"The Man of a Thousand Holds"
by Steve Yohe
Earl Caddock Biography
Real Name: Earl Caddach or Earl Craddock or Earl Caddack (?)
Nickname: The Man of a Thousand Holds
Height: 5 feet, 11 inches
Weight: 182 lbs
Signature Moves: Head Scissors
Earl Caddock was born at Huron, South Dakota on February 27, 1888. His parents, John Caddock and Jane Brown, were Jewish of German or Bohemian extraction. The family name may have been spelled Caddach, Craddock, or Caddack.1 His father was in the dry goods business and provided a good living. As a child Caddock grew sickly and anemic2. His physicians claimed he had tuberculosis and this led to the family moving to his mother's hometown of Chicago. As part of his treatment, Earl was sent to the local YMCA. He began swimming and, after his health and conditioning improved, he moved on to weightlifting and wrestling. He became so adept at wrestling that he won the club championship. In 1902 Earl's father fell down a Chicago manhole and was killed. This bizarre accident led Earl to be sent to Anita, Iowa, where he was kept busy working on his uncle Isaac's farm.
He continued wrestling and won many local amateur titles. Around 1907, he returned to Chicago for a college education, it's believe at The Hebrew Institution. He was coached there by Benny Reubin1, a legend in amateur catch-as-catch wrestling. Caddock became a member of the Chicago Athletic Association and trained with its athletic director Martin Delany and worked out with professionals Charlie Cutler and Ernest Kartje. It's reported that Caddock had contact with World Champion Frank Gotch and the famous Farmer Burns when back in Iowa2. Gotch's home of Humboldt, Iowa was located only 100 miles from Anita. It wouldn't be a surprise since the center of the wrestling world at the time was Iowa and the surrounding states such as Nebraska. It is recorded that he idolized Gotch. Caddock did well in college and he seems to have graduated.
Although not many of his results are known from 1909 to 1914, Caddock was the dominant amateur middleweight and light heavy weight in the country. A story later reported in newspapers5 is that local farmers in Barea, Iowa arranged a match between the two local champion amateurs - Caddock and heavyweight Joe Stecher. The two wrestled in a barn in front of 38 people, with Stecher winning the two of the three falls match. Stecher turned pro accepting his first purse of $3.80, while Caddock remained an amateur.4 Stories of a boyhood friendship between Caddock and Stecher seem exaggerated, as Caddock was five years older than Stecher.
On April 4, 1914, Caddock won the national AAU Light heavyweight championship held in San Francisco. In Oct. 1914, he returned to Anita, Iowa. He was 26 years old, a collage graduate and a landholder, having homesteaded a ranch in Upton Wyoming, near the Black Hills. A series of matches followed at the local Opera House. Early in his career he had been beaten by Pete Fromm, a wrestler who claimed the amateur light heavyweight champion of Iowa. Clarence Eklund, who would later defeat him, claimed4 that Fromm was one of the best of his time but was held back because he didn't like to train. Eklund said that Fromm refused to give Caddock a rematch. This holds up as Fromm cancelled a title match with Earl on Oct. 21, 1914, claiming illness.
On April 17, 1915, Caddock returned to San Francisco and won the AAU championship in both the light heavy weight and heavyweight class with wins two wins over the same wrestler, C.E. Allen. At age 27, Caddock was considered the amateur world champion.
After vacationing in Los Angeles and San Diego, Caddock returned to Anita, Iowa to schedule his pro debut. On June 8, 1915, he met former American Champion and top ten heavyweight contender Jesse Westergaard in a handicap match at the Anita Opera House. Westergaard agreed to pin Caddock twice in an hour, but no falls were recorded within the time limit. Under the handicap rules, Caddock was awarded the win. It was an impressive debut considering the competition.
On July 4, 1915, Caddock was ringside to watch Joe Stecher defeat Charlie Cutler for the World Title. Stecher was undefeated and no one in wrestling had come close to taking a fall from him.
Victories by Caddock over Charles Challander, Tilio Govadarcia and Joe Geshtout followed. On July 9, 1915, Caddock met Clarence Eklund at Harlan Iowa. Eklund was one of the greatest light heavyweights in history and would win the 178 lb title more than once in the years to come. At the time of this match, he was claiming the Canadian Light Heavyweight Championship. Caddock at 180 lbs beat him two straight falls.
More wins followed. On Sept. 27, 1915 in Atlantic, Iowa, after defeating a feared Indian wrestler named War Eagle in two straight falls, Gene Malady and Oscar Thorson, the two major promoters in mid-west, visited Caddock. Malady was a rich rancher and livestock broker who had played on the first football team at Notre Dame and been well known as an amateur boxer. His interest in sports and a reputation as a responsible businessman led to promotion and the rejuvenation of the wrestling game. He had been the promoter of the big Stecher vs. Cutler card and was considered one of the powers in pro wrestling. Malady announced that he was working on a Caddock vs. Dr. Ben Roller for Atlantic. The press soon started building Caddock into a contender for World Champion Joe Stecher.
