zbyszko and, as the crowd cheered, time ran out. Referee Heywood Allen announced Lewis the winner. (18)

Zbyszko was blind with rage because Lewis played with him by leaving the ring and refusing to wrestle as a honorable wrestler would and may of the fans also hated Lewis’s tactics but referee Allen stated that there was nothing he could do if Lewis followed his order to return to the ring. If Lewis had refused to return, he would have given the match to Zbyszko. Allen then said Zbyszko could have requested a roped off ring, but didn’t…so it was his own fault.

This Zbyszko match, with Lewis refusing to lock up with the champion, wouldn’t the only time he’d use the tactic to frustrate a superior wrestler. In fact, it would become the style he’d become famous for.

Wladek Zbyszko followed his brother Stanislaus to America in 1913. He claimed to have won the European title in a Paris France tournament in 1911, and unlike most European performers was well schooled in catch-as-can style (Catch Style) of wrestling. He was a big man and probably had one of the best bodies in wrestling. Highly skilled as a wrestler, he was also an elegant gentleman with social graces when out of the ring. In the ring, his size, strength, and skill was coupled with a sadistic will to hurt opponents. And he didn’t like to lose.

Lewis claimed he hated Wladek from the first moment he watched the wrestler in a dressing room attempting to sing opera. In later life Lewis would have little good to say about Wladek, but it was his series of matches with Zbyszko, and Joe Stecher, that created his legend and reputation.

In 1914, Wladek was getting the push that Ed wanted. The giant had beaten Tom Jenkins and Roller, with the promoters looking to feud him with the Alex Aberg, the Greco-Roman style world champion in New York City. Lewis had been in Chicago with Wladek, and made a point of challenging him, even going so far as to distributing printed petitions for a match. The night of Lewis’s Chicago loss to Beell, Wladek attempted, before the match, to attack Ed in the ring. Detroit promoters induced Wladek to meet Ed in their city, so the first Zbyszko/Lewis match was booked for April 4, 1914 at the Armory. This was only two weeks after Ed match with Stan Zbyszko and on that night Lewis bet the older brother a suit of clothes that he would win.

Wladek came to the arena with the assurance of Ed’s manager, Jerry Walls, that the match was going to be a “work” and he assumed that he was “going over”. Lewis never seems to co-operate in first matches, and once in the ring, Wladek found he had been fooled. Lewis blocked Zbyszko’s every move and the foreign wrestler couldn’t do anything with him. Wladek then, in frustration, began to foul Lewis by eye gouging, finger twisting and elbowing. Lewis complained to the referee but nothing was done. Lewis then hit Wladek with three hard punches to the face. With a riot about to take place, a flock of police jumped into the ring and the match was stopped after 20 minute. It was ruled a no contest. (19)

A rematch took place on April 23, 1914 in Buffalo NY. Lewis battled Wladek as an equal in the first fall, but after an hour, Zbyszko got rough. After two terrific slams, the second on his head, the Strangler was pined. Lewis was almost knocked out and couldn’t return for the second fall. Wladek Zbyszko was declared the winner. (20)

After losing to Charley Cutler at Lexington on April 27, the record shows Lewis to be inactive until December 1914. I believe Lewis was sick with a stomach problem, Ed claimed his hatred for Wladek caused the condition, and he returned to Lansing, Iowa for rest and training. (21) I believe it was during this period that he took on Billy Sandow as his manager.

Billy Sandow was a wrestler, trainer, and manager with strong family ties in wrestling. His real name was Bauman and he worked closely with his three brothers. Jules was the oldest, who promoted areas in upstate New York. Max operated out of Savannah and played the park of John Pesek’s manager for a time. Another brother, not really involved much in pro wrestling, was named Alexander. Working out of Chicago, Sandow and Lewis had known each other for some time. Sandow had managed Ben Roller, Yussuf Hussein and Marvin Plestina in matches with Ed and the two have been shown training together in Chicago photographs. Sandow, and just about everyone in wrestling, saw the promise in Lewis and the union between wrestler and manager was formed by the end of 1914. This handshake agreement would last for almost 20 years.

Billy Sandow was the “big time” manager that Ed Lewis’s career need. Sandow was ruthless in his promotion of his young wrestler. Sandow had acquired wrestling smarts and contacts from years of being around the business, so knew the value of “ballyhoo” (a wrestling term which is a nice way to say “lies used in self promoting”.) Sandow, hard working and energetic, would do anything or say anything to get Ed Lewis over. Under no condition, would Billy never admit he was wrong, about anything.

He seemed to be honest in his dealing with Lewis and other wrestling insiders. His word seemed to have credibility and he was always willing to make deals. This made him seem to be easy to work with, but he always knew how to get what he wanted.

There were many weasel type managers in wrestling, but when you compare Billy Sandow with the other major dignified managers in the late teens: Earl Caddock’s Gene Melady, Joe Stecher’s Tony Stecher, and Wladek Zbyszko’s Jack Curley,….Sandow comes off as the major heel.

Sandow was also a top level trainer, who claimed to use a system called “Kinetic Stress” to get the best out of Lewis. The Kinetic Stress system of conditioning seemed to be the stressing of muscle groups by the use of pulleys, levers and straps. I don’t know how much of this system applies to the training of pro wrestlers nor how much of the theory was created for public relations and the press, but Lewis did seem to improve under Sandow. Ed’s weight was always credited in his defeats, but, under Sandow, Lewis went from 195 pounds in 1913 to 215 in 1915. After Sandow, Lewis’s size became one of his strong points and he was able to keep his quickness and balance.

Under Sandow, Lewis’s finishing hold was changed from the “neck yoke” to the “head lock”. In the early years of pro wrestling, the brutal element of the sport was played down and sportsmanship played an important role. The main object was to pin your opponent, not make him submit. All the famous finishing holds of the era were used to pin wrestlers, and injuring someone was considered unsporting. Gotch’s toe hold, Stecher’s body scissors and Caddock’s head scissors were pinning moves. Lewis’s headlock was used for the same purpose. Ed would weaken his man with the headlock, which was said to cut flow of blood to the brain, and then hip lock the wrestler to the mat with a violent slam with the giant Lewis handing on top, ready to pin his opponent. Most of the time he would have to use a series of headlock before pinning his man. This was the basic hold he used during his career, but it may have sometime been used as a submission after about 1922 as styles changed. This form of a standing headlock take down would seems to have been a “show” move for worked situations. In a contest, a wrestler would not want to put someone in a position to get behind him while standing. (Today, how many standing headlocks have you seen used in the UFC?) It’s used today, in every pro wrestling match, as a take down, and no one thinks much about it. Its days as a spectacular finisher are now long gone.

Sandow created a gimmick training aid, called a headlock machine. Built by one of the lesser known Bauman brothers, Alexander, it was a wooden head, cut in half, with a railroad spring attached in the middle. The story is that by forcing the two half’s together Lewis developed the strength need to apply the headlock. It was mainly a P.R. tool, used to get copy in the press. (22) Sandow later developed a similar machine to publicize Everett Marshall’s full nelson hold.


14) CHICAGO TRIBUNE Feb. 10, 1914

15) LEXINGTON HERALD Jan. 29, 1914

16) LEXINGTON HERALD Feb. 5, 1914 and Feb. 6, 1914

17) CHICAGO TRIBUNE Feb. 11, 1914 and Feb. 29, 1914

18) LEXINGTON HERALD March 24, 1914

19) THE DETROIT FREE PRESS April 6 to April 8, 1914. Most of the story line about the match being a shoot and Ed’s bet with Stan came from THE LEWIS UNPUBLISHED BIOGRAPHY. I would believe the idea of it being a shoot if Lewis hadn’t used the same storyline in a May 11, 1914 match in Louisville with Charley Cutler.

20) BUFFALO COURIER April 24, 1914

21) THE ED LEWIS RING RECORD put together by J Michael Kenyon, Don Luce, Mark Hewett, Steve Yohe, Dan Anderson, Fred Hornby, Richard Haynes, Libnan Ayoub, Vance Nevada, and a number of other wrestling historians. The section on Lewis’s stomach illness comes from THE UNPUBLISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY. Lewis claimed his hatred of Wladek caused the illness and it wasn’t until he cleansed himself of the poisons generated by the emotion that he returned to normal. He promised to not get catch up in such emotions again, and, from that, he gained in strength and confidence. (It should be remembered that the Bio was written during Lewis’s Christian period.) The training site used by Lewis, working with a Greek wrestler named Gus Kavaris, was on Mount Osmur on the banks of the Mississippi near Lansing, Iowa.

22) The headlock machine was well known and written about during Lewis’s career but you can read about it in THE DAN HODGE STORY by Mike Chapman, page 109. Two of the machines exist today, one owned by Danny Hodge and the other is in the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum at Waterloo, Iowa. The idea of Alexander being the builder of the machine came from comments to Tim Hornbaker by members of the Sandow family and can be found in NATIONAL WRESTLING ALLIANCE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE MONOPOLY THAT STRANGLED PRO WRESTLING by Tim Hornbaker (page 65).
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Steve Yohe

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


The New Champion Finds A Contender
In April of 1912, Dodge City Nebraska’s Joe Stecher began his wrestling career with a win over friend Earl Caddock. By 1914, he was the talk of the wrestling world and the man insiders felt would replace Frank Gotch as the next wrestling superstar. Stecher was a farm boy and a wrestling machine, who was beating Nebraska’s best wrestlers in shoots, in straight falls and in short time. He took pleasure in beating the best students of Farmer Burns, so Burns sent his best, Marin Plestina, to Lincoln Nebraska to take care of him. On March 25, 1914, Stecher wrestled rings around Plestina winning in two straight quick falls. Plestina ended up not even being a good test for Stecher. (23) Burns then sent Ad Santel, under the name Otto Carpenter, to Fremount, Nebraska on Jan. 5, 1915 to show up the young Stecher. Santel also was destroyed in two straight falls. Stecher in 1915, seemed like the safest bet in wrestling and the Nebraska farmers saw no way they could lose money by putting it on Joe to win.

On Feb. 20, 1915, Charles Cutler and his manager William Rochells went into the downtown offices of the Chicago Tribune and claim the world title. They justified this by saying Frank Gotch was retired and Cutler was undefeated in two years as the American title holder. Cutler posted a bond with the tribune reporter and challenged all contenders to meet him. (24) A short time later, a major match was signed for him to meet Joe Stecher in Omaha on July 5, 1915.

On May 10, 1915, Charley Cutler defended his claim verses Ed “Strangler” Lewis in Lexington. After an hour and fifteen minute, with neither wrestler gaining a fall, Lewis complained that Cutler was using a strangle hold. He then blew his cool over the injustice and knocked Cutler down with two punches. The match was then awarded to Cutler on a foul. The newspaper reported that the two continued the fight in the dressing room, but was stopped by officials. (25) So it looked like Lewis had another blood feud like the one with Wladek Zbyszko, but the next report we have is Ed going to Chicago to help train champ Cutler for the Joe Stecher match. (26)

On July 5, 1915, Lewis was ringside in Omaha to watch Joe Stecher take Charles Cutler’s world title claim. The new champion won his two straight falls in 18:04 and 10:00 using his leg scissor. In the betting, the farmers of Nebraska won thousands from the Chicago fans who came by trainloads to see the match. Lewis and Earl Caddock trained Cutler and Ed in his unpublished Bio claimed the two of them lost $2,800 betting on Charley. It’s a hard story to believe sense the two of them must have known it was a “work”. (26) The crowd was listed as 15,000, which, at the time, was one of the biggest non-Gotch attendance marks in wrestling history. (27) After the defeat, Cutler went to Stecher to say “Joe, you are a champion if there ever was a champion born.”

Ringside watching the match, sat the old champion, Frank Gotch. That night Stecher would receive his first public offer for a showdown with Gotch. Chicago promoter offered the Stechers $25,000 for the match. No deal was made.

Lewis’s old friend Bill Barton was promoting wrestling in Evansville, Indiana and was able to book a championship match, to a finish, for Ed verses the new champion on October 21, 1915. Stecher had been busy defending his title and to Joe, who had never seen Lewis perform, Ed was just another contender standing in line. Lewis, however, hadn’t had a match sense May and had been in training, first with Cutler and then in his own camp with Sandow. He had watched the match in Omaha and knew Stecher’s every move.

Although he knew all the fundamental holds, Ed Lewis was not a great technical wrestler, moving in and out of holds, like Caddock, Pesek, Gotch or even Londos. His strong point as a wrestler was strength, size, balance, coordination, intelligence, and stamina. The stamina didn’t seems to come from training so much as from an ability to relax in the ring. He was a defense wrestler, who took pride in not letting his opposition get behind him in a position of control. Whenever he was faced with a shoot situation, he would revert to this defense style, which never seemed to beat anyone, but did frustrate opponents and fans. It didn’t bother Ed to have long boring matches, just so long as he didn’t get pinned.

The first Stecher/Lewis match took place in Evansville on October 20, 1915. At the pre-match press conference, Stecher was the farm boy, timid around the press, but still showing the pose of a champion. This contrasted with the well dressed and street wise Lewis, who was always willing to talk with the press or anyone else. Lewis looked heavier and stronger but once in the ring this illusion evaporated.

For two hours, Lewis ran and refused to lock up with Stecher. Having scouted Stecher, he claimed Joe only had three or four take downs and every time he saw Stecher’s “tell” he just moved away. Lewis was able to block Stecher’s every move, but he did nothing on offense. Stecher had no fear of Lewis and four time he dove in for a take down and Ed was able to get behind him on the mat. Each time, Lewis gave up his position and got back up on his feet. He was afraid that on the ground Stecher would reverse him and apply the scissors. Tony Stecher, Joe’s trainer, complain to the referee that it was the contenders job to attempt to defeat a champion and that Lewis should wrestle, but Lewis would not change his strategy. The boring match upset the spectators and boo’s filled the hall.

At the two hour mark, the upset Stecher rushed Lewis and Ed had no where to go but over the ropes to the floor. In the fall, Ed hit his head on a chair. He laid on the floor and Billy Sandow told the referee, that he was injured and couldn’t continue. The ringside physician, Dr Phil Warter, ruled he was not injured and could still wrestle. Lewis refused. The referee, Bert Sisson, then gave the first fall to Stecher and announced that he would give the champion the match if Lewis refused to return after a 15 minutes rest period.

In the dressing room, between falls, two other Doctors examined Lewis and said there was no reason he couldn’t wrestle. When he didn’t return to the ring, Stecher was awarded the second fall and the match. Reports printed the next day said that everyone present felt that there “was no doubt of the outcome. Sooner or later, Stecher would have gotten his deadly hold on him.”

Back in the arena, hell broke out. The mayor of Evansville, who’s last name was Bosse, got in to the ring and gave a speech. He complained that “the match was not on the square.” He had the Chief of Police hold up the receipts and promised to give most of it to charity. The police claimed they had received telegraphs and phone messages before the match saying “Stop fake wrestling match tonight.”

Lewis was taken to the hospital and the next morning, a report was issued saying he had a minor groin injury. Mayor Bosse allowed promoter William F. Barton expense money but Lewis and Stecher were never paid (they were going to split up $400). I don’t think they cared, they both probably made far more from the gamblers. With Stecher being unbeatable, the major betting was on how long his opponents would last. It was very convenient for Lewis, to take his dive out of the ring, right after the two hour mark of the match. (28)

You would think this embarrassing match would have killed The Strangler’s career, but once back in the big cities of Chicago and New York, Sandow and Lewis told reporters stories of a great match in which Lewis out maneuvered and out thought the great Stecher for two hours. In time, the two even changed the result, with most believing the match was a draw or no contest. Sandow believed that if you told a lie and it got printed enough, it became truth. Sandow may have been right, because by the time Lewis got to New York City in November 1915, he was considered a major star and a top challenger to Stecher’s title.

