Frank Gotch 1877-1917
GOTCH, BURNS, SLAVIN, HACKENSCHMIDT, JENKINS, ROLLER, ZBYSZKO
Posted By: CHERYL MOONEN (email)
Date: 5/24/2018 at 22:15:27
Gotch wrestled and won his first match against Marshall Green in Humboldt on April 2, 1899, but his first important match was in Lu Verne, Iowa on June 16, 1899, against a man claiming to be a furniture dealer from a neighboring town. Gotch held his own for nearly two hours, but lost the hard-fought contest. Only later when he received the impressed man's visiting card, he did learn that his opponent had actually been reigning American Heavyweight Champion Dan McLeod. On December 18, 1899, Gotch challenged another former American Heavyweight Champion, "Farmer" Martin Burns, losing in 11 minutes, but impressing Burns as well, who offered to train Gotch. Under the guidance of Burns, Gotch won a series of matches in Iowa and later Yukon. While in the Yukon, Gotch wrestled under the name Frank Kennedy and won the title of "Champion of the Klondike". During his time in the Yukon, Gotch tried his hand at boxing, but failed miserably against the heavyweight Frank "Paddy" Slavin.
Gotch returned to Iowa and instantly challenged the reigning American Heavyweight Champion Tom Jenkins. Gotch lost their first match in 1903, before defeating Jenkins in a rematch on January 27, 1904, to take the championship. After trading the title with Jenkins and Fred Beel, Gotch set his sights on the World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship, then held by the undefeated Estonian George Hackenschmidt. The opponent, called the "Russian Lion", had gained undisputed title recognition by defeating Jenkins in New York in 1905. Upon defeating Jenkins, however, Hackenschmidt ignored Gotch's challenge and sailed home to England.
Frank Gotch vs. Georg Hackenschmidt at Comiskey Park
Gotch and Hackenschmidt finally met on April 3, 1908, at the Dexter Park Pavilion in Chicago. Showing his contempt for Gotch and for American wrestling in general, Hackenschmidt was not in the best condition, unlike Gotch, who used his speed, defense and rough tactics to wear Hackenschmidt down and then assume the attack. The wrestlers stood on their feet for two full hours before Gotch was able to get behind Hackenschmidt and take him down. While on their feet, Gotch made sure to lean on Hackenschmidt to wear him down. He bullied him around the ring, and his thumbing and butting left Hackenschmidt covered in blood. Hackenschmidt complained to the referee of Gotch's foul tactics and asked that Gotch be forced to take a hot shower to rid his body of an abundance of oil, but the referee ignored the complaints and told Hackenschmidt he should have noticed the oil before the match began. The match continued until the two-hour mark, when Hackenschmidt was forced against the ropes. Gotch tore him off the ropes, threw Hackenschmidt down and rode him hard for three minutes, working for his dreaded toe hold. Hackenschmidt had trained to avoid this hold, which he did, but the effort took his last remaining strength. Hackenschmidt quit the fall. "I surrender the championship of the world to Mr. Gotch", he said, and stood up and shook Gotch's hand. The wrestlers then retired to their dressing rooms before coming out for the second fall, but Hackenschmidt refused to return to the ring, telling the referee to declare Gotch the winner, thereby relinquishing his title to him.
"He is the king of the class, the greatest man by far I ever met", Hackenschmidt said. "After going nearly two hours with him, my muscles became stale. My feet also gave out. I had trained constantly against the toe hold and had strained the muscles of my legs. When I found myself weakening, I knew there was no use continuing and that I had no chance to win. That was the reason I conceded the championship to him. I have no desire to wrestle him again. A return match would not win back my title". Hackenschmidt later reversed his opinion of Gotch and Americans in general, claiming to have been fouled by Gotch and victimized in America, and calling for a rematch in Europe.
As undisputed free-style heavyweight champion of the world, Gotch spent the next three years establishing his dominance over the sport, defeating the likes of Jenkins, Dr. Ben Roller, and Stanislaus Zbyszko, who was believed to have won over 900 matches before falling to Gotch on June 1, 1910. The victory over Zbyszko was particularly spectacular, as Gotch took both falls in slightly less than half an hour, and thoroughly dominated Zbyszko. He took the first fall in just six seconds with a surprise move and quick pin, and won the second fall in only 27 minutes. Gotch outmaneuvered and outclassed Zbyszko every second of the match.
Gotch became a national sensation, and he was in demand everywhere for public appearances. He starred in a play called All About A Bout, and whenever he walked on stage he was greeted by a standing ovation. He was invited to the White House by United States President Theodore Roosevelt, and wrestled a Japanese ju-jitsu expert in the East Hall, making his opponent submit. The night before his second match with Hackenschmidt, he attended a Chicago Cubs baseball game at Wrigley Field with his wife and in-laws and took his seat down front. After the game, nearly every member of the Cubs team came to his private box and asked for his autograph. When he traveled overseas with his play, Gotch was a huge hit, as it seemed that everywhere he went, fans wanted to see him. Everywhere he went, he made wrestling "big time".