Oct. 9, 1915 saw Caddock defeat Bob Managoff at Anita in two straight. After the match Malady predicted that Earl would be world champion with in a year and tried to arrange a match with World Light Heavyweight Champion Adolph Ernst (Ad Santel). Caddock still weighed 180 lbs but had begun to defeat true heavyweights without losing a fall. On Oct. 25 he beat Paul Martensen.
On Dec. 1, 1915, Caddock met his biggest challenge in a huge shooter named Marin Plestina. Plestina was a student of Farmer Burns who would later became an outlaw wrestler that challenged the power of the New York city wrestling trust by breaking kayfabe and exposing the business. He was immortalized in the book FALL GUYS for losing shoots to Ed Lewis and getting fouled in a New York city match with John Pesek. On this night, Plestina lost two straight falls to Caddock with Stecher and Gotch watching ringside.
In January 1916 Caddock signed a contract to be managed by Gene Malady. The two would stay together for the rest of Caddock's career. Malady gave Caddock the title "The Man of a Thousand Holds". It was a name later pass on to many wrestlers, but it fit none better than Caddock. The actual number of holds may be an exaggeration, but Caddock was a graceful artist who used skill to overcome the savagery of wrestlers who outweigh and outstrength him, but could not outbrain him. It is wrong to say that Caddock didn't have a favorite finishing hold, because did use a head scissor to win in most of his major matches. He would get a head scissor on his opponent and then twist his body so that he was almost sitting on the wrestlers head and then completed the move by getting an armbar. His weight then bore down until his opponent's shoulders were pinned. This move looked great and gave him a credible way to pin wrestlers thirty to fifty pounds heavier. Malady also realized than Caddock's amateur background would not fully prepare him for the profession and took Earl to Frank Gotch and Farmer Burns for additional training.
During this time, the wrestling world was preparing for a super match between Frank Gotch, who though retired was still thought of as the world champion by the public, and the new king Joe Stecher. In May 1916, Caddock traveled with the Sells-Floto Circus and helped train Gotch for the match. Every night Earl would wrestle exhibitions with Gotch, Bob Managoff or Farmer Burns. World heavyweight boxing champion Jess Willard was also with the circus. Caddock left the group in June to train for a July 4 match in Anita with the great William Demetral, who he defeated without losing a fall. On July 18, Frank Gotch fractured his left leg back at circus wrestling Mangoff. The big Gotch vs. Stecher match was off, and Gotch's health would continue to deteriorate. Wrestling's attention turned to the next big match: Stecher vs. Caddock.
The powers must have felt cursed, for on Dec. 11, 1916 Joe Stecher lost a match for the first time, and maybe even his title. Injured, tired and used to defeating opponents in short time, Stecher came up against an Olympic Silver medalist from Finland named John Olin who didn't understand he was supposed to lose6. After the two battled for two hours and forty minutes without a fall, they started rough-housing outside the ring. Stecher was sick and re-injured his right arm. That and the lack of Tony Stecher at ringside caused Joe to quit and refused to return to the ring7. Olin was awarded the bout by the referee. By all rights, Olin should have been considered the world champion, but the promoters played down the result and the public continued to consider Stecher the titleholder. John Olin didn't speak much English and had poor management, so he was powerless.
Caddock continued with victories over John Freberg, Jack Mahon, Jess Westergaard, and Mort Henderson (who wrestling as the famed Masked Marvel in late 1915). In December he traveled to the east coast and performed in Boston. After defeating Paul Domke, he accepted a challenge from Ed "Strangler" Lewis but no date was set5. His style and speed impressed everyone. One setback was a handicap match against John Pesek, who he had agreed to pin twice in an hour but failed to. For this he was ruled the loser, but the public consider this type of match an exhibition and little was made from it.
The Stecher vs. Caddock world title match was signed in March 1917, to be promoted by Malady and held in Omaha using as a promotional tool the great sports rivalry between Nebraska and Iowa. Earl trained at the famed Chicago Athletic Club with Charlie Cutler and Bob Managoff. Frank Gotch joined them in April and he was in Caddock's corner the night of the match.
The match took place on April 9, 1917 in a sold out arena. The attendance was 7,500 for a gate of $14,000, but scalpers had been charging as much as $8 for a $1 ticket. Stecher, who out weighed Caddock 205 lbs to 180 lbs and was a 3-to-1 favorite, but there wasn't much Caddock money on the street and some gamblers had to give 5 to 1 odds to get action8. The match started slowly with both wrestlers on their feet, Stecher trying to take the challenger down, but Caddock blocking every attempt for most of an hour. Visualizing the terrible 5 hr Stecher vs. Ed Lewis match of the year before, the fans became restless. It seems that the big bet by Caddock's Iowa followers had been that Stecher would not throw Earl in an hour, and it was presumed that Earl was trying to make them money before taking any chances. Their fears were forgotten when both wrestlers went on the offense with Stecher getting the better of the action. At one point Caddock fell from the ring and into the ringside seats, hitting his head. He climbed back into the ring dazed, soon falling victim to Stecher's body scissors and wristlock, being put on his back and pinned after one hour and twenty-two minutes. This was the first time Caddock had been pinned in his pro career.