Sandow was ruthless in his promotion of Ed “Strangler” Lewis and he did a brilliant job in creating the myth that lives today. Billy Sandow’s style was quite similar to the job Boxing manager Jack Kearns did for young Jack Dempsey. I think the difference between the two is that Sandow remain friends with Lewis and seemed honest with money, or at least up to the standards of pro wrestling. Telling lies was just part of Sandow’s job and he did it well. Kearns alienated everyone, including Dempsey.



24) CHICAGO TRIBUNE Feb. 21, 1915—Doesn’t seem that promoters had big plans for Charles Cutler. I think they just needed a champion type wrestler for Stecher to beat. The big money would come later, a Gotch/Stecher super match. I think Cutler was a smart guy who was better suited as a front offices worker. In 1912, Cutler had managed future world heavyweight boxing champion Jess Willard and in 1911 he had played a major part in the promotion of George Hackenschmidt before the super match with Frank Gotch in Chicago. All of this leads me to believe Cutler was very close to Jack Curley and he seems to have been Curley’s booker in New York City. Cutler in ring wrestling career seemed to have peaked with putting Stecher over and didn’t last long.



27) OMAHA WORLD-HERALD July 6, 1915

28) EVANSVILLE PRESS Oct 20 to Oct 22 1915—The story goes on saying that pro wrestling was banned in Evansville, at least for a short time. Evansville was later know as a stop off for Tom Pack’s troop of wrestlers between Indianapolis and St Louis, but it was never considered one of the major wrestling cities. It would seem that they booked the first Lewis/Stecher match in a minor city to set up the rivalry between the two, but I don’t think they never planned on a clean finish. The new champion Stecher seemed to be over the shoot period in his career and probably expected a worked match from Lewis. It’s impossible to say anything for sure, but it’s not beyond imagination that Lewis was uncooperative and refused to job clean. He and Sandow seemed to have formed a pattern of not cooperating in first matches with bigger stars. The loss wasn’t important, he just wasn’t going to lose his “heat”. The finish seemed to have been the worked plan (by Lewis or maybe everyone), coming after all the gambling money on “Lewis over two hours” was assured. Because of the gambling and officials present, these worked matches had to look like true contests, so perhaps the body of these match were the two shooting, but the finish would have to be agreed upon. This match being a terrible mess had to be considered Lewis’s, and his boring style’s, fault. If all of this talk is BS and the whole match was a shoot, then Lewis ran from Stecher and was afraid of Joe’s skill and scissors. That, to me, makes him look worst that working a bad match. Of course, Lewis learned nothing from this match and his lies covered up any embarrassment.
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Steve Yohe

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


1916 And The New York Tournament
By 1915 the history of American Greco (or Graeco)-Roman pro wrestling (GR) (29) was on its last page. It had been popular at the end on the 19th century due to great GR champions like William Muldoon, but most Americans preferred the Catch-as-Catch-Can style and GR was rarely used or talked about after Frank Gotch destroyed George Hackenschmidt in 1908 and 1911. GR wrestling is a sport of strength and endurance in which huge powerful giants (sometimes more fat than big) lock up in a wrestling contests in which no holds are allowed below the waist. It’s much different than the Catch style, so most of the champion GR performers from Europe were used to job to American stars. It’s a limited form of wrestling, that would have contestants locked in strength holds for long periods of time, and didn’t have the moment or variety of holds of the Catch style.

But in 1915, a New York City Opera promoter named Samuel Rachmann, took advantage of a migration of European wrestler, trying to escape from the wars on the continent, and the large emigrant population of New York City, to promote two major GR tournaments in the city during 1915. (30)

The first, and lesser known, took place in May and June. The final match took place on June 25, 1915 between the GR champion Alexander Aberg and Wladek Zbyszko. The title match was ruled a draw after three hours and forty minutes of brutal wrestling. Aberg seemed to get the better of the contest, as Wladek fell into a “semi-conscious” state for three days following the match. A rematch for the GR title took place on October 25, 1915 in Madison Square Garden with Aberg defeating Wladek in one hour and four minutes. These matches with Aberg, were losses, but they were putting Wladek over in the city making Lewis’s old friend a big star.

From Nov. 8, 1915 to Jan. 29, 1916, Rachmann ran his second and most famous GR International tournament at the Manhattan Opera House. (31) It is famous today for the creation of the first masked man and for Strangler Lewis’s domination, but the original goal was to put over Alex Aberg and then Wladek Zbyszko. Because of the beginning of wars in Europe that would lead to WWII, Rachmann was able to put some of the major wrestlers in the world on salary for as low as $50 a week. Some of the stars used were Ben Roller, Charles Cutler, George Lurich, Dimitrius Tofalos, Yusif Hussane, Renado Gardini, Ivan Linow and of course, The Masked Marvel. Lou Daro (The Great Daro) and Frank Levett (later Man Mountain Dean) also made short appearances. Alex Aberg was the GR champion and considered unbeatable. He was never beaten in the tournament but he was booked as a GR idealist who refused to perform in the Catch style. (32)

They wrestled 6 nights a week with two matinees on weekends. Most matches were 20 minutes but if a challenge was made, wrestlers could and did wrestle what was called finish matches but, regardless of their name, they had to end by the city’s one o’clock curfew. The early matches were all GR, but once the promotion started to tank, they allowed the catch style to be used. This tournament pretty much ended the use of GR in American pro wrestling.

The tournament began on Nov. 8, but Lewis didn’t show up until Nov. 22. Sense it was an International Tournament, Lewis was billed as being from Germany. Ed was as International as the House of Pancakes but many Americans were being billed as foreigners, so the German speaking Lewis fit the billing. He was pushed from the beginning and won five straight matches before wrestling a 20 minute draw with Wladek Zbyszko on Nov. 30. A large number of these matches, because of the short timelimit, ended up as draws, and Lewis then entered a long period of them. His over all record during his stay in the tournament was 21 wins, one loss and 15 draws. At one point he wrestled six draws in a row. During the tournament he had four draws with Wladek (who had at least 13 draws in the tournament). (33) This type of booking was normal in GR tournaments in Europe.

Lewis went to a 20 minute draw with Aberg on Dec. 4, which led to another Aberg draw on Dec. 9 which lasted 1:04:00 before being stopped by the curfew. It was said to be an action filled match and Ed did well wrestling in the GR style against the champion. The match barely got any mention in the press because that night marked the debut of The Masked Marvel. (34)

The idea for a masked wrestlers seems to have originated with a opera promoter named Mark A. Luescher. Using the hero of a novel “THAT FRENCHMAN” by Archibald Clavering Gunter, he dressed an opera diva named La Belle Dazle up in a red mask and toured the country to sell out crowds. Luascher suggested a masked mystery gimmick to Ben Atwood, press agent for the opera house wrestling shows. Atwood went to Jack Curley, who was managing Yusif Hussane in the tournament but not promoting, and Charlie Cutler, and two came up with a wrestler to play the part with a mask for him to hide his identity. (35) Up until his debut into Rachmann’s tournament, the fans were losing interest in the show, but with the masked man headlining they started seeing box office drawers fill with money. The masked man was really Mort Henderson, a Rochester performer, who had been picked by Cutler and Curley while wrestling in Pennsylvania. Once outfitted with a proper mask, the unknown became a major wrestler over night. His only true major victory was a win over George Lurich but he wrestled many long draws with the best like: Wladek Zbyszko (Dec. 17 2:13:00 and Dec. 30 1:56:00 and Jan. 5 1:58:00), Aberg (Dec. 17 2:21:00), and Lurich (Jan. 12 1:27:00). The Masked Marvel got good reviews in the press as a performer and everyone seemed willing to make him look good. He was not the first masked wrestler, but he was the first to be promoted to the top level for any length of time. Did the gimmick expose the business? Yes, but no one seemed to care with good money being made off him.

The mystery didn’t last long. On Dec. 16, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle printed that The Masked Marvel was Mort Henderson. I believe the reporter got the information from Mort’s manager, Ed Pollard, who then denied the charge. The angle continued like nothing happened.

Lewis became the first man to defeat The Masked Marvel on December 20, when the Strangler tricked the Marvel using a headlock followed by a wristlock and pin in 11:50. The ending happened so fast that it took the crowd a minute to realize the Marvel had been pinned. After the crowd regained its breath, it gave Lewis an ovation that he never forgot. The paper claimed he cried in the ring. The match had been an even affair, so a finish match was held on December 22, which ended up in a draw in 1:59:00. A third match between the two took place on January 3, and it also was a draw but lasted two hours and thirdly one minutes. (36)

Lewis had his big GR showdown with Alex Aberg on Dec. 29, 1916. Lewis started fast but after 20 minutes he found Aberg gaining in strength. Aberg put Lewis into a double nelson and after Ed broke the hold, he seemed groggy. After 50 minutes Lewis was slammed by Aberg and pinned by an inside arm lock. Lewis had to be helped out of the ring and later claimed Aberg wasn’t human and “the strongest wrestler before the public in 1915”. (37)

On January 15, 1916, Ed Lewis defeated Dr Ben Roller under catch rules. The next day manager Billy Sandow was interviewed in the newspaper saying that Ed Lewis was the catch style world champion due to the victory. He also claimed the first Stecher match was a draw and only stopped after The Strangler had held Stecher in a bridge for twenty-three minutes and Joe broke his finger to break free. This appeared around the same time that Jack Curley announced that the true world champion Joe Stecher would defend his title verses Wladek Zbyszko on January 27 in Madison Square Garden.

On January 17, Lewis scored one of his biggest wins at the Opera house in pinning Wladek Zbyszko in 1:21:07 under catch rules. The win and his continuing title claim, put Sandow back on the sports page claiming Lewis should replace Wladek against Stecher. Sandow and Lewis would claim, through the following years, that they won the catch section of the tournament. No one knows for sure, but in no place is there a mention of a “catch-as-catch-can” tournament in any newspaper. Ed Lewis could say he was the star during his two months stay at the Opera House and the strongest catch wrestler, but there is no straight out mention of a catch tournament. There was only a GR tournament champion and that was Alex Aberg. (38)

Lewis and Sandow then left the tournament before it completed. Rachmann wanted to take Lewis on a American tour meeting Aberg, but Sandow wanted more that the $200 a week he was getting in New York City. Lewis then started working on the East Coast, probably for Jack Curley, with an agreement to wrestle Stecher again in Omaha around July 4.

On Jan. 24, 1916, Alex Aberg defeated Wladek Zbyszko to win the GR tournament title. As was the habit of most major cards in pro wrestling’s early period, the match was terrible and an insult to the fans who paid to be present. At 25:52 Zbyszko was thrown from the ring crashing him into the back of the stage. Wladek struck the floor and then rolled over on a table, laying still. When he was attended to, he claimed an injury, saying he couldn’t continue. The fans yelled “quitter” and “fake”. They shouted down any announcement and it looked like a riot was about to take place. A Doctor came into the ring and said that Wladek could continue, but Zbyszko refused. Zbyszko then announced, that he was injured, but would continue if the spectators desired him to do so. The crowd, being unsympathetic to Wladek’s plight, made it plain they wanted him to wrestle, so Wladek walked off the stage and did not return. 50 minutes later referee George Bothner declared Aberg the winner.

Jack Curley had been a force in boxing for most of the 1900’s, but he also had experience as a wrestling promoter in Chicago and the North West; and had managed Hackenschmidt, Roller and Yussif Hussane. Curley was the boxing promoter who found America’s white hope, having staged famous Jack Johnson/Jess Willard fight in Havana Cuba on April 5, 1915. Jack Curley, was about as big and powerful a promoter as you could find in the world, but his position in boxing was challenged by a new man named Tex Rickard. Curley, not willing to offer the big guarantees, nor take the chances of Rickard, left boxing to concentrate on controlling the world of pro wrestling. (38)

In January of 1915, he booked the champion Joe Stecher into Madison Square Garden at the same time Rachmann was still running his Opera House tournament. At first, Curley had Stecher set up to defend verses Wladek Zbyszko, but three day before card Wladek made a fool of himself in the Jan. 25 match with Aberg and became unusable. So Curley contacted The Masked Marvel and Strangler Lewis to take Zbyszko’s place in the title match. Rachmann, didn’t see anything in the idea for him, so he took Curley to court claiming both wrestlers were under contracts. Turned out that Henderson was being paid $100 a week and Lewis was getting $200, “to engaged to take part in the wrestling performances, just as actors are engaged to perform” in stage plays. (39) Curley was friends with Rachmann and the two came to terms by the next day, so Jack made the announcement that Stecher would be meeting The Masked Marvel that night.

The statements in court blew the cover of Rachmann’s tournament and confirmed The Masked Marvel’s identity as Mort Henderson. Most of the air left in the Opera House Tournament then fled for a cleaner environment. (40)

On the day of the match, Sandow was in the newspapers again complaining that Stecher shouldn’t be billed as Catch world champion because that title belonged to Lewis. But the new champion Stecher seemed to be getting most of the fan’s attention and very few thought much of Sandow’s comments.

On January 27, 1916, Stecher’s first showing in New York City was a great success. Joe beat The Marvel in straight falls, 9:50 and 5:51, with his scissors hold. In outclassing one of the major stars of the Opera tournament, the paper claimed he “gave competitive sports a tremendous boost by his sportsmanlike actions” and that “Not since Frank Gotch showed here has there been such a wrestler” in the city. Stecher was a hit in front of one of the largest crowds in New York City in years. High society had turned out and approved of the sport. So Jack Curley had found a home in New York City and he remained the dominate wrestling promoter in town until 1937. (41)

The last card of Sam Rachmann’s tournament took place on January 29, 1916. Alex Aberg received a $5,000 purse for winning first place in the GR tournament. No prize for catch wrestling was mentioned. The main event had The Masked Marvel losing to Sulo Hevonpaa. There were challenges printed about Aberg wanting a match with Joe Stecher, but the match never seemed to have taken place. Hachmann had plans on a GR tournament to tour the country but it also never happened. For the most part, Greco-Roman wrestling in America just seemed to die. (42)

In late 1915, reports were that Gotch was coming out of retirement for the Stecher match. In Jan. 1916 Frank traveled to Los Angeles on a family vacation but the real reason was to train. He later signed a contract to wrestle Ad Santel in San Francisco on February 22, but drops out due to a lack of conditioning. This lead to him being sued by the promoter.

On Feb. 24, Gene Melady, one of, if not the most, powerful wrestling promoter in American, said he had an options on both Stecher and Gotch for a match at the Omaha Fair Grounds on Labor Day. He planed to erect an arena big enough to draw a $150,000 gate. It all would depended on Gotch’s feelings after training a few weeks. Other reports of the match, taking place in Chicago and Sioux City, follow.

In March, Gotch had two matches. In one he beat William Demetral at the Los Angeles Athletic Club (March 10, 1916) and in the other he won a handicap match over Herman Strech, Jack White and Sam Clapham in San Diego (March 12, 1916). On both nights he looked terrible.

On April 4, Gotch returned to his home, Hunboldt, Iowa, and announces he had signed to appear with the Sells-Floto Circus, starting on April 15. Said he would be paid $1,100 a week or $1,350 if he signs to meet Stecher. By May 1, Gotch had stomach problems and couldn’t eat. Weighting only 185 pounds, he canceled his contract with the circus. Saying the condition started in California, he went back home to Humbolt but returned to the circus on May 24, noting that he needed the money. On June 14, Harry Tammen, owner of the Sells-Floto Circus, claimed Gotch has signed to meet Stecher in Chicago. On July 18, 1916, Frank Gotch broke the fibula bone in his left leg wrestling an exhibition match with Bob Managoff. Everyone involved then realized that a Stecher/Gotch super match would never happen.

Stecher had spent much of 1916 wrestling minor opponents and spinning his wheels waiting on Gotch. At this point he realized he needed a new rival to make big money off of. All signs pointed to Strangler Lewis to be the first to play the part.

Lewis and Sandow had continued to claim the world title, even after Alex Aberg got a temporary injunction from a judge telling them to stop. Aberg sited his win over Lewis as proof.