Gotch met Hackenschmidt again on September 4, 1911, at the newly opened Comiskey Park in Chicago, which drew a crowd of nearly 30,000 spectators and a record gate of $87,000. The rematch is one of the most controversial and talked about matches in professional wrestling history, as Hackenschmidt injured his knee against Roller, his chief training partner. Years later, wrestler Ad Santel told Lou Thesz that he was paid $5,000 by Gotch's backers to cripple Hackenschmidt in training, and make it look like an accident. However, according to Hackenschmidt himself, the injury was accidentally inflicted by his sparring partner, Dr. Roller, when trying to hold Hackenschmidt down onto his knees and Roller's right foot striking Hackenschmidt's right knee. According to Hackenschmidt, his sparring partners were Americus (Gus Schoenlein), Jacobus Koch, Wladek Zbyszko and Dr. Roller. Ad Santel is not mentioned in any account of Hackehschmidt's training by either Hackenschmidt or Roller, both of whom offered their insights and accounts. Whatever the case may be, if the injury was real, Dr. Roller did not consider it serious and referee Ed Smith dismissed it as inconsequential. Hackenschmidt himself ignored it completely in declaring, the day before the match, that he was "fit to wrestle for my life" and was "satisfied with my condition and confident of the outcome". If there was a knee injury, Gotch discovered it quickly and took advantage of it, so Hackenschmidt was easy prey for Gotch, losing in straight falls in only 30 minutes. Gotch clinched the match with his feared toe hold, which forced Hackenschmidt to quit.
Gotch reigned as the World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion from his first victory over Hackenschmidt in 1908 until he retired in 1913 after defeating Estonian Georg Lurich April 1, 1913, in Kansas City, Missouri. Gotch is one of the longer reigning world champions in the history of professional wrestling, with a reign that spanned nearly five years; the only other champions to have longer reigns than Gotch are Bruno Sammartino, who held the WWF World Heavyweight Championship for a record of seven years and eight months, Lou Thesz, whose fifth NWA World Heavyweight Championship lasted seven years and seven months, and Verne Gagne who held the AWA World Heavyweight Title for seven years years and three months.
Gotch competed in an era when a championship wrestling match was the same as a championship prize fight: i.e., it was a major event for which the wrestlers went into training and which promoters publicized for weeks. Thus, he did not have a long career in terms of the number of matches wrestled. His mentor Farmer Burns, and later champions Ed Lewis, the "Strangler", as well as Lou Thesz, each engaged in more than 6,000 matches in their careers. Gotch engaged in only 160, finishing with a record of 154 wins and only 6 losses. Of those six losses, however, two were in the first year of his career – to Dan McLeod and Farmer Burns – and three were to Tom Jenkins. His last defeat was to Fred Beell on December 1, 1906, when he had crashed head-first into an uncovered turnbuckle and been rendered nearly unconscious. He defeated Beell in seven rematches and never lost again by the time of his retirement in 1913.
Gotch was, by all accounts, a superior professional wrestler possessing tremendous strength, lightning quickness, genuine agility, cat-like reflexes, impeccable technique, superb ring generalship, a mastery of the use of leverage, and a full knowledge of professional wrestling holds, counterholds and strategy. He was always in the best of condition and possessed both enormous courage and an indomitable will to win, ever ready to match his heart, his gameness, against any man in the world. He was highly aggressive, but always kept his cool. Critics saw in him both the strength of the old school of professional wrestling and the skill of the new, "as agile as a cat in his manoeuvers" and having "the grappling sport down to such science that he had assumed a rank all by himself". Gotch's measurements for his 1911 victory over Hackenschmidt were: age – 33; weight – 204 pounds; height – 5'11"; reach – 73"; biceps – 17.5"; forearm – 14"; neck – 18"; chest – 45"; waist – 34"; thigh – 22"; calf – 18".
There is another side to this story that, when Lou Thesz was just starting out in the early 1930s, there were a good many professional wrestlers still active who had known Gotch and were not reluctant to talk about him. "The picture that emerged of Gotch from those conversations", Thesz recalled, "was of a man who succeeded at his business primarily because he was, for lack of a kinder description, a dirty wrestler. That's not to say that he wasn't competent, because everyone I ever talked with said he was one of the best. But those same people described him as someone who delighted in hurting or torturing lesser opponents, even when they were supposed to be working out, and he was always looking for an illegal edge when he was matched against worthy ones. One of the old-timers I met was a fine man named Charlie Cutler, who knew Gotch very well and succeeded him as world champion; according to Cutler, Gotch would gouge, pull hair and even break a bone to get an advantage in a contest, and he was unusually careful to have the referee in his pocket, too, in case all else failed". Referee Ed Smith, who officiated several of Gotch's bouts, including both of the Gotch-Hackenschmidt contests, had observed after the second match that "to my mind... he wasn't just exactly through one hundred percent on the courageous side. Two or three times I saw needless acts of absolute cruelty on his part that I did not like. Always will I think that the really courageous man, no matter how ferocious and filled with the killing instinct and eager to win he may be, is willing to let up on a beaten foe and not punish needlessly or wantonly".
For years one of America's most eligible bachelors, Gotch married Gladys Oestrich on February 11, 1911. They had one son, Robert Frederick Gotch.
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