After the ten minute rest, the wrestlers returned from their dressing rooms. At the start of the second fall both wrestlers began to mix it up, but this time Caddock had the best of Stecher. Many times Caddock's quickness got him behind the champion and Stecher seemed powerless to stop him. At the fifty-minute mark of the second fall Caddock took Stecher down and got a pin, but the referee refused to allow the fall because both men were partly off the mat. This decision all most started a riot9. Caddock's dominance of the exhausted Stecher continued until Caddock actually won the second fall in one hour and forty minutes using a reverse nelson and a head hold to pin Joe. The crowd went nuts as this was the first time that Stecher had ever been pinned.
Between falls, the wrestlers returned to their dressing rooms. At the completion of the rest, Caddock returned, but Stecher did not. Joe Hetmanek, his manager, then came to the ring and announced that the champion could not continue the match. Caddock was awarded the match and the World Title. Caddock had overcome size with skill and speed to record one of wrestling's biggest upsets beating one of its greatest legends. His fame was no longer limited to Iowa.
Stecher had many excuses for his fans that had lost their wages betting on him. At first he claimed he wasn't told to return to the ring and could have continued if he had been reminded of the time. Later he claimed he lack conditioning from wrestling weak opponents (such as Ad Santel) on the west coast. He then blamed travel and an injury. By April 17 he finally was saying he was beaten fairly.
Two weeks later Caddock began defending his title with wins over Ivan Michaloff (probably Managoff) and Billy Schoberg. On April 30, 1917 he defeated a Bill Hokuf at Waterloo, Iowa with Frank Gotch refereeing the match. The only noteworthy thing about the match is that Hokuf, who outweighed Caddock by fifty pounds, won the second fall. This was the second time in Caddock had been pinned and the 3 count was the only offence Hokuf had in the whole match.
On May 1, 1917 Caddock was scheduled to meet Frank Gotch in a short exhibition match, but that night the card was changed to Gotch beating Leo Pardello and Caddock vs. Ernest Kartje. To demonstrate the drawing power of the two, it should be noted that the attendance was 10,000.
John Olin was still claiming the world title due to his win over Stecher the prior year. That came to an end on May 2 in Chicago. Ed Lewis took the Fin's title claim by making him quit after two hours and thirty-two minutes due to a shoulder injury. The interesting thing about this match is that Frank Gotch was once again the referee and he declared Lewis the new world champion and the best wrestler in the world. Considering that Gotch was on the record saying the same about Stecher and Caddock, you wonder whose side he was on. Today's historians now call this claim of the world title line the Olin Line. Lewis would trade this title back and forth with Wladek Zbyszko in June and July.
On May 7, 1917, Caddock retained his title against Alan Eustace, a major mid-west wrestler, in straight falls in Des Moines. Gotch also referee this match.
In April 1917 the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I. Congress 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 of the era but none more than Earl Caddock. While others looked for exemptions, he seems to want to serve his country. On May 20, 1917 he joined a civilian training camp, similar to basic training, to prepare himself before enlisting in the Army. This duty seemed to be voluntary as he continued his wrestling career for a while. May through July of 1917 saw him defeating such wrestlers as Gus Schoenlein, Tom Draak, Joe Rogers and Steve Conley.
In June, Caddock had minor surgery on his tonsils in Waterloo. July 21 saw him marry a Grace May Mickel of Walnut, Iowa. Afterwards the two newlyweds honeymooned on Earl's ranch in Upton, WY, close to the Black Hills. They would then make their home in Anita, Iowa.
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 his tonsil surgery. His teeth also didn't meet regulation. 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 and at his peak as far as making money, but Earl Caddock wanted to fight. 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 Mayo2. On Oct. 5, the U.S. Army accepted him.
During this period Caddock defended his title against Clarence Eklund, Tom Draak, John Freeberg, Dr. B. F. Roller, and Yussiff Hussan, all major wrestlers.
In December 1917, Jack Curley promoted an International Tournament at the Lexington Theater in New York city. The tournament would run through the whole month leading to a final on Dec. 22 and included many of the major wrestlers including Ed Lewis (World Champion of the Olin Line), Wladek Zbyszko, Dr. B. F. Roller, Youssif Hussane and even Frank Leavitt who sixteen years later would become Man Mountain Dean. The winner would be declared World Champion. Caddock appeared twice during the tournament. On Dec. 14 he pinned B. F. Roller in 40:59, and on Dec. 15 he pinned John Freberg in 45:15. Up to this time the most powerful man in wrestling seemed to be Caddock's manager Gene Malady, but Jack Curley had entered the sport and was looking to take over. This and Caddock not being given the billing of World Champion led to Caddock walking out of the tournament and a return to Iowa. Considering that Caddock was to be inducted in to the U.S. Army at the end of the month, it's possible that Curley had plans for Earl to lose in the final and crown an undisputed champion10. What did happen is that Wladek Zbyszko defeated Strangler Lewis in the Dec. 22 final11 and he awarded a World Championship Belt. This was the only belt ever given to a wrestler by New York State. Ed Lewis had an excuse for the loss and still claimed his Olin Line World Title because the match was a tournament match and not a true title bout and his feared headlock was banned for that one match. What the wrestling world ended up with after the unification tournament were three world champions.