29) The Graeco-Roman or Greco-Roman style of wrestling, wasn’t Greek or Roman, but develop in France, but the rest of Europe resented the French so they created a name that gave credit to the Romans. For this paper, I’m going to refer to Greco-Roman as “GR” and Catch-as-Catch-Can as “Catch wrestling” because I hate typing those names out.

30) The tournament style of booking was used mostly in European wrestling. I understand most kinds of sports tournaments, but these tournaments of Germany, France, Russia, Spain, etc have no form to me. I do not understand them and no one I’ve talk to does either. As far as I know, the only major European wrestling historian known in America was Gerhaed Schaefer, and he died. This created a vacuum that hasn’t been filled. These tournaments just seemed like a group of wrestlers converging on a city, and after a month or two months a champion was named. Looking at the results we have, I see no form. So the two 1915 New York City tournaments, took this “lack of form” and I can’t explain them, so don’t ask. One thing you do see is 20 minute draws, followed by a challenge and a finish match (no time limit) to follow the next night or later in the week. Of course, it being New York City, the finish had to end by the curfew time of one AM or it would be ruled a draw also.

31) The Manhattan Opera House exists today and was home to the early WWF RAW TV shows and at least one ECW PPV. Nice building but kind of small. Used for independent wrestling cards in the city.

32) I’m not sure about Alex Aberg’s claim to the GR world title. We know he was defeated by Stanisiaus Zbyszko in Boston on Feb. 26, 1914. He lost clean in a 2/3 fall match, said to be for the GR world title. Stan, with Gotch retired and Stecher just starting up, was rated by most as the best wrestler in the world, but in 1915 he was out of the country being held under house arrest during wars in Russia.

33) We have a record of about 80% of the tournament but as the days rolled on, the newspapers, probably due to boredom, stopped some of their reports or left out matches. I think there was at least one Lewis victory over Wladek not found. So the results noted are weak, but all we got.

34) BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE December 10, 1915 and NEW YORK TIMES December 10, 1915

35) BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE December 27, 1915-- All the information on the creation of the mask gimmick came from this article.

36) NEW YORK TIMES and BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE December 21, 1915—The part about Lewis crying came from the Eagle.

37) BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE December 30, 1915—Lewis expressed a different opinion in his THE UNPUBLISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY written in the late 1940’s. Ed claimed Aberg was temperamental and jealous of his standing, always demanding top billing. Said that Aberg with his bald head, paunchy stance, and surly look, didn’t endear himself to American fans. Lewis of course, claimed Aberg didn’t beat him, but was strong and tough but very over-rated. He didn’t understand why they made him the champion of Europe or the world.

38) THE JACK CURLEY BIO by Steve Yohe—Its weak point is having me as the author, but it may be the only place you’ll find info on Jack Curley.

39) NEW YORK TIMES January 26, 1916—I believe Rachmann’s contract expired with the January 25 match and that would explain why Wladek was able to meet Stecher in the first place without a Rachmann complaint (Jan. 27) and Wladek’s lack of “push” in the last part of the tournament. Wladek seems to have fired his manager at this time and signed with Jack Curley.

40) BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE January 26, 1916

41) BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE January 28, 1916 had the “boost” quote and the NEW YORK TIMES January 28, 1916 had the “Gotch” quote.

42) Alex Aberg’s huge New York push goes up in smoke and I know of no more major Aberg matches in America. He returns to Europe and has matches with Stan Zbyszko in 1915 and 1918. The most famous one, in front of the Russian Police, he loses. Aberg died on February 15, 1920, after fighting typhoid and pneumonia, at Armavir in South Russia. He is buried in the same grave as his brother-in-law George Lurich at the Armavir German cemetery.
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Steve Yohe

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


Four Hours and Fifty One Minutes of Boredom
In June, a Stecher/Lewis July 4, 1916 rematch was signed for Omaha. The match was contracted “to a finish” and set up in an outdoor stadium to meet the demands of fans from all over the mid-west. Starting at 4:00 in the afternoon, it drew 18,000 fan and lasted 4 hours, 51 minutes and thirdly three seconds of total boredom.

Once again Lewis stayed on the defense for the entire match. Stecher couldn’t take him down or even get a hold on him. Basically, nothing happened for five hours. Stecher was more wary in this match, always the aggressor, but he never took any chances that would allow Lewis to get behind him or hook him. Several times Joe got in the down position in the middle of the ring, and let Lewis get on top, but on the call for action by the referee Ed Smith, Lewis just stood back up in the defense position. At 8:00, darkness set in, and the promoter, Gene Melady, proposed that the match be stopped and resumed in the morning. This would have allowed them to wrestle all day. Stecher agreed but Sandow and Lewis said the contract read that it was “to a finish” and not to be stopped. As darkness fell, automobiles with their headlights on were brought in to surround the ring and light the area. So it continued with Lewis doing nothing but backing away. The fans, for the last half hour, threw seat cushions in an attempt to hit the wrestlers and jar them into action. When a finish was called at 4:51:33, the police, jumping into the ring, were hit by six of the cushions. Promoter Melady, who was more of a sportsman that a wrestling promoter, wanted to continue the match the next day, but, by the next day, no one else cared. A committee of sports writers decided the match was over and it was ruled a draw. (43)

The result was a scandal that came close to killing pro wrestling in Omaha. The purse of both Lewis and Stecher, $5,022, was held up until July 7, when Sandow’s started to file a suit over the money. Both were blamed for the terrible match but the hate fell on Lewis because Joe was the homeboy and the aggressor. In Omaha and most of the mid-west, Lewis was never forgiven and he was always forced to play heel. A role he seemed born to play.

It wasn’t just a bad match, the people of Nebraska lost thousands of dollars betting on Stecher. Before and after the match, no one felt Lewis had a chance of beating or pinning Stecher, so the real bet was on the length of the match. Joe won all his matches in short time and straight falls, so the farmer types thought it was a safe bet to put their money on “Stecher under 60 minute” or even under 30 minutes. As the match continued, they kept raising their bets with each half hour. A small fortune was made by the Lewis beaters and big city gamblers all over the country. Lewis was willing to stall and ruin the contest because the money was in the gambling, not winning a match or a title. Stecher, himself, was probably in on it and made money. The word “mark” was a gambling term long before it was used by the wrestling world….so figure that out. (44)

In the days following the event, Stecher attempted to pacify the fans by making a promise that he would not wrestle Lewis again unless the match was in Omaha. He seemed to intend to keep his word, because the next year he refused a Lewis match in San Francisco using this promise as a reason.

Once Lewis was out of reach of anyone who had actually seen the match, Sandow told stories of a brutal five hour match that had Stecher so worn out that he couldn’t have lasted another ten minutes. Billy claimed that Stecher spent the night, after the match, in a hospital with a pulse of 134, while Lewis went out dancing. He said that the car lights were used after darkness, because the match was getting better as it went on and the fans didn’t want to miss any of the action. He also claimed the cries of FAKE were because the Nebraskan fans couldn’t believe someone could last with their champion. So a scandalous and embarrassing movement was turned into a Lewis triumph just by the used of lies. (45)

From 1915 to 1921, four wrestlers dominated pro wrestling. Three of them, Lewis, Stecher and Wladek Zbyszko, we have already been introduced to. The fourth was Earl Caddock. From 1909 to 1914, working out of Anita Iowa, Caddock was the best amateur middleweight and light-heavy weight wrestler in the country. After winning both the AAU light heavyweight and AAU heavyweight titles in San Francisco on April 17, 1915, Caddock turned Pro in May 1915. Like Stecher, he ran off a line of victories over some of the best wrestlers in the sport, beating Jesse Westergaard, Charles Challander, Clarence Eklund, Bob Managoff, Mort Henderson, and John Freberg. On Dec. 1, 1915, Caddock out classed Marin Plestina in two straight fall at Atlantic, Iowa. Gene Malady was present at the match and signed Caddock to a contract. As one of the most influential sportsmen in America, he would manager Caddock to the top of the profession. Caddock was probably the best true wrestler, pound for pound, of his time and maybe of all time. Called “The Man of a Thousand Holds” he never weighted more than 190 pounds but had wins over the giants. He also was a great worker, who never had a bad match.

In May and June of 1916, Caddock was training with the Sells-Floto Circus working with the Farmer Burns group, but left on June 7. It was on July 18 that Gotch broke his left leg ending any thought of a super match with Stecher. With out the ex-champ, the Stechers looked to Caddock to be the next major contender on his schedule. (46)

In late 1916, Lewis was working out of Savannah, Georgia, a town promoted by Billy Sandow’s brother, Max Baumann. Late in the year Sandow signed Ed for two matches in San Francisco, California. On the way Lewis wrestled and defeated the Irish wrestler Pat Connelly at Billings Montana on Nov. 30. Lewis injured his ankle in the match and he was in a great deal of pain on the train ride to San Francisco. He was treated by a female Doctor named Ada Scott Morton, who’s office was in San Jose. She treated Ed on the train and at her hospital in San Francisco. Ed’s ankle improved, as did his love life, when a romance followed. (47) At the time, the lady Doctor was married to a Dr. Andrew W. Morton of San Jose. They divorced around February 1917.

On December 11, 1916, Stecher ran into some trouble of his own that ended his period of invincibility. At Springfield, he was matched with an Olympic silver medal winner in John Olin. Olin was Finn who seemed lost in America. On taking the match, he was only interested in his purse and seemed pleased to be picked to do a job with the great Joe Stecher. It didn’t seem like an important match and Tony Stecher, the champion’s manager, didn’t attend the match. (47a) Olin’s manager for that one night was another wrestler, Hjalmar Lundin. Olin agreed to put on a show with the champion, but wanted some respect. Lundin went to talk about the match in Stecher’s dressing room but couldn’t find Tony. He decided to play with Olin’s head, who didn’t understand much English, so on return told him that Stecher planed to beat him in one minute. This upset the Finn, so the match turned into a shoot. Two hours into the match, Olin wanted to quit, but Lundin told him that there were armed Finn gamblers in the crowd, who had bet $1,000 on him, and they were going to shoot him if he quit. At four hours and 40 minute, the two wrestlers were “rough housing” outside the ring, and Stecher just quit and left for the dressing room. He had an injured right shoulder, and without Tony Stecher to protect or control him, he just walked off. Olin was announced as the winner but he didn’t claim the title (he seemed more interested in getting a larger purse) and Stecher did not pronounce him as new champion. So Joe remained the world champion in the eyes of the public, although some were confused. It wasn’t until 1917, that promoters got a hold of Olin to create a title line, which we call the “Olin line”. (48)

San Francisco, under the promotion of Frank Schuler, was a major wrestling town in 1917. The major star in town was Ad Santel who was a rival to Clanence Eklund, Jim Londos, and Earl Caddock for the title of the best light heavyweight in America. Lewis wrestled Santel at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium on December 12, 1916 in a match with a two hour time limit. Lewis pinned Santel in 1:42:04 using his headlock after Ad made the mistake of stopping to pull up his tights. Lewis jumped on him and gave him a flying cross buttock (hip-lock) to the matt. Santel tried to break out using a bridge but Ed wouldn’t let go and a pin was ruled. I don’t know when Lewis first used his headlock and made it the focus of his attack, but this is the first report that I can be sure the hold was in effect, but the report also referred to the hold as the “famous headlock”. Santel fought like a tiger for the last 17 minutes but was unable to win a fall before the two hour time limit ran out. So Ed won the match by the “won only fall” (WOF) rule. It was a very good match and (a statement we’ll see in many Lewis matches verses smaller wrestlers) a moral victory for Santel because he was out weighted by 42 pounds. It drew 7,500 and a gate around $10,000 which was very good at the time. (49)


43) CHICAGO TRIBUNE July 5, 1916

44) WATERLOO EVENING COURIER AND REPORTER December 30, 1916—Lewis admits to the gambling scheme.

45) NATIONAL WRESTLING ALLIANCE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE MONOPOLY THAT STRANGLED PRO WRESTLING by Tim Hornbaker (page 66) has an example of the story being told in Sandow’s words in 1920.


47) THE UNPUBLISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY page 102---Some of the pages in Ed’s Bio had numbers, like this one. Lewis claimed the Connolly match was in Butte Montana.

47a) Both Joe and Tony were in the middle of working honeymoons.

48) BOSTON GLOBE Nov. 12, 1916 Reading "ON THE MAT AND OFF: MEMOIRS OF A WRESTLER" by Hjalmar Lundin, I came upon this version of the Stecher/Olin title change. On page 132 Lundin, who managed Olin and got him the match with Stecher, seems to say that, before the match Olin was willing to do the job & is quoted: "You speak Stecher...he not go so give good show". So Lundin went to Stecher's dressing room but the manager Tony Stecher wasn't present and he saw no use in talking to Joe. Lundin went back to Olin and told him that: "Stecher says he will beat you in one minute". This upset John who said " one minute."

During the match, Stecher couldn't hold Olin in the scissors because the fin could do a very high bridge & break it. Joe was getting upset & Olin was exhausted. John told Lundin, he wanted a draw because that would have been a huge thing at that time in Stecher's career. Lundin knew Joe didn't look good & told Olin that there was a fin in the audience, who had bet $1,000 on him, who would shoot him if he quit. So Olin continued. Half an hour later, Stecher quit.

Now the book says that Olin was told he was the new champion & Olin's words were " country speaka maka..little money..maybe".

So it's not clear but it may be that Olin refused the title. More later.

Lundin says he's sure that it would have been a draw if Tony Stecher had been present. Seeing the condition of both wrestlers, he is sure that Tony would have come to him with the offer & Lundin would have taken it because he knew Olin wanted to quit.

All Joe had to say was: "It's all in the game". Stecher was a good loser.

Later in the book on page 143, while talking about Jack Sherry & different world champion claims, Lundin says "Years ago a title holder was the champion throughout the country. John Olin defeated the holder of the crown, Joe Stecher, but the former refused the honor, and after that I could not follow up the reign."

So it seems we have the true manager of Olin saying that the title was refused on that night. Perhaps for more money. And that seems to be the reason Stecher could continue his title claim.

49) SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE December 13, 1916
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Steve Yohe

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


1917 and The Olin World Title
Lewis had a rematch with Santel on Jan. 2, 1917 that ended up a 2:30:01 draw. Stecher was to meet the winner and he picked Santel wanting the Lewis rematch in Omaha. (50) On Feb. 22, Stecher destroyed Santel in two straight falls. The match drew 12,000 fans and $12,643.

Stecher spent two weeks at the end of January at Excelsior Springs, Nebraska receiving treatment on his right shoulder. Doctors recommended that he take three months off but he returned to the ring on February 7. There were also rumors of a nervous break down.

Between Stecher and Lewis, I feel that Stecher was the superior wrestler, but the one area that Lewis dominated was his durability, which gave him the ability to take punishment night after night in long championship contests. Stecher’s body would break down and he needed time off to recover, while Lewis’s powerful body seemed able to absorb punishment and keep going.

Stecher continued to follow Lewis around the West Coast, and both wrestled matches in Los Angeles. They were being billed as the two greatest wrestlers in the world. While training at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, Stecher complained of a knee injury, a result of the match with Santel.

In February and March, Lewis wrestled in Caton Ohio, Norfolk, Virginia, and Houston, Texas beating some of his old favorites, Charley Cutler, Ben Roller, Paul Martinson, and Ivan Linow, in two straight falls.