On December 16, 1917, Frank Gotch died from kidney failure. That event at least eliminated one World Champion. Now the public had to take all these champions serious.
Caddock entered the U.S. Army at Camp Dodge, Iowa on December 26, 1917. Being a collage graduate and a famous champion it seems strange he entered as a private. By Jan. 5 he was working with Headquarters Company serving under Chief of Staff Col. Cooper teaching bayonet fighting to troops and coaching sports teams. A deal was made early on that Caddock would be given passes while his unit was in training so his pro wrestling career continued
In late January, a promotional battle took place between Jack Curley of New York city, who managed Wladek Zbyszko, and Oscar Thorson of Des Moines, who sided with Malady, over the site for a Wladek vs. Caddock title unification match12. Iowa won but it may have been its last victory over New York. The match was set for Des Moines on Feb. 8, 1918.
In Zbyszko, Caddock was meeting his biggest challenge since Stecher. Wladek had defeated Lewis more than once and had been the only wrestler to pin John Olin. He was schooled, in condition and wasn't slow. But most of all, he weighed 235 lbs, fifty pounds more than Caddock. Rules set were that it would be 2/3 falls, with a 2 1/2 hour time limit. This time limit was set in the hope it would rule out another Lewis vs. Stecher style match. Even after two years, Lewis's name was still mud in Des Moines.
Up to this time, booking of pro wrestling matches seemed to be in the control of the wrestler's managers. Wins and loses were decided by who had the more popular client or by how much money could be made from gamblers. It is very possible that a higher percentage of wrestler's income came from betting that from the actual gates. By the late teens this reliance on the gambling side of the sport was coming to an end due to public pressure and efforts of law enforcement. The power of pro wrestling was probably in the hands of Gene Malady, manager of Earl Caddock who promote Cutler vs. Stecher (7-4-15), Stecher vs. Lewis (7-4-16) and Stecher vs. Caddock (4-9-17). By the end of 1917 and beginning of 1918, this system led to a logjam of long tedious draws that were a threat to the popularity of the sport. Around the time of this match a meeting was held between promoters (Gene Malady, Carl Marfigi, Oscar Thorson, Jack Curley, and Otto Floto) and newspapermen such as Ed Smith and Sandy Griswold. Curley proposed rule changes such as time limits, decisions, and one fall matches. It was Curley's idea to make wrestling more 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 (New York city 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 sport13.
The super event drew a crowd of over 8,000 and a gate of $24,000. Curley claims that it was the second largest crowd in wrestling history isn't believable, but for Iowa it was huge. People came to the event from all over the mid-west via train and auto. The first fall saw Caddock's speed and science control Zbyszko, but Wladek's strength and size blocked his attempts to finish him. Finally at one hour and twenty-two minutes, Caddock was able to apply his famous head scissors and roll Zbyszko over for a pin. The second fall again had Caddock on the offence but Zbyszko's proportions were too much to overcome. The Iowan clamped hold after hold on the foreigner, tricked him and trapped him but Zbyszko's strength had an answer to every move. At times Zbyszko would rise to his feet with Caddock hanging on before being thrown to the floor. Around the thirty minute mark of the fall as Caddock applied a body scissors, Wladek stood up and then threw himself and Earl backward. Caddock's head and shoulder hit the sixteen-by-sixteen foot mat with Zbyszko on top. Wladek then rolled himself over and scored the pin. The two returned for the third fall exhausted. Caddock showed the effects of the injury and wasn't as aggressive as in the first two falls but was still never in danger and had little trouble slipping away from any Zbyszko hold. Wladek never proved able to fathom the cat-like work of Caddock. After the time limit was reached, the referee Ed Smith of Chicago awarded the victory to Caddock. The happy crowd accepted the time limit rule because it did eliminate stalling and the work was excellent14.
During March, Jack Curley traveled the mid-west and sign agreements with Joe Stecher and Ed Lewis. Before this time most of the major matches were held in the small cites of Iowa, Kentucky and Nebraska that drew large crowds from the countryside for holidays such as Fourth of July or Kentucky Derby day. These agreements by Curley, Sandow and Stecher formed a "Trust" that would take wrestling out of the small towns and into 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. On March 1, 1918, Curley promoted a Madison Square Garden card with Stecher vs Zbyszko that sold out with over 10,000 in the building. The old mid-west promoters could not compete with such numbers. This probably caused resentment between Malady and Curley that delayed the signing of a second Caddock vs. Stecher match10.