The tired Stecher, injured, sick, and newly married, lost his title for real on April 4, 1917 in Omaha to his old friend and undefeated rival Earl Caddock. Stecher forced the action in the first fall, because Caddock was on the defense for an hour, so his local fans could win their bets on him lasting 60 minutes. Earl then came out of his shell, but the champion won the fall in one hour and 22 minutes with a scissors and body lock. In the 2nd fall, Caddock went after Joe. At the 55 minute mark, he seemed to pin Stecher using a head scissor and a English arm bar, but the move was not allowed by the referee, who claimed he had ordered a break and a return to the center of the mat. The match continued for another 40 minutes until Caddock took the fall with a full nelson and pin. The crowd went nuts seeing Stecher pinned for the first time in his career. When the break between falls ended, Stecher didn’t return to the ring. After notice was served to seconds (Joe Hetmanek) to produce Joe or else, else happened, and Caddock was given the third fall and world championship. (51)

There are a lot of reasons given for Stecher’s refusal to return. He might have been injured, or sick, or just too worn out. Joe would claim he wasn’t ever told to return by his manager, and such a double-cross was possible because the Stechers had attempted to dump manager Joe Hetmanek for the Gotch camp in December 1916. I think it was a worked ending that was 1917’s version of a screw finish. Stecher needed time off and just dumped the title to trusted friend Earl Caddock. (52)

Stecher wrestled two minor matches in April, then didn’t wrestle until September. On September 3, 1917, he beat Marin Plestina in Omaha. On Sept. 12, the Stecher’s contract with Joe Hetmanek ended, and Tony Stecher took over as Joe manager.

By 1917, promoters had convinced John Olin to claim the world title, so on May 2, 1917 he defended this title verse Strangler Lewis in Chicago. The match was refereed by Frank Gotch and Lewis won his first true world championship when Olin injured his shoulder and couldn’t continue after two hours and 37 minutes. Olin admitted defeat but complained that referee Gotch was coaching Lewis at times during the match. After the match, Gotch praised Lewis saying he was the best wrestler in the world. (53)

The Olin Title line was forgotten by our time and got little recognition in 1917, but some may have thought of it as the true “in the ring” world title, so it has to be considered a big moment in Lewis’s career.

Gotch is of very little help to historians of 2011 with his quotes and titles bequeaths to various wrestlers over his later years. In June 1917, his health worsened and in October he was admitted to a Chicago hospital. On Dec. 16, 1917, Frank Gotch died from Uremic (ureic) poisoning (usually meaning kidney failure) around noon at his home in Humbolt, Iowa. The proud champion weighted 115 pounds and had lost much of his mental faculties by the time of his death. He was a rich man, owning two farms, an auto dealership and land in the Dakotas, Seattle, and Canada. He was also a bank director and president of a local street railway and an electric light company. His funeral was held on December 19 in front of 2,000 people, with his eulogy given by the governor of Iowa. There would be no more Frank Gotch comebacks. Pro wrestling would have to survive without him.

On May 11, John Olin lost to Wladek Zbyszko in Louisville when he was again unable to continue due to an injury.

After Joe Stecher’s destruction of home town favorite Ad Santel in February 1917, San Francisco wrestling fell back into hard times. Promoter Frank Schuler gave up his position as promoter to allow a mark named Charley Newman, whose real job was owner of the largest saloon on Market Street, to take control.

Back in New York, Jack Curley had a young man named Jack Kearns working odd jobs for him. Kearns, later become famous as the manager of Jack Dempsey, but in 1917 he was hated by everyone in New York City. Early that year, Curley got rid of Kearns by sending him to San Francisco to manage a wrestler named Tony (Anton) Irsa. Ad Santel’s reputation had been damaged by the beating given to him by Stecher and he was having trouble with his promoter Schuler. Santel at a local gym offered to work out with Irsa. His need to get back on the good side of Schuler motivated a double-cross on Kearns. Santel shot and destroyed Irsa in front of the local sports writers.

With his wrestler ruined, Kearns was left in Oakland with nothing to do. So he found a down on his luck boxer named Jack Dempsey and started managing him around April 1917.

Kearn becomes buddies with Charley “what me worry” Newman (53a) and talked him into bankrolling a Lewis/Zbyszko title match in San Francisco. Using his contacts with Curley, Kearn got Newman to give $3,000 guarantees to both Wladek and Lewis, plus expenses.

Lewis and Sandow arrived in town for a week of training before the June 6, 1917 match. Wladek and his manager Jack Curley did the same. Around that time, Kearn disappeared, leaving Newman alone to think about the large guarantees. He soon realized that the guarantees, just guaranteed he was going to lose a lot of money. With Curley, Sandow, Lewis, and Kearn all in one city working over a mark like Newman, you can understand the mess going on. Newman wanted to cancel the card but the group of wrestling pros managed to get him to the arena that night, mainly because he had already given them expense money.

At 9:00 they counted $836 in the box office. Newman freaked and twice the match was cancelled. Newman refused to pay, saying Kearn should pick up half of the bill. Kearn told everyone that Newman was handling the financial end of the affair. At 9:30, fans were starting to riot in the arena and the police were brought in. At some point, Curley agreed to a compromise of $1,400 for Wladek and Sandow agreed to $2,000 for Lewis. (54)

At 10:58, Lewis and Wladek entered the ring. It ended at 1:45 AM. The two and a half hour time limit ran out with Zbyszko winning the only fall on a fluke. Lewis had Wladek in a hold with Zbyszko holding the ropes as Ed pulled. The referee told Wladek to let go…so he did and both performers fell into the ring…with Wladek on top. This was ruled a flying fall for Zbyszko. Lewis was the aggressor and looked to be the better man, but he lost. No title was ever mentioned in the San Francisco newspaper but later, in Boston, it was made plain that Lewis lost his Olin Line world title in the mess. (55)

The newspaper pronounced wrestling dead in the city and Newman said he would never promote again after losing at least $2,100. Then, two days later, old promoter Frank Schuler stepped forward saying the city was still alive and he was again taking over the promotion. San Francisco wrestling was back in the hands of professionals. Curley was mad at Kearns over the incident, so Kearn was never involved with the wrestling game again. He was stuck with the managing of Jack Dempsey.

Ed Lewis was happy because he got to spend three weeks courting Dr. Ada Scott Morton in San Jose. On June 21, Lewis gave a deposition in a court case involving Ada and her ex-husband Dr. Andrew W. Morton. Andrew was seeking to recover $70,000 worth of property (an orange grove) deeded to his former wife in a divorce settlement in February 1917. He was claiming fraud and misrepresentation, possibly as a result of her relationship with a certain wrestler. (55b) Lewis produced affidavits that proved he was on the East Coast and not in the West on the date charged. (55c)

Lewis got a rematch with Wladek on a big July 4 card at Braves Field in Boston. Wladek won the first fall in 57:45 by reversing a crotch hold into a body roll and pin. Zbyszko injured his right elbow and a knee during the 2nd fall when he was thrown out the ring. Lewis then pinned him with a half-nelson in 24:44. Zbyszko had to be carried to the dressing room for the rest period and everyone was surprised at his gameness in returning for the 3rd falls, but he was no match for Lewis. The match was stopped in 45 seconds. This match was billed for the Olin world title and Ed regained it. The crowd was said to have been one of the largest in Boston sports history. (56)

Wladek got his title rematch on September 3, 1917, wrestling a draw with Lewis at Birmingham, Alabama.



51) JOE STECHER by Steve Yohe THE DES MOINES REGISTER April 10, 1917 CHICAGO TRIBUNE April 10, 1917

52) Statements from the April 11 DES MOINES REGISTER :

Referee Charley Sherman: “When Caddock came back into the ring for the third fall, Joe Hetmanek, Stecher’s manager, came around to Caddock’s corner, and in the presence of (Frank) Gotch, Caddock, myself, and I believe Gene Melady, said Stecher had injured his neck and would not come back for another bout. Then I awarded the match to Caddock, which was the only thing to do under the circumstances.”

Joe Stecher: “I have but few excuses and no complaint. I was honestly defeated, insofar as the fall I lost was concerned. But as to the final decision of the referee, I must say that when in my room after this fall nobody notified me that the time was up, as either my manager, Mr. Melady, or the referee should, and while I was suffering greatly from a running ear and a surging cold in my head and chest, I was ready to go back, to go on with the match, and intended to, but was not given the opportunity. But I have no harsh words for anyone. I was beaten and that is all there is to it, and in Earl Caddock the game has an honest and deserving successor to myself.”

Manager Joe Hetmanek: “I went to Joe’s dressing room during the intermission after Caddock’s fall, and when the Caddock henchmen were clamoring that the match be awarded to Earl on the grounds that time was up and Joe refused to return, I told Tony to hurry and get Joe out, but he replied that Joe said: ”I won’t go back and you can’t make me go back!” Knowing Joe, I then hurried out and informed the referee that Joe refused to return. But it is all history now and I only want to say that Joe Stecher was not himself. He was ill from several causes, but at that he had Caddock beaten easily, when he did show flashes of his form, and as himself, I think is far and away the better man.”

Back to Yohe: You can tell from this that the Stecher did seem to be fed up with Manager Hetmanek, who only access to Joe was through Tony and they seemed willing to dump the loss in his lap. I stick to my theory that this was just a worked screw finish designed to give Joe rest away from the title. Everything points to that…and the fact that it was another way to make money off of gamblers sweeten the idea. Joe was a strange guy and very simple. He just wanted to wrestle and care little about anything else. Tony was the brains and had control. Another theory not normally stated is…maybe Joe was told in the dressing room, for the first time, that he was losing…and thru ethics or ego, refused to go back out to job. I doubt it but it’s another idea to think about. Some will want me to say it was a shoot and what happen…happen. Everyone is free to think what they want because no one really knows nor will anyone ever really know. It’s just fun.

It should be noted that Stecher proclaims Caddock the new champion, something that didn’t happen after the John Olin match. I think it’s a tradition that the old champion has to give the title to the next one. Also Frank Gotch was ringside and in view of everyone. In the official photos, taken before the match, Gotch is standing between Stecher and Caddock. The referee does go out of his way to say that Hetmanek gave up in front of Gotch….like Gotch’s approval of the ruling meant something. This is something to think about in terms of Ed Lewis, who never admits to losing a title until Jim Browning in New York City.

53) CHICAGO TRIBUNE May 3, 1917—The Olin/Lewis match drew 7,000 fans. Newspaper report said the match was a contest of great strength and endurance but lack the science and endurance fans were accustomed to in Frank Gotch matches.

53a) Bad Yohe joke playing around with the Alfred E. Newman name. Sorry.

54) An attorney named F. T. Finch show up at one point to put an attachment on the box office for $1,225, which he claimed was due on a judgment secured against Newman. Charley tried to punch him but then called it a mix-up and bought off Finch with $300.

55) SAN FRANSICO CHRONICLE June 4 to June 8, 1917 also RING MAGAZINE: MEMOIRS OF A PROMOTER BY JACK CURLEY (as told to Frank Graham) December issue 1931.

55b) OAKLAND TRIBUNE June 22, 1917

55c) OAKLAND TRIBUNE April 9, 1919

56) BOSTON GLOBE July 5, 1917
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Steve Yohe

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


World War I
On April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson ended his policies of isolationism and the U.S congress declared war on Germany. The government quickly passed the Selective Service Act, which required all males between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for military service. This affected most of the major wrestlers in 1917, including Lewis and Stecher, but none more than the new champion Earl Caddock.

The world champion Caddock was a true patriot, who did everything he could to join up. In May 1917, he joined a civilian training camp, similar to basic training, to prepare himself for enlistment. On Aug. 4, Caddock appeared before a military draft examination board at Atlantic, Iowa. Three physicians determined that he was unfit for military service due to an infection caused by previous tonsil surgery. He also needed dental work.

The Army had given him an out, but Caddock didn’t want it. He was twenty-nine years old, the World Wrestling Champion, one of the most famous athletes in the country who was at his peak as far as making money, but Earl Caddock wanted to fight Germans.

September saw him in Rochester, MN at the famed Mayo Clinic receiving treatment and further surgery on his tonsils under care by Doctors Charles and William Mayo. On Oct. 5, the U.S. Army accepted him. On December 26, 1917, Caddock entered the U.S. Army and was stationed at Camp Dodge, Iowa. (57)

All of this, of course, caused a major problem for wrestling promoters. Caddock wasn’t just playing soldier for public relations, he had every intention of leaving the country and taking an active part in the fighting, which was killing and mutilating much of the young men of Europe. It was apparent to everyone involved with pro wrestling, that the title had to be taken off of him before he left for war.

Both Lewis and Stecher felt the public pressure to join the war, but both, unlike Caddock, took their time and didn’t join the effort until July 1918. Wladek Zbyszko was drafted in 1917. He attempted to get an exemption because of a sister and mother in Austria, but it was refused. He even appealed his case to President Wilson, only to fail. On Oct. 25, 1917, Wladek became a member of the National Army, Maine contingent, 303rd Heavy Artillery located at Ayers, Mass. But he was soon discharged because his cauliflower ears were affecting his hearing.

In late October, Lewis and Sandow accepted a date to wrestle Wladek Zbyszko in Houston, Texas for promoter Frankie Edwards. Promoter Edwards had a grand idea to bring big time pro wrestling to Houston and had made his bookings through Joe Coffey of Chicago. He paid transportation money of $200 to Lewis/Sandow, Zbyszko/Curley, and big time referee Ed W. Smith (Sports Editor of the Chicago American Newspaper). Lewis got to Houston early, but the two days before the match date November 1, 1917, Charley Cutler walked into Edwards’ office, telling him he was a replacement for Zbyszko. Wladek couldn’t get a furlough from his heavy artillery unit and wasn’t coming.

Edwards pre-sale of tickets made him think he was going to break all attendance records in Houston, but once he made the announcement, fans began asking for refunds on their $5 tickets and then buying a $1 general admission. By the night, he still had a $1,000 gate in the house but Billy Sandow and Lewis had been promised $1,000 each for the match, and they refused to wrestle for anything less. The 2,000 fans stayed in there seats until 10:00, when they realized something was really wrong and in groups of three’s they headed for the door or, worst yet, the long refund line.

Edwards left the arena for his hotel room but someone filed a report with the police and he was picked up by detectives. At the police station, he stated that he planed to reimburse everyone, but he had advanced expenses for the two wrestlers, a referee and had paid $250 rent on the building. He also had paid $252.68 to the war tax and would have to ask for the money back from the United States District Attorney. Edwards was quoted, ”I’ve had hard luck with my matches. I have never made a penny in Houston and I have brought the best wrestlers in the world here. Can any wrestler, or any wrestling patron, point out a single instance where he lost money through one of my matches?” He again promised to refund everyone’s ticket prices.

Charley Cutler was interview back at the arena, standing in the doorway of his dressing room, watching the crowd rush for the door. “A raw deal for Edwards” he said scornfully, “What does Lewis think he is, a prima donna? I guess he thinks he doesn’t owe something to the promoter who takes all the risks to put on the bout. If it weren’t for the promoter where would the delicate little wrestler be? You don’t see me laying down do you? I am dressed ready for the match. I was ready to go on tonight on any terms that would help. The usual guarantee to a substitute wrestler is 25% gross, but if Lewis is so dead set on taking the lion’s share, why didn’t he take me on at winner take all?”

Billy Sandow claimed he could not afford to have Lewis go on without his guarantee. “Any week I can’t make $1,200 with Lewis is a poor week. When Edward said he didn’t have $1,000 in the house, we simply refused to go on. What is a guarantee worth anyway?” (57a)

Jim Londos’s pro wrestling career began in Oakland California in February 1914. He actually was from Greece and migrated to San Francisco around 1910. No one knows how to spell his real name but it was similar in sound to Chistopher Theophalus. (58) After a few matches mainly in Oakland and San Francisco, he left main stream pro wrestling and joined a vaudeville show as part of a acrobat act. By the end of 1915, he had an act of his own, in which he stared billed as a weightlifter, wrestler and classic poser. Londos was intelligent and so industrious that he probably had his life planned from the time he arrived in America. He was a fantastic athlete, who trained as a wrestler, gymnast, bodybuilder and weight lifter. In 1916 he returned to wrestling and worked out of Sioux Falls, North Dakota. He was pushed from his first match, billed as the world light heavyweight title holder. One of the most handsome men in the world with a perfect body, he was huge draw. He was an excellent worker and a hooker. His only draw back was his small size. Early in his career he weighted in around 190 pounds and never in a career, that lasted over 40 years, weighted much more than 200. In July 1917, Londos moved his home to Canton Ohio where he hoped to take advantage of a large Greek population.