In February, Malady cancelled a Caddock vs. Ad Santell match scheduled for Omaha. It's believed this was payback for Santell refusing to defend his light heavyweight championship vs. Caddock in 1916, although it was blamed on military duties. On Feb. 22, promoter Oscar Thorson gave the Athletic Director of Camp Dodge, a Mr. John Griffith, a check for $500. This was the Army's share of the receipts from the Caddock vs. Zbyszko promotion. Company Commander Captain John H. Quigley soon promoted Caddock to the grade of Sergeant.
On April 12, 1918, Caddock wrestled former champion John Olin at Des Moines and won two straight falls. In April and May, he also had wins over Demetrious Tofalas, Hjalmar Myre, John Freberg, and Yussiff Hussane.
Another major match with Wladek Zbyszko followed. It took place in Chicago on May 8, 1918 and Earl won another decision after two hours of wrestling. The Chicago Tribune reported, "Caddock demonstrated beyond a doubt that he is a wonderful wrestler. He was outweighed forty-seven pounds... but overcame this handicap in a masterly way and the decision was met with unanimous approval." Still the point was made that Caddock could not pin Zbyszko. The match drew 7,000 and a gate of $11,000.
During this period negotiation was going on for a Caddock vs. Stecher return match but no agreement could be reached. Even without his title, Stecher remained the most feared wrestler in the sport. In April, promoters in Cedar Rapids offered the two wrestlers a $40,000 purse, but were turned down.
June 12 saw Caddock again defeat John Olin in straight falls, this time at Waterloo, Iowa.
Ed Lewis was still claiming the Title via the Olin Line and a second title unification match of 1918 was arranged for June 21 at Des Moines. Lewis was considered the top wrestler in the sport after Stecher and his size, headlock and defensive skills had many predicting a title change. The insiders also knew that Caddock's military unit was due for trip to Europe.
Once the match started, Lewis found out his defensive style of wrestling was no match for the greatest offensive performer in the sport. On that night, Caddock was invincible15. It was another 2 1/2 hour time limit with the referee keeping score but after two hours, Caddock had such a lead that Referee Ed Smith quit awarding points16. Lewis, who bragged no one had ever gotten behind him, on the mat he didn't see Caddock face all night. Early in the match Lewis rushed Caddock but the champion moved so fast that Ed fell and sprawled over the mat. Twice Lewis was almost pinned via Caddock's toehold and twice he was almost pinned by Caddock's head scissors move, but Lewis's strength saved him. Lewis also bragged that Caddock was afraid of his headlock but only once was Ed able to apply it and Caddock broke it with ease and got behind him. Caddock out classed Lewis in every way and was awarded the decision. Caddock was considered the undisputed World Champion to everyone but Lewis. Ed and Billy Sandow continued the Olin Line claim of the world championship because Lewis hadn't been pinned.
After the match it was stated that Caddock's next match would be at Casper, WY on the fourth of July, followed by the big Stecher match up in Omaha or Des Moines on Labor Day16. He did defeat Yussiff Hussane in Casper on July 4, but after the match he announced that he wouldn't be able to wrestle again until after the war was over. His unit, the Eighty-Eighth Division, was going to war and the big Caddock vs. Stecher match of 1918 would have to wait for another year.
In late July, Joe Stecher was accepted at Naval Training School at the Great Lakes Training Center in Chicago, while Ed Lewis became a new Army recruit at Fort Grant. Wladek Zbyszko fought for a way out of military service and after a few tries found one when a military doctor ruled his hearing was damaged due to cauliflower ears. Jim Londos, who had moved himself into the top five of wrestling, was sick with typhoid. The only well-known wrestler to actually leave country was Caddock.
On Aug. 4, 1918 the Eighty-Eighth Division left Fort Dodge for the East Coast and three days later sailed on a troop carrier for France. They arrive at Havre, France around Aug. 20 and they traveled to Hericourt for three weeks training17.
It was during this period that Caddock was gassed.18 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.
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 to get fed. The conditions 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.
In December 1918 and January 1919, both Stecher and Lewis were released from military service. A well-booked series of matches promoted by Jack Curley took place in the next year, with Stecher, Lewis and Zbyszko traded wins and loses. They all claimed Caddock's world title at one time or another, and business was good.
Following the end of the war, Caddock was kept in officer school. He lost weight and in January 1919 he was admitted to a hospital with a mild case of influenza. He finished school around Jan. 8, 1919, but he refused any commission and was assigned to a casual company and ordered home. But these orders were cancelled around Jan. 20 and he was called back to Londdrecourt, France to train the Second Army Athletic Team for competition in the A.E.F. championships. His boxing and wrestling teams won championships.