On October 8, 1917, Lewis was in Canton to watch Londos defeat Ed Schultz. He must have seen the potential in the young Londos and there seemed to be a plan to match the two. Billy Sandow booked Lewis to wrestle Alan Eustace (a famous shooter and Kansas farmer) in Canton on October 29. On the day of the match, Sandow cancelled because Lewis had a major match in Houston on November 1 (see above), and couldn’t take a chance on a long match with Eustace. Londos replaced Ed and wrestled Eustace to a draw that almost lasted three hours. On October 19, the two wrestled again with Londos getting a match with Lewis by beating Eustace two out of three falls.

The first ever match between Strangler Lewis and Jim Londos took place in Canton on November 29, 1917. In defending his Olin world title, Lewis won the match but looked like a loser. Londos out wrestled him for almost two hours. During the match, Ed was able to get less than a half dozen holds on Londos and the Greek had counters to all his moves. Lewis was only able to break holds by pure strength and use of his 35 pound weight advantage. At one point Londos stopped the match to allow Ed to tie his shoe. At the one hour and 57 minute mark, Londos also bent to tie his shoe lace but Lewis, unlike baby face Jimmy, jumped on him like a tiger and flipped him to the mat using his headlock. Ed really cranked on the hold as the Greek was pinned. Londos’s neck was injured and he was unable to return for the second fall. Most of the fans present felt that Londos was the better man, and there was a huge demand for a rematch. So Lewis beat Londos, but in allowing the young performer to save face, the Greek remain someone to promote and make money with in the future. (59)

Caddock was scheduled to enter the Army on December 26 and no one knew if he’d be able to continue wrestling or even how much time he had left in the states. In December 1917, Jack Curley promoted another major tournament in New York City at the Lexington Theatre (Dec. 3 to Dec. 22). Curley’s power was increasing and I think this was an attempt to influence the national storyline and resolve the title problem. He probably overestimated his influence at the time. (60) The tournament was in the Catch style and the winner was to be billed as world champion in the state of New York. Wladeck (managed by Curley) and Lewis were both entered with other names being Ben Roller, Youssif Hussane, John Freberg, Tom Draak, and even Frank Leavitt (who in 1934 took on new life as Man Mountain Dean). Earl Caddock was to make his debut in the city during the tournament. Arriving in the middle of the month.

On December 14, 1917, Caddock had his first match in New York, thrilling the biggest crowd of the tournament, beating Dr Ben Roller with a head scissors and crotch hold in 40:59. (61) On the next night (Dec. 15, the day before Frank Gotch’s death), he beat John Freberg. Caddock then left the tournament and was inducted into the Army base at Fort Dodge on Dec. 26. I believe Curley had planned on Caddock jobbing the title to the winner of the tournament, probably Wladek Zbyszko (who was managed by Curley and rid of any draft problems).

Caddock’s manager was Gene Melady, who was a rich sportsman that promoted most of the major cards in the mid-west and probably the most powerful man in the sport after the fall of Farmer Burns and Gotch. I think he saw Curley as competition, and didn’t like the deal that was offered, so he refused to have Caddock drop the title. He probably knew that the Army would allow Earl to continue wrestling while in camp waiting for orders to leave for Europe, and had ideas of promoting title matches of his own in the next year.

On the undercard or co-main event of Caddock/Freberg, Lewis and Zbysko worked one of their draws. This set up a major finish match the next night.

On December 17, in front of a sold-out 3,000, Lewis defeated Zbyszko in 1:21:33. At first Ed’s headlock had little effect but, with each one, Wladek weakened. The finish saw Zbyszko wave to give up, but in those times the object of defeat was being pined and submissions were rare, so the referee, George Bothner, didn’t stop the match. Wladek’s manager Jack Curley stepped on the mat and the match was stopped. It was the equal of a boxing manager throwing in a towel, but it may have been considered a DQ, but the newspaper called it a submission loss. The report claimed that the match ranked with the best ever held in the city. (62)

Both suffered no more losses and met in the tournament final on December 22, 1917. After a long one fall match, Billy Sandow started an argument with a wrestler in Wladek’s corner, claiming the man was coaching his wrestler illegally. Lewis turned his head to watch the argument, and Zbyszko leaped in to pin Lewis with a scissors and a body hold. Time was 1:47:37 and it was a sellout with many turned away. Lewis wrestled under a handicap as his headlock was not allowed. Lewis showed superiority and would have been given a decision if he hadn’t gotten himself pinned. (63)

Wladek Zbyszko was presented a belt by the state of New York and claimed the world title. It would be the only title belt ever awarded a wrestler by the New York Commission. Nothing was said about Lewis’s Olin world title and it seemed to not have been at stake. Whatever, as he always did, Lewis continued to claim the world title.


57a) THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE, November 1 and November 2, 1917

58) This is an example of just some of the different versions in spelling of Londos’s real name. See THE JIM LONDOS RECORD BOOK (Note section) by Steve Yohe, Don Luce, J Michael Kenyon and members of the International Historian Club (IHC).

Different spelling of Jim Londos’s real name:

Diaspora: Jim Londos The Golden Greek by Steve Frangos—Christos Theophilou
Oakland Tribune (2-24-14) first match—Chris Theopulus
Oakland Tribune (10-23-13)--Theophelus
New York Times Obit by Michael Strauss (8-21-75)—Chris Theophelus
New Times Obit by Red Smith (8-24-75)—Christopher Theophelus
AP Obit (8-20-75—Chris Theophelus
LA TIMES (1-27-69)—Theophelos
NWA Wrestling Mag---John Contos by Bob Allison—Christopher Theophilus
FALL GUYS-- Christopher Teophelus
FROM MILO TO LONDOS by Nat –Chris Theophelo
Marriage Certificate-- Christ T. Theophelos
San Diego HOF-Chris T. Theophelos
Wikipedia--Christos Theofilou or Christopher Theophelus
Time magazine--Christopher Theophilus
Boston Globe (7-16-34)—Christopher Theophelou
L A Times (10-31-34)—Christopher Theophelous
Associated Press (6-28-35)—Christopher Theophilo
Also-- Theophalus? Theopolus? Theophilis? Theopholis? Theopolis? Theopelos? Theopphilus? Theopulus?

Historian Steve Johnson: “According to Londos' daughter, he spelled Theopolus about five different ways when he was alive, so it's probably too much to hope for consistency.”

59) THE CANTON REPOSITORY November 30, 1917

60) We have a copy of the cover of the Tournament program. On it we see photos of Stecher, Caddock, Zbyszko and Lewis standing in a row with Frank Gotch (who was on his death bed and dies at the mid-point of the tournament Dec. 15) looking down on them all. It would seem that Curley planed to have all of the big four engaged in the out come, but Stecher never makes an appearance and Caddock leaves.

61) NEW YORK TIMES December 15, 1917

62) NEW YORK TIMES December 18, 1917

63) NEW YORK TIMES December 23, 1917
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


1918 and The Age of Jack Curley
Lewis stopped off in Canton on January 1, 1918 to give the young Jim Londos his rematch. This time they went to a two and half hour draw. Londos out wrestled Lewis for the first two hours, but in the last 30 minutes Lewis’s 40 pound weight advantage wore the Greek down. In the last ten minutes Lewis applied his headlock five times but Londos manage to hold on until the time limit ran out. Referee, Jerry Walls, ruled the match a draw but most fans thought Ed would have won in a finish match. Still lasting two and a half hours and getting a draw with one of the top four men in the world made Londos a major player. (64)

On January 4, 1918, Lewis was back in Savannah wrestling Wladek Zbyszko in a match under GR rules. Both were claiming a world title. The match was a 1:15:00 draw with Lewis working well in the GR style, but fans preferred Catch wrestling and the promoters stated that they would stick with the American style from that point on. Lewis may have injured a rib during the match, but was back wrestling in 20 days.

In January 1918, Earl Caddock, the person just about everyone recognized as the true world champion, was stationed at Fort Dodge teaching bayonet fighting to other troops and coaching sports teams. A deal was made with the Army and Caddock was given passes while his unit was in training, so he was able to continue his wrestling career. In late January, a promotional battle took place between Curley, Oscar Thorson (the major promoter in Des Moines) and Gene Melady of Omaha, over the site of a title unification match between Caddock and Wladek Zbyszko. Des Moines won the match and the date was set for February 8.

In the press, Sandow did his best to discredit Caddock. This lead to Melady saying a match with Lewis would be considered after he finished with Wladek. The quote: “The refusal to meet the Strangler is not based on any belief that he is not a good wrestler, but simply on the fact that so many of his contests have proved unsatisfactory. Lewis and his manager have succeeded in killing the game nearly everywhere they have appeared, because Lewis whenever he meets a man of ability has shown a penchant for playing on the defensive alone. His most notable offense was in Omaha when he wrestled Joe Stecher five hours without once trying to take the offensive.” (65) Melady stated that he was willing to have Caddock sign for a Lewis match, if Sandow would put up a forfeit or bond that insured that the Strangler would wrestle instead of stall.

On Feb. 8, 1918,either before or after the Caddock/Wladek match, Jack Curley called a meeting between the major wrestling promoters, such as Gene Melady, Oscar Thorson, Carl Marfigi and Otto Floto, and major newspaper man such as Ed Smith, Sec Taylor, and Sandy Griswold. Curley proposed rule changes such as time limits, decisions, and one fall matches. It was Curley’s idea to make wrestling like boxing with pins being like KO’s and decisions accepted as true victories. Curley walked away from the meeting with his rule changes; some of which lasted over time (note New York City’s reliance on one-fall matches) while the less popular were hidden or thrown away. Never the less, Curley and New York City had shown newfound power over the sport. (66)

It seems the rules were focused on Lewis with time limits and decisions were put in effect so a wrestler couldn’t stall through a match with the hope of an opponent blowing up after hours of standing around. This would give the fans insurance that they were going to see both men work to the best of their ability.

As for the Unification match, Caddock won a two and half hour decision over Wladek. Caddock won the first fall in one hour and twenty minute with his head scissors and wrist lock. Zbyszko out weighted the champion by 45 pounds and when Earl had a body scissor applied, Wladek stood up with Caddock on his back. He then fell backward and Caddock landed on his back and head to be pinned in thirty one minutes. To the fans it seemed like a fluke, but it was only the second fall ever lost by Caddock. In the third fall Caddock out wrestled Wladek, but the Pole’s strength stopped any pinning attempt. Referee Ed Smith gave the decision to Caddock. Many Zbyszko fans thought Curley’s insistence on a time limit cost Wladek the title because Caddock seemed injured in the third fall. The match drew 7,000 with 4,000 of them from out of town. (67)

Around March of 1918, Curley traveled to the mid-west and signed agreements with Joe Stecher and Ed Lewis. Most of the major matches were being held in the small cites of Iowa, Kentucky & Nebraska who drew large crowds from the countryside for holidays such as Fourth of July or The Kentucky Derby. The agreement by Curley, Sandow, and the Stechers formed a “Trust” that would take wrestling out of the small towns to the large cites of the East, such as New York City, controlled by Curley. Curley also had a large stable of talent that he would book out to emerging promoter along the East Coast and into the South. I don’t know if Gene Melady agreed to the pact and that may have had something to do with the inability of Earl Caddock, guided by Melady, to drop the World Title back to Joe Stecher before being sent to Europe and WWI. (68)

Joe Stecher had returned to wrestling slowly in the last four months of 1917. He appeared for Curley on January 29, 1918 beating Yussik Hussane on the first of four cards booked into Madison Square Garden between Jan. 29 and April 26. All four cards were sellout for Curley.

On the second card, March 1, 1918, Stecher wrestled Wladek Zbyszko to a two hour draw. The referee George Bothner ruled that the match was a draw but most reports felt Stecher should have been the winner. Sandow and Lewis were making noise in the newspapers, saying that Caddock and Stecher were refusing to meet him. (69) That did seem like the storyline, but the next two cards had Ed in the main event verses Wladek and Stecher. He must have signed up with Jack. Perhaps the alliance took place on March 9, when Sandow was in the New York office of Curley signing for another Zbyszko match. (69b)

Lewis’ headlock was becoming an issue. Many insiders claimed the move should be banned because Lewis would slide his arm down on the windpipe and turn the hold into a strangle. Lewis and some officials, such as George Bothner, claimed he was just blocking blood flow to the brain. All of the talk was turning Lewis’s headlock into the most famous hold in sports. In the 1917 tournament loss to Wladek, Lewis agreed to not using the hold, but in the New York rematch it would be legal.

On March 19, 1918, Lewis met Wladek Zbyszko in a “packed” Madison Square Garden, in a match called the fastest and wildest in the history of New York City wrestling. There was bad blood between the two from the bell. Zbyszko kept head butting Lewis and Ed caught the Pole a dozen times in the headlock. Walter’s eyes looked ready to pop in Lewis’ viselike grip but he wriggled his way free each time. At 38:28, Zbyszko hit The Strangler with another head butt and Lewis fell helpless out of the ring. The referee Billy Roche awarded the decision to Lewis on a foul. A riot followed with the sold out crowd trying to get at Wladek. One spectator hit Zbyszko over the head with a cane that inflicted a bad cut. For the win, Lewis was given his rematch with Joe Stecher. (70)

Following this match, Lewis developed an “infectious disease”. I believe Dr. Ada Scott Morton, now his long time girl friend, had been traveling with him, possibly being passed off as his wife. (71) She took Ed back to San Francisco, where she had him seen by specialist. The report doesn’t say what kind of a disease he had, but it was a threat to his career. Lewis was know for having the eye disease Trachoma, but 1918 seem too early for him to have been infected. He was also known for various skin problems such as carbuncles. By the end of April, he returned fit enough for his match with Stecher.

Lewis got his third match with Joe Stecher in Madison Square Garden on April 26. Reports called it a great match with the grapplers punishing each other with deadly holds that were cleverly broken just as they seemed on the verge of defeat. Stecher was quicker and more aggressive, but found his scissors countered by Lewis’ great strength. Stecher countered Ed headlock and it was never an issue. After two hours, the match was called a draw by referee Billy Roche. The arena was sold out and it was said to be the best match of the season.

Some of the fans and reporters in Nebraska were upset that Stecher had broken his promise to not wrestle Lewis outside of the state, but they also realize that New York City was too big for a small city, like Omaha, to compete with.

On May 8 in Chicago, Wladek Zbyszko got another shot at Earl Caddock’s world title. Once again he lost a two hour decision. Caddock’s perfect physical condition and a superior wrestling knowledge proved too much for the Pole, but fans were beginning to talk about Caddock’s inability to pin the large (at least 47 pounds with Wladek) contenders. Wladek, like his older brother, had a way of lying face down with no one able to turn them or put a major hold on them. (Stan Zbyszko used this trick verse the Great Gama in Europe during the 1930’s). Most thought the match was boring and the new unsatisfying decision rule was disliked by fans.

Two days later, Lewis won a decision over Wladek in Louisville. Zbyszko won the first fall in 1:34:00 with a double hammerlock and Lewis took the second in 35:00 with the headlock. Ed was the aggressor throughout and was awarded the decision after two and a half hours. Wladek would also lose a decision to Stecher in Omaha on June 12.

On May 14, Billy Sandow traveled to Des Moines to arrange a match with Caddock. He argued that Lewis had been drafted into the Army and if the two were ever to meet, now was the time. Lewis was still claiming the Olin world title and was willing to accept any terms asked to get the match. Agreements were made for June 21, 1918 in Des Moines.

Caddock wrestled rings around Lewis although he was, once again, unable to pin a larger contender. But the champion was so far ahead on points that referee Ed Smith quit keeping score after two hours of the 150 minute match. Only once was Ed able to secure his headlock and it was broken with ease. Every other hold Lewis applied was broken at Caddock’s will and half the time the champion would reverse the move to end up behind the challenger. Lewis took no chances and stayed on defense except for about 15 minutes of the entire two and half hour match. Four times it seemed the champion was about to take a fall but Ed’s superior weight helped him break away. Whenever the two were on the mat, Caddock was always behind. The match was a Caddock show from start to finish. Caddock claimed he was the undisputed heavyweight wrestling champion. Gate was $22,000.