On Feb. 21 reports reached American newspapers that Caddock would never wrestle again. On March 5, 1919 they reported that Caddock was retiring and Jack Curley claimed the World Title for Wladek Zbyszko, who had just defeated both Stecher and Lewis. The newspapers were filled with reports of American dead and the public had probably give up on Earl, but on April 1 Malady made the papers denying any retirement and said that Caddock would defend his title on return. Some of these reports may have come from the news that Caddock was sick from being gas, but Caddock also severely cut his hand on a mess kit knife around March 23.
In early April, Caddock's wife gave birth to a son. This caused Caddock to put more pressure on the Army, asking for a discharge. On April 20, he was assigned to St. Aignan, France. At one point he was asked to serve in President Wilson personal guard but he refused. On April 27, he was sent to Brest, France and sailed to America on May 10 and arrived on May 23. He then refused to return to Europe for the Interallied Games, and was discharged on June 1, 1919.
On his way home to Walnut Iowa to see his wife and son, he stopped in Des Moines and was interviewed by the press. He looked thin and deep blue lines surrounded his eyes. His face lacked its healthy look. He was more serious and had lost his idealistic views toward the war. He said he would only fight again if the U.S. was invaded and never again on any other nation's territory. He said he wouldn't give one acre of Iowa land for all of France. A week later reclaimed his championship and began training for his return.
Joe Stecher had won the Olin Line world title from Wladek Zbyszko May 9. Caddock made his first post-war public appearance on July 4, 1919 at Omaha where he refereed a Joe Stecher win over Ed Lewis. In late 1919, Jack Curley staged a tournament to determine the true undisputed titleholder. Stecher, who had gain ten pounds of muscle training during the war, preserved his top position by defeating Lewis (11-3-19), Wladek Zbyszko (12-8-19) and John Pesek (1-16-20). Caddock's third title unification match was set for Madison Square Garden, New York city on Jan. 30, 1920.
While this was going on, Caddock continued his training and had at least four tune-up matches. The first being in Chicago on December 18, a win over Sam Chapham, a famous Englishman who claimed to be the last man to ever wrestle Frank Gotch. Matches with Farmer Bailey, Cyclone Burns, and Tom Nester were all easy wins. (It should be noted that a match between Caddock and Joe Malcewicz did not happened during this period, but instead in 1921.)
The January 30, 1920 match was one of wrestling greatest moments. Many of the sports greatest events, such as the Gotch vs. Hackenschmidt matches and the first two Stecher vs. Lewis contest, were scandalous disappointments. This super match lived up to its full potential. The match drew over 10,000 and Curley claimed a $75,000 gate. The elite of New York City paid as much as $22 for ringside seats. Caddock was the aggressor for the first hour but the physical and emotional strain seemed to wear Earl down during the one fall match, and he ended up in Stecher's body scissors, being pinned after two hour 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 motion picture rights and forty minutes of the match remains on video today. The work holds up, even in an age of moonsaults and chairshots. After the pin, Stecher lifted Caddock to his feet and Earl's handshake followed. Caddock limped away as defeated champions do, alone but he was not forgotten by the fans of New York19.
The story told over the years has always been that Caddock's loss and performance somehow was related to Earl being gassed during his stay in France. This is possible but in the years to come he wrestled many matches over two hours long at a very fast pace for the era. After his return from the war he talked about his health, but didn't single out the gassing incident. He talks a lot about poor food and he did suffer from influenza in January 1919. Influenza was a major disease during the war that 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 treat 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 shoots10. 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 was on record saying he didn't feel himself for almost a year after his return from France.
On March 2, 1920, Caddock returned to Madison Square Garden and on a Lewis vs. Londos undercard stole the show by defeated Salvator Chevalier, a French war veteran who had been the Inter-Allied champion in Europe20. This match set up a major match up with Ed Lewis. On March 15, the two drew better than 11,000 to the sold out Madison Square Garden. For one hour and thirty-five minutes Caddock used his speed and skill to countered Lewis superior weight, but The Strangler caught Caddock with his headlock and hip throw. Lewis landed on top and he got the pin. Lewis victory was sudden and unpopular with the crowd. The ringside physician claimed Caddock had broken his collar bone21. This match got Lewis headlock over in New York city and rebuild Lewis for the major April title match with Stecher at Madison Square Garden which Lewis lost.
Caddock's "injuries" lasted three weeks, as he wrestled on April 7 in Sioux City and won over Yussiff Hussane. On April 12 in Louisville he had a third major match with Wladek Zbyszko. This time Caddock defeated him in two straight falls.
On June 8, 1920, Caddock was rematched with Strangler Lewis in his home arena in Des Moines. Caddock won the first fall with his head scissors move in 43:30. Lewis countered with a headlock and pin in 27:00. Caddock then stunned the crowd by suddenly pining Lewis with a toehold and wristlock that forced the Strangler's shoulders to the matt in seven minutes. Lewis always claimed that no one could get behind him, but the record shows that Caddock did it 12 times. The match drew a sold out 6,500 in a hot Coliseum and the newspaper claimed it was "the most exciting and spectacular of the kind ever held in Des Moines."22 This might have been Caddock's greatest win, for he silenced his critics who said he couldn't pin large wrestlers like Lewis and Wladek.
During 1920, Caddock went into business with his brother-in-law and opened a Ford Agency in Walnut. This was a very profitable mid-west business selling cars, tractors, and heavy machines to the farmers of the area.
Late in December, Caddock traveled to San Francisco for a series of matches. On Dec. 13, 1920 he met Jim Londos in a two hour, 2/3 fall bout. Caddock controlled Londos in the first fall and won with his Head Scissor in 11:05. At the beginning of the second fall, Londos looked like he didn't have a chance and for forty minutes he was continually on the run or on the mat with Caddock behind him. Then the pace seemed to get to Caddock and Londos took control using headlock and arm holds. Twice Londos applied his Japanese arm bar and the second attempt gave him the fall at 1:05:45. Caddock was far slower in the third fall but he was still the aggressor and after two hours was awarded the decision. Londos was 15 pounds heavier and stronger than Caddock, but decision was not protested.23
A feud had been going on between Caddock and Ad Santel for a number of years. Santel had refused to defend his light heavy weight title vs Caddock in Oct. 1915. As a result, Caddock refused to meet Santel while he was the world heavyweight champion and even cancelled a bout in Feb. 1918. Santel claimed in the press that Caddock was overrated as champion, so the match was a promoter's dream. The two met in the ring on Dec. 21, 1920 in Santel's hometown of San Francisco in another 2/3 falls, two-hour time limit match. Caddock dominated Santel winning the only fall with his head scissor in 1:37:05. The match was so uneven that the press commented that Santel was lucky he didn't lose two straight24. Caddock had started calling himself light heavyweight champion around this time, and it might be as a result of this match. It seemed fair, since he had also defeated the other light heavyweight champion Clarence Eklund twice with out losing a fall. Earl's weight at the time was 182 lbs.
The next day, Ed Lewis finally defeated Joe Stecher for the World Title in New York City. Caddock would never get his Stecher rematch for the title and the man with it now outweighed him by forty to fifty pounds.
Earl returned to Des Moines and defeated John Pesek two straight falls on December 28, 1920, before heading back to the East Coast25.
It was on January 14, 1921, that Caddock wrestled Joe Malcewicz in Utica, NY. After 90 minutes a close hometown decision was given to Malcewicz. This match was a mystery to historians for years because Malcewicz and Lewis people always claimed it happened in Utica in December 1919, before the famed Caddock/Stecher title change. Seems that tale was started around 1925 to take credibility away from Joe Stecher, who had stolen the World Title from Lewis group. Historian Don Luce found this match in 2001.26
On January 24, 1921 at New York's Seventy First Regiment Armory, Caddock got his return match for the world title and another battle with his rival Ed Lewis. This match followed the same pattern that all of the Lewis vs. Caddock meetings, Earl using his speed and skill to outperform larger Lewis, while the Strangler based his whole offense around the headlock. The New York Times27 reported: "In every move the Iowan reflected the easy grace which goes with perfect physical condition. He was fast on his feet, agile as a jungle cat, worked quickly and carried crushing power in his well-developed arms. The former champion had a variety of holds and a comprehensive knowledge of every trick in the wrestling art. Defensively and offensively, Caddock was more interesting performer." Lewis had turned into wrestling's first heel champion, and nowhere was he hated more than New York. Caddock was the perfect babyface to oppose him. Caddock got a minute ovation entering the ring and was cheered throughout the match, while Ed got boos. But Ed was in his prime, after an hour and a half, he wore Caddock down. Earl survived four of Lewis's dreaded headlocks, only to have the fifth claim another victim. Caddock lay unconscious after the pin. "The spectacle of Caddock stretched as if dead on the matt from the effects of being tossed to the floor under the bulky body of Lewis and the latter's punishing headlock transformed the gathering of 8,000 into a spectacle the parallel of which has seldom been witnessed." Growling and hooting the fans rushed the ring as seconds worked over Caddock in a frantic effort to restore his senses. Officials surrounded the ring as the crowd chanted "Kill the Murderer". Lewis waited in the ring, until Caddock was revived to shake Lewis hand and acknowledge defeat. The riot calmed down and a guard was formed that led the champion back to the dressing room. This match led to the barring of Lewis's headlock in New York by promoter Jack Curley. Caddock himself felt fine after the match, defended Lewis's hold, saying it was no more deadly than the toehold or double wristlock. All of this debate in the press just served to get the hold over in the public's mind.