The drafted Strangler entered the Army on July 27, 1918 and was stationed at Camp Grant at Rockville Illinois. He was promoted from private to sergeant before he was given a uniform, serving as an instructor in physical education and athletics. He spent his off time entertaining by wrestling at the YMCA building and at hospitals. Billy Sandow was also in the service, he claimed he gave instructions in hand to hand fighting at five different training camps. Sandow then attended officer’s training school at Camp Gordon. He was then sent to Camp Hancock and was waiting for his commission when the armistice was signed. (71a)

Joe Stecher joined the Navy on July 30 and was stationed at the Great Lakes Training Center in Chicago. Tony Stecher was turned down because he was the father of two twins. A third brother, Louis, had graduated from Annapolis and was an officer serving in British waters. At one point, Lewis’s Camp Grant was to meet Stecher’s camp in wrestling and there was talk of the two meeting, but nothing came of it.

On August 4, 1918, Earl Caddock’s eighty-eight division left for the East Coast, with orders to sail overseas with in the following week (Aug. 7). He was off to the war, taking the undisputed world wrestling title with him.

By August 20, Caddock was stationed at Hericourt, France. The Eighty-Eighth was stationed safe, far behind the lines, but Caddock felt a need to see action. Occasionally, in the evenings, he would ride a motorcycle to visit the front and spend a few hours in the trenches. It was during one of these clandestine visits that a green cross shell exploded near him and some of the poisonous phosgene gas reached him before he could adjust his gas mask. Caddock was not seriously injured but was sick for a few weeks. (72)

Around Sept. 14, the Eighty-Eighth relieved the Twenty-Ninth Division at Belfort on the lines opposite to Mullhaus and Germany. It was a quiet front with shelling being the main danger. On Oct. 4, 1918, a ceasefire was called between Allied forces and Germany.

November saw Caddock sent to officer training school, which he hated. He was treated badly, and it rained all the time. The food and his health were poor and he spent $500 of his own money on food. The conditions for the troops in France were a nightmare. Over 112,432 men died in their short stay, fifty percent of that number from disease.

The Eighty-Eighth had orders to attack Germany on Nov. 12, but on Nov. 11 the armistice was signed at Compiegne, France and the war was over. Around Nov. 28, the Eighty-Eighth left Belfort.

Lewis defeated Bob Managoff in Chicago on November 29, 1918. In December, Lewis was discharged for the Army and beat old friend Dr Ben Roller at Montreal. He then went home for the holiday. One report said he was recovering from an injury suffered in the Army.

Stecher was discharged from the navy on December 19, 1918, he had been in training during his service and claimed to have gained 20 pounds of muscle.

64) THE CANTON REPOSITORY January 2, 1918

65) THE DES MOINES REGISTER January 23, 1918

66) THE DES MOINES REGISTER February 10, 1918—Sandy Griswold also talks about the meeting in the OMAHA WORLD-HERALD February 28, 1918.

67) THE DES MOINES REGISTER February 9, 1918

68) To those few people who believe that pro wrestling consisted of “shoots” or “contests”, these illusions were forever erased with these agreements and the forming of this version of a Curley trust. The agreement would form the line between the shoot era and the worked period. To many historians, who have read all the reports, the idea of a time line, between real and fake, seems like a joke.

69) Sandy Griswold, one of the best wrestling writers in the history of the sport, wrote this in the OMAHA WORLD-HERALD February 27, 1918 (SANDY’S DOPE): “Here is a specimen of the stuff some of the New York writers are peddling to the suckers down there. This is from the typewriter of Daniel, a sports writer of much talent, on the Evening Sun, and while it proves that Daniel is not what might be called au fait in the ramifications of the mat game, he means well, and must not be wrongly judged. Here’s Daniel’s comments: B. C. Sandow, manager of the Strangler, charges that a wrestling combination has been formed to the detriment of his grappler…. The fact is that in the championship controversy Lewis stands higher than any of the others and with the “Strangler” asking for a chance to wrestle Zbyszko, Stecher, or Caddock, wefail to seethe necessity for an immediate meeting between the Pole and the scissors expert. Stecher has not been in the title hunt for some time, since his defeats by Olin and Caddock, and Zbyszko was eliminated by Caddock recently. The public is entitled to the best bouts available, and if it is convinced that some first-class wrestler is being discriminated against it may decide to give the game the go by.” Sandy continued “Rich, isn’t it? This slandering of Ed Lewis, particularly. It is all probably quite true that Lewis is bellyaching for a match with champion Earl Caddock, and runner-up Joe Stecher, and his old stable-mate Wladek Zbyszko, but the opinion is that he’ll be allowed to belly-ache for many moons yet. He forever killed his chances for a match with Stecher by his cowardly and unsportsmanlike actions in his match with him two years ago, and so far as Caddock is concerned, he and his manager Gene Melady, are to longsighted and too businesslike to ever give him the slightest consideration—that is, anyway, until after the controversies with all the legitimate adversaries has been settled. No one is anxious to see Lewis perform again, and at that he would be nuts for Caddock, Stecher, or even Zbyszko, that is, of course, providing he gave them a square battle. So far as his headlock is concerned, that’s all bosh, and nobody knows it better than he does himself. Oh no, what the public now wants is the return go between Caddock and Stecher.”

On March 12, 1918, Sandy writes this about Lewis and his headlock before the March 19 match with Wladek: “Now that is one colossal joke. Lewis’ headlock has been one of the commonest holds in wrestling, since that young Babylonian threw the bull in Voltaire’s romance—Zadig. But Eddie needn’t peeve—Zbyszko is his friend. They’ve only wrestled each other about two dozen times, and Zibby surely isn’t going to back on him now.”

YOHE: I think the mid-west heat was real, but any problem, at this time, with Curley was worked. Lewis signs with Curley and becomes one of the gang until 1922. As for the mid-west, he would always be a heel. Some feel that Ed Lewis created the heel character in pro wrestling, but I think his and Sandow personality forced it on him.

69b) THE DES MOINES REGISTER March 10, 1918

70) NEW YORK TIMES March 20, 1918

71) The report, THE CANTON REPOSITORY April 6, 1918, claims Dr. Ada Scott Morton was his wife with the marriage taking place a few months before. We know Scott was following Lewis around the country and continues for some time. It was the only way the two could spend time together. It seems believable that he was passing her off as a wife in 1918. The date of the true marriage was May 8, 1919. It should also be noted that the marriage date set in THE UNPUBLISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY was March, 1918.

71a) THE KANSAS CITY STAR April 29, 1923

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Steve Yohe

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1919 and the Battle For The Title
In January of 1919, Lewis went to Chicago for a few matches and to train for his comeback. In February he wrestled in Boston and Norfolk (beating John Olin on the 12th).

Jack Curley then got busy booking his three available stars to a series of matches. Over the next year, Curley would book the three in a number of match, exchanging wins and loses, which were designed to keep all of them strong and give meaning to every match.

Lewis signed to meet Stecher in Chicago on March 3, 1919. He completed his training for the match in Chicago.

Before he met Lewis, Stecher was matched with Wladek Zbyszko on February 25 at Sioux City. The two had wrestled a draw on November 26, in Madison Square Garden for the United War Campaign, that was so bad that fans were throwing fruit at the wrestlers. The result at Sioux City was worst. The match was billed for the World’s Wrestling Championship and the PR promised the match would not end in a draw. So… the match ended in a two hour draw. At one point, Zbyszko laid flat on his stomach and Stecher was unable to turn him as Wladek winked at ringsiders. Fans were yelling “fake” by the hour mark. The end saw the fans rioted and chased Stecher, Wladek and Jack Curley back to the dressing room where they could be protected by an army of police. They were later escorted from the arena under police protection. The next day, Zbyszko was awarded a decision, but no one in Sioux City cared. They wanted wrestling matches with over 175 pound performers banned in the city. (73)

Curley’s ideas of making pro wrestling like boxing with decisions, ended that day. The fans had spoken and they wanted clean finishes with winners and losers. The decision rule remained on the books, but it was rarely used. Jack Curley and pro wrestling had learned a lesson.

The conditions for the March 3 Stecher/Lewis match called for a two out of three fall match, but if no falls were recorded in a hour and a half the match would became a one fall affair. The public also was promised a winner or the admission price would be returned.

The match that took place was faster and more entertaining than anticipated by the 7,000 fans (close to a sellout) that paid $16,000 to see the match. The contest was mostly stand up for the first 30 minutes, with Lewis back on the defense. Stecher then applied a grapevine and took Ed to the mat. Ed got to his feet but two minutes later was taken down again. At 47 minutes, Stecher turned a grapevine into a double wristlock and got behind Lewis, but Ed regained his feet with the two pulling on each other standing until the hour mark. They stayed standing for most of the next 30 minute but Lewis was more willing to mix than in past matches. At one point Ed was taken down again but managed to get behind Stecher. But nothing happened. They were on the mat as the timekeeper announced the hour and a half mark. Lewis broke a Stecher half nelson and bobbed to his feet. The match then speeded up with Lewis at times taking the offense. At two hours, Stecher went for the scissor but Ed got his arm between Joe’s legs and broke the hold. What followed was the highlight of Lewis’ career. Lewis backheeled Joe and as the two fell backward, Ed put Joe into a flying headlock. Stecher struck the mat with a loud thump. Lewis twisted the headlock and put his legs around Joe moving for the pin. Stecher attempted to squirm and bridge out but he was locked in, and Lewis had his shoulders on the mat. The referee counted the pined. (74)

This was the first clean loss in Stecher’s career and one of Lewis’s biggest victories. The win put him on the same level as Stecher and proved he could beat anyone in the sport.

The result also shows Jack Curley’s booking power, and it showed a promoter taking control of storylines from the egos of wrestlers and managers. It was a good match and booked for the benefit of everyone. Stecher’s willingness to put over Lewis just gave him an opponent he could make big money with for the rest of his career. (75)

In January Earl Caddock had been admitted to a hospital in France with what was called influenza. His health was failing him and he had lost weight. He had been in officer school, but on graduation he refused his commission and was order home. His orders were cancelled on January 20, and he was sent back to France to train the Second Army Athletic Team for competition in the A.E.F. championships.

On February 21, word reach the States that Caddock was going to retire from pro wrestling and take up farming when he did return from Europe. On March 3, Jack Curley claimed the world title for Wladek Zbyszko, who was coming off a win over Stecher and would soon defeat Lewis. On April 1, Caddock’s manager Gene Malady denied the reports of any retirement and said Earl planed to defend his title on his return, but by then Zbyszko was being billed as champion.

March 7 saw Wladek and Lewis wrestle a two and a half draw in Norfolk, VA with the title on the line.

Three days later on March 10, Zbyszko cheapen Lewis’s win over Stecher by defending his title against Joe and beating him in a 2/3 falls match. Stecher won the first fall in 22:25 with a scissor and armhold pin. Wladek won the second fall in 2:14:25 with a reverse body hold and then pined Stecher in 14:03 to win the third fall. (76)

On March 21, Lewis was booked in another title match with Zbyszko in Madison Square Garden, NYC. Once again, the promoter announced that the gate would be returned to the fans if there wasn’t a clean finish, and the Garden was jammed with the biggest crowd sense the beginning of the war. The claim was that 5,000 people were turned away.

Lewis was the aggressor throughout and was the favorite with the crowd until a groggy Wladek picked up Ed and threw him to the mat so violently that the Strangler laid in a heap, exhausted and defeated. Zbyszko pined him with a simple body hold in 1:34:36. (77) With this win, Zbyszko took away Lewis’s Olin world title, which Sandow had always claimed for Ed. Everyone thought it was a great match.

Lewis then beat old rivals from his Lexington days, Gus “Americus” Schoenlin (March 26, Norfolk) and Dr Ben Roller (April 1, Harrisburg), (78) the only difference was the wins were routine and in two straight falls.

After beating John Olin on April 4, 1919 in Kansas City (79), Lewis announced his engagement with Dr. Ada Scott Morton. He said the wedding would take place following a rematch with Zbyszko on April 28 in Chicago.

The windy city saw Lewis lose another match to Olin line champion Wladek Zbyszko, only this time it was reported that Zbyszko had out classed The Strangler with superior strength and conditioning, pinning Lewis with a body scissors in 2:14:09. The match was held under AWA rules which meant that the match was 2/3 falls but reverted to a one fall match if no pin took place in the first two hours. Zbyszko out worked Lewis from the bell and there was no fluke or luck to the win. (80)

May 1 saw negotiations start for a late May rematch, in Omaha, with Joe Stecher. Lewis pulled out of the match when promoter Gene Melady demanded that Lewis and Stecher both post a $1,500 bond which would be forfeited if the match didn’t go to a finish, two falls out of three. The people of Omaha still remembered the July 4, 1916 disaster and want some insurance that Lewis would be willing to wrestle this time. Billy Sandow blocked the arrangements, after the Stechers agreed. The plan seemed to be to have the match take place on the anniversary of the mess, July 4.

Lewis had his own plans. On May 8, 1919 he married long time girlfriend, Dr Ada Scott Morton, at Mercer, Pennsylvania. The event took place the same day as the divorce from Dr. Andrew W. Morton became official. The new Mrs. Friedrich was a well know surgeon with practices in San Francisco and San Jose. She had studied under the famous Mayo brothers and took graduate studies at the Royal Collage of Physicians and Surgeons at London, England. She still attended clinics annually in the East, England and France. She owned a large estate a few miles from San Jose and land in Southern California. By the time of the marriage she had already built a large gym on the property for Lewis. It had weights, a ring and a swimming pool, all enclosed by glass. She seemed to enjoy the idea that she was Lewis’s trainer and there was an electric piano next to the ring because she believe training should be done with music. Billy Sandow didn’t seem to like her much. Stories are that Billy later put a cause in Ed’d contract forbidding any more marriages. Both Ed and Ada were dedicated to their professions and both continued working.

Joe Stecher re-won his world title on May 9, beating Wladek Zbyszko in one hour and forty-eight minute using his famous body scissors at Louisville. The match took place the day before the forty-fifth running of the Kentucky Derby, with 50,000 sports fans in town. He took whatever claim Wladek had, including the Olin line world title.

The real world champion, Earl Caddock, sailed into New York harbor on May 23. His wife was sick and he used the situation to persuade the army to allow his return. The Army had plans for him, one idea was to have him serve in President Wilson’s personal guard, but he refused everything. The pre-war patriot had been turned into a post-war cynic. He told reporters that he would only fight again if the U.S. was invaded and never again on any other nation’s territory. It was a view held by many soldiers. He was discharged by the US Army on June 1, 1919. He traveled to Walnut Iowa to see his wife and new born child. He then claimed his old title and began training to defend it.

The story believed by most wrestling writers, is that Caddock’s post-war performances were poor because he was weaken from being gas in France. This may be true but he had many great matches during this period. Some over two hours performed at a fast pace. After his return from the war he talked about his health, but didn’t single out the gassing incident. He talked a lot about poor food and he did suffer from influenza in January 1919. Influenza was a major disease during the war, and had killed over 50,000 soldiers. Also, it’s been claimed that Caddock, as a child, suffered from tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a very serous problem, which would have been hard to treat before 1900. Today doctor use months of anti-biotic treatment in isolation to subdue it and anti-biotics didn’t exist until World War II. Caddock probably had some other type of respiratory illness, possibility asthma. Either way, these were illnesses that would not go away and perhaps the gassing or unhealthy conditions of a war zone caused a relapse. From press clipping, there is not any indication of any deterioration in his workrate. Storylines in some match were that he wore down, but that was believable plotting considering just about everyone outweighed him by 30 to 40 pounds. These matches were works, not shoots, Caddock had many major victories and had great matches after World War I. In fact, his good reputation as a wrestler and worker came from this period. Caddock, himself, was on record saying he didn’t feel like himself for almost a year after his return from France. (83)

Lewis was signed for a Chicago match with Wladek Zbyszko on May 19. During May, Lewis worked in the training camp of Jack Dempsey. Dempsey was readying himself for his title winning victory over Jess Willard on July 4. Boxers in the early part of the 20th century usually had a wrestler in camp to help train. Dempsey and Lewis develop a friendship. Dempsey himself was a good wrestler and remained a part of the wrestling business long after his boxing career was over. His manager was the same Jack Kearns that promoted the Lewis/Wladek match in San Francisco back on June 5, 1917.

The May 19 1919 Lewis/Zbyszko match was one of their best. Wladek won the first fall in 1:36:52 with his reverse body lock. The pole looked the master during the fall, and Lewis looked spent. With defeat staring him in the face, Lewis crawled through the ropes for the second fall with a determination that could not be denied. A series of headlocks led to a Wladek defeat in 48:35. Lewis went after the giant Pole in a vicious third fall and with the use of another headlock pined Wladek in 12:56. Lewis claimed the world title because of the night’s win and the win over Stecher in Chicago. The match drew 6,000 fans and $9,000. (84)

On June 11, 1919, Lewis returned to Omaha, for the first time sense the now famous five hour draw with Stecher, to again wrestle the young star Jim Londos. Lewis took the first fall in 1:34:45 using the headlock. Londos hurt his neck, but returned to finish the match. Londos carried the fall, getting several dangerous holds and nearly pinning Lewis twice, but finally succumbed to another headlock in 17:30. Londos, out weighed by 40 pounds, gave Lewis one of his hardest matches and didn’t lose any fan support. Lewis returned to San Jose to train for his next big match. (85)

It was not by chance that the same promoter, booked the same two wrestlers, in the same city, on the same day in July. Pro wrestling and everyone connected with it was looking for vindication of the July 4, 1916 mess. Stecher had promised the people of Omaha another match with Ed “Strangler” Lewis, and on July 4, 1919 the promise was fulfilled. The famous 1916 match, would, at last, have a finish. Gene Malady signed Lewis and Stecher on June 21 and, to insure the fans a battle from start to finish, it was made a “winner takes all” match. Pro wrestling had gone through a lot in the three years, and like All Japan wrestling in 1989, it learned that fans need clean finishes. (86)

The match took place at the Omaha Auditorium, which was equipped with new larger seats and a cooling system to insure the comfort of the fans. The arena attendance was a sold out 5,000 fans as their hero Joe Stecher, who had never actually pined the Strangler, entered the ring. There was three men in the ring claiming the world title, Lewis and Stecher plus the true world champion, referee Earl Caddock.

Lewis tried repeatedly to get his headlock around Stecher, but was unable to get a pin. Twice Caddock was forced to break the hold after Lewis dropped down into a strangle. Several times Stecher just broke the hold. The post war Stecher had developed new upper body strength and he showed improvement in the use of arm holds. Several times he had Ed in dangerous positions from which he was barely able to wiggle free. At no time did the Strangler threaten Stecher. Three times Stecher had Lewis almost pinned, but the sweaty wrestler was able to slip away. At one hour and 47 minutes, Joe caught Lewis in the body scissor with a wrist lock to get the pin and first fall. The second fall was also won by Joe using the same hold in 14 minutes. So Stecher got his hand raise by Caddock and took revenge for July 4, 1916 by winning two straight falls over The Strangler. (87)

Putting over Stecher took a lot of heat off Lewis in the Midwest, but in their eye he would always remain the villain.

Lewis seemed to spend the rest of July into October in San Jose with his new wife. On Aug. 19, he lost a handicap match to Jim Londos in San Francisco. He agreed to pin both Dante Petroff and Londos in two hour but only pined Petroff in 1:15:32. Londos lasted the rest of the time limit, so it was considered a exhibition loss for Ed. So once again we find Lewis going out of his way to put over Londos. (88)

In September, Lewis was at his wife’s ranch or orchard near Santa Ana, California, when an intruder pulled a gun on him. Lewis took the gun away and then spanked the man before sending him on his way. (89) In October he was training at the gym in San Jose with Dick Daviscourt for another match with Stecher in New York City. (90) Ed was doing double duty because around this time Dr Ada became pregnant.

On October 10, 1919, the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Chicago White Soxs to win the 1919 World Series. The “worked” series would lead to a national scandal with a number of players banned from the Major Leagues. Authorities clamped down on anti-gambling laws in most large cities. The major promoters realized that pro wrestling, a worked sport, was vulnerable to prosecution and would have to survive by being entertainment and clean itself of the idea of using gambling to make a buck.

Leading up to November of 1919, Jack Curley announced that he was going to promote a series of matches, with no time limits, to decide, once and for all, the true world champion. The three major title claimants, Ed Lewis, Joe Stecher, and Wladek Zbyszko would meet in a double elimination tournament with the winner getting an undisputed title match with Earl Caddock in Madison Square Garden. The first match would be between Joe Stecher and Ed “Strangler” Lewis on November 3 in the Garden.

The sold out Garden cheered the wrestlers as they entered the ring. Both wrestlers had gained strength during the war and Lewis had put on some weight. Lewis forced the action at the start and threw Stecher around the ring roughly, but Joe was too agile to get an effective grip on him. Lewis repeatedly floored Stecher, but the farm boy bounced up as soon as he hit the carpet. At the 20 minute mark, Stecher got Lewis in a head scissor and almost got a count but Lewis wriggled free. Lewis took a lot of punishment from a Stecher toe hold, but his great strength didn’t let him down as he kicked out and almost threw Stecher out of the ring. Twice Ed applied his headlock and the second brought Joe to the mat with the crowd yelling for a pin, but the champion twisted free. At the hour mark both wrestlers began to tire. Stecher tried some jujitsu throws, but Lewis refused to be caught unaware. Lewis took the offence and twice applied the headlock with his arm clutched around his opponent’s head like a steel band. But the hold was broken and Stecher raped his legs around his opponent like a grapevine. The two crashed to the mat, with Lewis slowly turned on his back. He bridged to fight off the eventual but Stecher clinched both of his wrists as his knees rode the Strangler’s shoulders to the mat with the weight of his own body. The Joe Stecher win lasted 1:31:25. (91)

Joe Carroll Marsh was the last of the Farmer Burns group that once ruled pro wrestling. His real name seemed to be George M. Marsh (also know as Joe Carroll or Ole Marsh). Marsh was one of the men who claimed to be the manager of Frank Gotch. In 1909 he was promoting wrestling in Seattle and engaged in a wrestling war with Jack Curley. In 1910, he was indicted by authorities as being part of the Maybray Gang. This gang was a nation wide group of swindlers that scammed people by fixing horse races, boxing and even wrestling matches. Marsh pleaded guilty and served a year in Leavenworth prison. Much of his problems he blamed on Curley, who had moved on to New York City and bigger things. In 1919, he was managing Marin Plestina, the last of Farmer Burns’s good heavyweight wrestlers. Plestina was big and could wrestle, but nothing on his record makes him seem like a superstar hooker. He lost major matches to Stecher (3-25-14) and Caddock (12-1-15), early in their careers when a true shoot was possible, and later he proved nothing in matches with John Pesek and Jim Londos. He did have an early win over Lewis, but it seemed to everyone like a worked match.

In 1919, Marsh was making a lot of noise in the press claiming that there was a wrestling trust composed of Curley, Sandow, Melady and the Stechers controlling the sport and all were refusing to meet Plestina, who swore he never work a dishonest match. He exposed the worked nature of the sport under Curley and gave away future results and storylines. Marsh was friends with Bert Collyer, who published a racing publication called COLLYER”S EYE, so Marsh had a forum for his exposé. Marsh also flooded the major newspapers with letters exposing the sport while claiming Plestina could defeat all the title claimants in one night. At one point, March revealed that Curley was going to run a tournament and the final would be Caddock verses Stecher, with Stecher winning. None of his talk had much of an effect in 1919 but it embarrass Curley and the other promoters. These reports were in the newspapers as Lewis prepared for his second tournament match, this time with Wladek Zbyszko in Boston on November 27.

Wladek, after losing his title claim, seemed to be on the down side. Besides losses to Stecher and Lewis, he was upset by John Pesek on June 14, 1919 at Gordon, NB. Pesek, who would rival Caddock as the best pound for pound hooker in history, beat Zbyszko with a wrist lock in 2:03:15. Going into the Boston match, Lewis seemed to be a big favorite.

The 6,500 fans crammed into Boston’s Mechanie’s Building witness a different result. Lewis was the aggressor through out the match, but after four attempts to put on the headlock, Zbyszko threw him and put him into a body hold with a head chancery to pin Ed in 38 minutes. The loss was Lewis’s second in the tournament and he was eliminated.

Stecher won his return match with Caddock by pinning Zbyszko with a head scissors and wrist lock in 2:24:16 in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8. Before meeting Caddock he also beat title claimants in John Olin (12-15-19 in Springfield) and John Pesek (1-16-20 at Omaha).

73) SIOUX CITY TRIBUNE February 25, 1919

74) CHICAGO TRIBUNE March 4, 1919

75) CHICAGO TRIBUNE March 4, 1919—Lewis and Stretcher split a purse of $7,200. Promoter in Chicago was actually billed as Jack Herman, who most likely worked for Curley. Quote by reporter Harvey T. Woodruff: “Lewis, by his victory, has placed himself in a position to earn big money in his profession. While not flashy in performance and while his defensive tactics may not always please the crowd, he showed a coolness and strength combined with am improvement since his last appearance here which will make him a most formidable opponent for Champion Earl Caddock when Uncle Sam releases the latter from service.”

76) CHICAGO TRIBUNE March 11, 1919

77) NEW YORK TIMES March 22, 1919

78) Lewis wrestled Ben Roller but I see no reason to write about every one of their matches. By April 1919, the record had Lewis winning the last ten matches in straight falls. In THE UNPUBLISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY, Lewis claimed every one of the Roller matches were shoots. If you want to believe that, go ahead.

79) Beating John Olin was no longer a big deal. He had lost matches to Lewis (4 times), Wladek (3 times) and Caddock (twice). Olin’s fluke win over Stecher had added up to many paydays. In 1922, Olin returned to his native country with a bank roll of $50,000. He settled down on a lovely estate with a new wife but in 1926 his luck ran out when he died after a heart attack. ON THE MAT AND OFF: MEMOIRS OF A WRESTLER by Hjalmar Lundin Page 135

80) LINCOLN DAILY STAR April 29, 1919



83) This section cannibalized from my EARL CADDOCK: “THE MAN OF A THOUSAND HOLDS” by Steve Yohe The Caddock quotes were from THE DES MOINES REGISTER May 31, 1919

84) CHICAGO TRIBUNE May 19, 1919




88) SAN FRANCISCO CRONICAL August 20, 1919

89) OAKLAND CA TRIBUNE September 13, 1919

90) OAKLAND CA TRIBUNE October 27, 1919

91) NEW YORK TIMES November 4, 1919—The play by play of the match was stolen word for word from the Times. Lewis’s record verses Stecher at that point was one win, four loses, and two draws.
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Steve Yohe

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1920 with Joe Stecher as Champion
After the Wladek loss, Lewis headed back to San Jose after first wrestling a few matches in the Chicago area. He was in San Jose for the holidays, then wrestled his way through Kansas and Missouri and had a few matches in Utica and Boston. He was present at the Caddock/Stecher title unification match on January 30, 1920.

Many of pro wrestling’s greatest events, such as the Gotch/Hackenschmidt matches, the first two Stecher/Lewis match and you might even say the first Stecher/Caddock match, ended up as scandalous disappointments, but this match between wrestling’s best lived up to its full potential. It drew a sold out 10,000 and had a $75,000 gate with the cities best sitting in seats going at $22 a spot. It was promoted as an upper class affair.

Caddock was the aggressor for the first hour but the physical and emotional strain seemed to wear him down during the one fall finish match, and he ended up in Stecher’s body scissors, being pinned after two hours and five minutes. It was considered a classic match in which both men showed all their speed and skill. Stecher and Caddock were paid $30,000 for the motion picture rights and forty minutes of the match remains on tape today. Even in today’s age of moonsaults and chairshots, the work holds up and many even consider the match a shoot. After the pin, Stecher lifted Caddock to his feet and Earl’s handshake followed. The two limped to the dressing room, but neither man would be forgotten by the New York fans. They would return to wrestle again, but never against each other. (92)

With the win, Joe Stecher became the first undisputed world champion sense Frank Gotch. His purse was $25,000 plus his cut of the movie money. A report in the FREMONT EVENING TRIBUNE of February 3, claimed that Stecher was part of a syndicate of five sports gamblers, and that group had covered all Caddock bets in Dodge before the title match. Stecher’s share in the syndicate pool was 20% of the gross amount “and then a share of what was left”. (93)

In January 1920 came a report that Stanislaus Zbyszko was returning to American. Back in 1914 he was probably the best wrestler in America and the only defeat on his record, that fans would know of, was a June 2, 1910 loss to Frank Gotch in Chicago. He returned home in 1914, and was held under house arrest in Europe through 1919. In the process he had lost his fortune and was hunger to wrestle any of the top wrestlers.

Jack Curley recruited Jim Londos about the same time and the Greek left Canton in January for the big time… New York City. Curley not only stole Canton promoter Mike Mc Kinney’s biggest star, but also stole the match he had been promoting for months. (94) On January 5, 1920 Jim Londos defeated William Demetral for the Greek wrestling title at the 71st Regt. Armory in Manhattan. After the match, fans and old timers claimed that it was, without doubt, one of the most grueling bouts they had ever witnessed. Londos won with a double-arm scissors after 1 hour 49 minutes and 20 seconds of vicious wrestling. The win gave Londos a title match with Stecher. (95)

Both Lewis and Londos were working in Norfolk, Virginia. Heel manager Billy Sandow was making claims that Lewis could throw the small star three times in two hours, and Londos took him up on the challenge. (96) The match took place on February 4, 1920 at Norfolk Club, Lewis needed to pin Londos three times in two hours to win the handicap match. Londos, outweighed by 45 pounds, was never in trouble and the contest went the full two hours without a fall. In fact, Lewis was out wrestled and at one point even called a time out to save himself from being submitted. The house was full and the match was the best seen that year. (97)

A lot in the years that follow is made of the rivalry between Ed Lewis and Jim Londos, but it is very clear that up until 1926, the established star Lewis was doing everything he could, next to a clean job, to put Londos over. It’s also very clear that Lewis was very good at playing the subtle heel…..and most of the time, he wasn’t too subtle.

Lewis then traveled to Kansas City where he defeated Wladek Zbyszko on February 16.

Londos got his title match with Joe Stecher at the 71st Regiment Armory on February 20, 1920. It was printed that Jimmy gave Stecher the hardest battle of his career but he was still pined in 2 hours 13 minutes and 34 seconds with a wrist lock. The arena was sold out with no standing room, so the police had to lock the doors to keep thousands outside. The only thing between Jimmy and a championship victory was weight. (98)

Ten days later, March 2, 1920, Jack Curley, realizing he needed a bigger building, booked Londos to meet Strangler Lewis in Madison Square Garden and it attracted a capacity crowd with every nook and cranny filled. The police were ready this time and there was no disorder outside in the streets. The Lewis-Londos match was a stubbornly contested affair, in which brute strength was the ruling factor. The grapplers went at each other in violent rushes which caused them to tumble into the press roll frequently. Londos was agile, extremely clever on the defense, successful in his attack and several times had Lewis on the verge of defeat. In the end, however, the Stranglers crushing arm power and headlocks forced Londos to submit. At the two-hour mark Lewis appeared to be tiring and Londos looked fresh. Three times Londos broke out of Lewis’s headlock. In the first, Lewis held the hold for some time as the Greek twisted into position, the powerful Londos rose erect with Lewis clinging to his head. The Strangler was then just shaken off. Londos duplicated the feat more that once while the crowd yelled loudly. The efforts, however, sapped Londos’s strength and when, at the 2 hours 2 minutes mark, Lewis again secured his hold, the Greek was forced to submit. Lewis got the win while Londos got the adoration of the crowd. (99)

Less than two weeks later on March 15, 1920, Curley booked Lewis in a match that would have to be considered one of the highlights of his career. Ed was to wrestle Caddock, the ex-champion and number one contender for Stecher’s crown. Lewis was number two on the list and Curley billed the contest as an elimination match for a title match. Caddock had only one known lost, to Stecher, on his record and very few could say they had ever pined the Iowan for a fall. As champion Caddock had beaten Lewis via decision and was a huge favorite in New York City. Pound for pound, the 185 pound Caddock was considered the finest technical wrestler in the world. With his war record and wrestling style, there was no more popular babyface in the sport.

On March 15, 1920, the two major contenders squared off in front of another sold out Madison Square Garden of 11,000. The crowd had picked Caddock to win and cheered the war veteran’s every move. Until the finish, Caddock had justified the crowd’s support by out pointing Lewis in every way. Although lighter and smaller, he had displayed a speed and aggressiveness that more than countered The Strangler’s weight. The first indication that Earl was weakening came after 1 hour and 33 minutes, when Ed threw the Iowan to the mat heavily and almost pinned him with a face lock and leg hold. Caddock broke free after a tortuous struggle. Lewis then resumed the attack with the suddenness and quickness of a lightning flash. A head lock and hip throw slammed Caddock to the mat and Lewis slowly turned the ex-champ over on his shoulders for a three count by referee George Bothner. Time was 1:35:45. (100)

In the ring, Caddock was examined by a doctor, and it was announced that his collar bone was broken. Earl would later tell reporters that it was Ed’s face lock that injured him, but every fan in the building believed it was Lewis’s headlock that did the damage. Lewis’s victory was unpopular, but he had won his chance to meet Stecher. Ed was on a big win streak in 1920, beating Londos, Wladek and then Caddock, and many reporters and insiders felt that The Strangler would soon take Stecher’s title.

Curley booked the event into the Seventy-first Armory on April 16, 1920. The days of Lewis and Stecher wrestling five hours without touching each other were long gone. The two now knew and trusted each other and the fact that both had the same boss in Jack Curley smooth out any bumps in the relationship. Stecher had returned from his training during WWI a bigger stronger wrestler in perfect condition, who no longer based his style solely on the scissors. In 1920, his style was well rounded and he seemed the master of every hold. Lewis on the other hand, had grown in size and weight with his feared headlock becoming more and more the tool he used to bring excitement to his matches. In fact the headlock was taking on a life of it’s own. Sometimes overshadowing Lewis himself. Lewis was a gentleman outside the ring, well liked by everyone. He wrestled clean but his headlock was taking on heel dimensions all its own with fans and sports writers. It was seen as a brutal hold that caused injury. Some of the old hardcore fans thought it was too brutal for the scientific sport of wrestling, that used to be a contest of pinning a foe, not hurting them. The injury to Caddock had lifted the Lewis headlock, over Gotch’s toe hold, as the most famous hold in pro wrestling history. (100a)

The most remembered Stecher/Lewis matches are either the 5 hour draw in Omaha in 1913 or the Lewis title wins, but my favorite match between the two is the April 16. 1920 match. Stecher had been considered the champion wrestler for some time and was coming off of two major wins over Lewis. In Jack Curley’s booking style, he didn’t like long term world champions and his ability to get results from performers came from the fact it was his booking style was to keep everyone strong. Of the big four wrestlers of 1915 to 1921, Lewis was the only one not to have been promoted by Curley as undisputed world champion. It seemed like his turn had come. I think that the smarts of April 1920, saw Lewis beating Stecher for the title, and some money was probably bet that way. It seemed like the smart move by booker Curley, but it wasn’t. Jack was smarter than they thought.

The 71st Regiment Armory was Curley’s choice as the site. It held 3,000 less than the Garden and it didn’t have the prestige that was associated with Madison Square Garden, but its rent was lower and it had a better location in the city. Curley also didn’t have to deal with his rival Tex Rickard, who managed the Garden and had drove Curley out of the sport of boxing. You will find that the gates pre-1929 and the depression, were larger that later, because Curley and others could charge as much as $20 for a ringside seat. There may have been less fans in the arena, but there were more dollars. I have no gate or attendance for the April 1920 match but they made good money.

The bout turn out to be a terrific match of grueling endurance and skill, that lasted three hours, four minutes and fifteen minutes. There was action thought out the match. The early portion saw Lewis get in close to the champion to take him down to the mat in a body lock. At one point he put on the headlock but Joe broke the hold. Lewis used the lock many times during his matches and wrestlers were able to break it or get lose, but it was used to wear down his foes and it only needed to work once for victory. Both hit the mat in the early going, with both scrambling to get out of harms way. At one point both fell thought the ropes to the floor. Both the headlock and the scissors were worked during the match. For three hours there was nothing to choose between the two. Every know submission hold was used and broken. At that point, Stecher seemed to weaken and four times he was almost pinned by headlocks. On Lewis’ fifth try, the champion made a spectacular comeback, with amazing strength he lifted Lewis off his feet while still in the headlock. He then threw the huge hulk of the challenger to the mat with Lewis landing on his head. (Sounded like Stecher knew Thesz’s side suplex.). He then raped his legs around Ed and, using an arm bar, pinned Lewis flat for the pin. The crowd stormed the ring to congratulate Stecher on defending his title. (101)

All we have today is a newspaper report, but it seems like a spectacular wrestling match that should be remembered as one of wrestling’s greatest contests. At that point, Lewis’s record verse Stecher was one win, two draws and four major loses. Lewis would do better in the future.

On May 20, 1920 the James J. Walker Bill was signed into law by the New York Governor Al Smith. The bill legalized boxing in the state and set up a three man commission to control boxing and wrestling in the state. The Commission, which still exists today, ruled that anyone connected with ring sports had to be licensed by the state.

The mid-west was still sore over Lewis’s New York win over Earl Caddock and a lot of talk was being made in a build up to another match. Billy Sandow claimed that Caddock was afraid of Lewis’s headlock and would never have the nerve to get back into the ring with Ed. Gene Malady, manager of Caddock, claimed that Earl had Lewis pinned at the 30 minute mark of the New York match, but the referee was distracted by Sandow and no count was made. He also called the headlock a strangle and complained about the match being only one fall. Caddock refused another New York match and there was no way Lewis would wrestle in Omaha. One of the major promoters, Oscar Thorson of Des Moines Iowa, traveled to Boston in May and was able to sign the match. The date would be June 8 in Des Moines and it would be a two out of three fall match to a finish.

That night saw the Des Moines Coliseum filled with 6,500 Iowans looking for revenge over Lewis. Caddock reversed a headlock into his favorite hold, the head scissors, to win the first fall in 43:30. Lewis came back to win the second fall with the headlock in 27:00. Lewis had a 40 pound advantage over Caddock but he was almost as fast, and the match was judged by the reporter as exciting and spectacular as any ever held in the city. Caddock turned defeat into victory in the third fall with a toe hold and wrist lock that pinned the “Strangler’s” shoulders to the canvas in 7:00. Caddock’s fine condition had won over Lewis’s vicious headlock and the crowd departed shouting praise for their ex-champ. (102)

This is a quote from the June 10, 1920 DES MOINES REGISTER’S by reporter Sec Taylor: “…from the 6,000 or more persons who saw it one hears thousands of words of praise…….with the occasional word of criticism from those who steadfastly believe that all of the mat contests of the present day are cooked up for the fans. The charge that the wrestlers whispered to each other, that the result was prearranged and similar talk is always heard after the big matches, but the fact remains that even those who make these accusations are always among the spectators and apparently fear they will miss something good if they stay away. Even the few who are skeptical admit that Tuesday night’s match was the best they ever saw and that it was worth the price of admission. It was full of hard wrestling, clever, and fast work by both contestants, exciting moments when the issue was in doubt and spectacular and thrilling moves on the part of both men.”

In July Lewis returned to San Jose to be present at the birth of his daughter. Ada and Ed decide to name the poor girl Bobada, a conglomeration or combination of the first names of both father and mother. (103)

In July Joe Stecher, working out with the minor league Stecher Club of Dodge Nebraska, injured his left arm. The baseball injury took him to Excelsior Springs Missouri for treatment.

On October 27, Lewis traveled to Montreal Canada to defeat Wladek Zbyszko. Ed’s old rival was losing his national push and this was his third defeat to Lewis in 1920. This didn’t stop Jack Curley from booking the two back into the 71st Armory on November 23 in another contenders match with the winner getting a title shot. Lewis once again pinned Wladek Zbyszko with the use of the headlock in 1:25:45 in front of 10,000 fans. Wladek claimed that Lewis had changed his headlock and that the move had become even more deadly. This would be the last match between the two foes until 1931. (104)

A rematch between Stecher and Lewis was set for the Seventy-first Regiment Armory on December 13, 1920. On December 5, both Lewis and the champion began training in New York City. Lewis did his roadwork in Central Park while both wrestlers trained at George Bothner’s gymnasium up until the day of the match. It’s interesting that Boxing champion Jack Dempsey was also in Central Park, doing his running for a December 14 title match at the Garden with Bill Brennan. (104)

The eighth Stecher/Lewis match filled the Armory with almost 9,000 people. The building was so over flowed, with people standing on the main floor and in the gallery, that the Fire Department ordered the doors closed and late comers, even with tickets, were turned away. Once the match started, there was little to choose between the two wrestlers, they tugged , pulled, pushed, and mauled each other for over an hour without either being able to apply a finishing hold. Lewis tried arm bars, half-nelsons, toe holds and slams in the early going to wear Stecher down so he could work him into the headlock, but the Nebraskan invariable slipped the hold without any loss of strength. Time and again Stecher tried to clutch Lewis in his powerful legs, but Ed was too strong to be held for any great period of time. After one hour and thirty-five minutes, Stecher seemed to be the stronger of the two, but the last seven minutes saw Lewis break lose with speed and agility to take control of the match. Reports claim that those seven minutes were wrestling’s most dramatic. Lewis locked on a headlock and threw Joe to the canvas. For 54 seconds Stecher squirmed, twisted, jumped and sought by every means to extricate himself…. before breaking free. The champion had hardly regained his feet and was tottering and swaying with the dizziness that resulted from the use of the Strangler’s finishing hold, when Lewis jumped on him like a lion playing with a sick deer. Another vice like grip saw Joe fighting for another 35 second before pulling himself free. He rose to his feet like a boxer who had taken a 9 count. Lewis, with a lust for victory and the title, leaped in again with the left arm looping eagerly for the hold which would finish his prey. A third headlock threw Stecher to the mat with the crowd standing knowing the end was near. But the effort was taking its effect on Lewis too and Joe broke free in only 7 seconds. With both nearly exhausted, Lewis rush in for a forth headlock but Stecher countered and threw Ed to the floor. Like a flash, Stecher was on him as the crowd let out a deafening yell. Tony Stecher and Billy Sandow screamed encouragement to the men that couldn’t possibility be hear thought the noise and the excitement of the moment.

Stecher slipped on his famous scissors and applied so much pressure that the sweat oozed from both men. The veins of Stechers upper extremities stood out like his head was going to explode, but Lewis wouldn’t give up or allow himself to be turned for a pin. For two minutes Joe applied the killing pressure in a last attempt to retain his honor, but Lewis fought savagely to release himself. Finally, Stecher’s strength slowly gave way and Lewis, with one tremendous lunge, pulled himself free.

Stecher could barely stand as the exhausted Lewis dove at him for a fifth headlock. It looked like the end and the crowd, sensing the result, changed its yells to shouts of encouragement for the toiling Lewis. Ed held the hold for 30 seconds but Stecher somehow pulled free. But back on his feet he staggered drunkenly about the ring until Lewis leaped in with another hold, which was also broken. The hold robbed the champion of the little he had left so Lewis lurched forward and clamped on the seventh and last headlock. The hiplock throw followed with Stecher crashing on the mat. Lewis pinned Stecher with the little strength he had left. The graceful champion had finally been defeated.

Lewis let go of the grip after he felt the victorious slap on the back. Amid a dim which threatened to lift the roof off the armory, Lewis staggered weakly against the ropes. Billy Sandow jumped into the ring to hold him upright and he was placed on a stool. The handlers of Stecher ran to the fallen man and assisted him to another stool facing Lewis. For some time, the handlers worked to revive the two men who had battled for 1:41:56. Stecher needed the most attention but he was the first to his feet. He swayed drunkenly toward his corner, as if to leave the ring, but stopped. Then, as if in an afterthought, staggered on weary legs back across the ring to where Lewis was sitting and clasped the Strangler’s hand. Many times over the preceding years Ed had believed he was world champion and said so… everyone believed it. (105)


92) NEW YORK TIME Jan. 31, 1920 THE BELOIT DAILY NEWS Jan 31, 1919 BUFFALO Jan. 31, 1919 VIRINIAN-PILOT NORFOLF Jan. 31, 1919

93) FREMONT EVENING TRIBUNE February 3, 1920


95) NEW YORK TIMES January 6, 1920

96) VIRINIAN-PILOT NORFOLK February 1, 1920

97) VIRINIAN-PILOT NORFOLK February 5, 1920

98) NEW YORK TIMES January 21, 1920

99) The match description comes almost directly from THE NEW YORK TIMES March 3, 1920.

100) NEW YORK TIMES March 16, 1920

100a) DETROIT FREE PRESS December 23, 1919-Quote from article titled :STRANGLER LEWIS’ HEADLOCK LIKED TO KNOCKOUT PUNCH---“Lewis with Yankee ingenuity has applied a new twist to old methods, improving by the use of his brain a hold that has been in vogue among grapplers for several years, making it more forceful and feared. Hence the attempt to class it with the now extinct “strangle” hold…..Lewis’ headlock is secured from the standing position. Lewis pulls down the opponent’s head, reaching over his head with the left hand and getting him into the chancery. With his right hand he reaches under the head of his opponent and grasps his own left hand fitting into the jaw of the defensive wrestler on the right side. The head is drawn in and locked. Then the twist is applied and the opponent is flung to the mat with a cross butlock. Lewis then falls on his victim with all his weight and twists his fist into the jaw. The latter is done so quickly that by the time the referee is on the job, the hold is a chin-lock……Lewis’flying headlock is as good an anesthetic as either or gas. The twisting process which is one of terrific force, acts like a knock out punch, causing the upper part of the jawbone to jar the brain. Wrestlers who have been thrown with Lewis’ headlock state that they knew nothing until they began to recover….The headlock is a development of modern wrestling methods.”

101) NEW YORK TIMES April 17, 1920—It should be noted that Jack Curley believed in one fall matches and this one and all the other matches of 1920 and before in NYC were one fall to a finish, with no time limit. The WWF or WWE or WWWF of our time seems to have followed his example.


103) SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE December 22, 1920

104) NEW YORK TIMES December 13, 1920

105) NEW YORK TIMES December 14, 1920---Most of the description and words used came directly from the TIMES story. I have great respect for the talent of whoever wrote the TIMES reports. I hope this paper makes his work last a little longer. I don’t believe anyone of today could match the writers, such as this, from the early 20th century.

Some who read this may think I’m a mark for giving so much detail in describing these matches, but I really don’t care. I don’t believe in shoots but I believe they were great pro-wrestling matches. The equal of many of the All Japan matches of the 1990’s and I want to give that feeling to the reader if possible.

Also THE BROOKLYN EAGLE December 14, 1920 and THE ARIZONA REPUBLICAN (PHOENIX) December 14, 1920. There seems to be some controversy over how many headlocks were used by Lewis in the last great seven minutes. THE TIME said seven, other papers said eight or nine.
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