Caddock survived that defeat and came out of match more popular than ever. Curley then matched him with another wrestler who would later take Caddock's position as the wrestling's most popular babyface: Jim Londos. These two were probably the two best looking performers in American sports. Londos was sport's first sex symbol, but Caddock also very handsome. Unlike most wrestlers, Caddock didn't even have cauliflower ears. The two met on Feb. 14, 1921 at New York's Seventy-First Armory. What followed was two hours, 8 minutes, and three seconds of intense wrestling with a spectacular finish. For the first hour, Caddock tried a number of holds and attempted to use his speed against Londos's strength, but Londos held his own. At one point Londos was almost forced to submit to a toehold but kicked out. During the last thirty minutes, both wrestlers survived many near falls. Then around the two-minute mark, Caddock got Londos into his headscissors move. It looked like referee George Bothner was going to call a pin, but Londos kept fighting. Then the impossible happened, Londos straightened, lurched and then with almost superhuman strength (maybe even Bob Backlund type strength) stood up, carrying Caddock's on his shoulders still clinging to the scissors. Four times Londos spun around, until Earl was thrown to the matt. The Iowan then jumped to his feet and reapplied the head scissor, but Londos again powered out. By this time, Londos was wobbly and groggy from his efforts. He staggered about the ring almost helpless. Caddock realized his rival's condition, applied another headhold. With his powerful legs around Londos neck and Jimmy's arm in a wristlock, Caddock bore down. "For perhaps twenty-five seconds the referee's hand hovered over Caddock's back, falling finally with a resounding smack which was lost in the great outburst as Londos crumpled under the combination hold". In 1921, this was considered a great match and increased both wrestlers popularity.
During this stay in New York, Caddock was infected with the eye infection called trachoma. Both Lewis and Londos were known to have the condition, so he most likely became infected wrestling one of them. This disease is easily resolved today by anti-biotic, but in those days it was a major problem. Lewis would suffer for years and finally go blind from it. Caddock received treated by doctors in Omaha, but the infection stayed with him a least a year27.
On April 4, 1921 Caddock defended his light heavyweight world title in Columbus, Ohio vs George Kotsonaros, a fine wrestler with a national reputation. Caddock won the one fall to a finish match with the headscissor in two hours and twenty-four minutes. The two were even in size and it was an excellent match that had fans asking for a rematch28.
On April 12, 1921, Ed Lewis returned to Des Moines, the site of his loss in 1920 to meet Caddock. Newspapers the day after claimed they drew the largest crowd in Iowa history and "undoubtedly larger than any indoor card anywhere outside of New York"29. This time Lewis scored a total victory. Caddock was his normal self in the first fall and outwrestled the champion but Lewis was able to escape from jeopardy using his strength. Earl tired from all the work and fell victim to Lewis headlock at one hour and thirty-five minutes. Caddock wrestled the third fall on nerve alone, but that wasn't enough, and was pinned after three headlocks in seven minutes and thirty-eight minutes. Caddock put up a game fight, getting behind Lewis 27 times, but The Strangler's weight and strength was too much.
On May 6, 1921 in New York, Ed Lewis missed a headlock and was pinned by Stanislaus Zbyszko in twenty-three minutes and seventeen minutes to lose his world title in straight falls.30 The Strangler's first title rein had lasted less than five months. Stanislaus was the older brother of Wladeck, and a legendary European wrestler who had only one major loss in North America: a famous loss to Frank Gotch in June 1910. Zbyszko failed in that match due to a trick first fall, but Gotch always refused to meet him again. After Gotch's retirement, many thought of Stanislaus as the likely candidate to replace the champion, but Zbyszko was being held as a political prisoner in Russia during one of the European wars so common at the time.31 He returned to the U.S. in 1920 and was pushed to the title by his old friend Jack Curley.
In April and May, Caddock traveled to defeat Renato Gardini twice at Boston. Gardini was the Italian champion who was push heavily in parts of America and one of the major main eventers during the next twenty years.
Caddock spent the summer at his Wyoming ranch and taking care of his business in Walnut, but on Nov. 7, 1921 he was giving a shot at Stanislaus Zbyszko at Des Moines for his old world title. Earl found himself facing another opponent who outweighed him by fifty pounds and he lost two straight falls.
On Nov. 28, 1921, Caddock returned to Columbus, Ohio for a return light heavyweight title match with George Kotsonaros. The newspaper headlines the next day just read: CADDOCK AND KOTSONAROS BRILLIANT.31 Caddock won with the headscissor in two hours and thirty-four minutes.
By the end of 1921 New York wrestling had been turned upside down by the rules created by new Athletic Commission. All promoters were required to be licensed by the commission and many unpopular rules were enforced. It also ban many so-called punishing holds and brought back "rolling falls." Wrestling king Jack Curley was without a license and usurped in New York city by famed boxing promoter Tex Rickard who controlled Madison Square Garden32.
Caddock wrestled Stanislaus Zbyszko in Madison Square Garden on Feb. 6, 1922 for the world title under these new rules. The champions controlled the match using his weight to maul Caddock, but his two falls were a result of rolling falls. Caddock's shoulders were not required to touch at the same time and the three count may have been voided also. Even today, the idea of rolling falls is confusing. Caddock won the second fall with a lock-and-chancery that was clean and not a rolling fall. Stan won the first fall in twenty-five minutes and the third in nineteen minutes. Caddock won his fall in ten minutes and thirty seconds. The 12,000 fans cheered Earl and sent out a roar of disapproval at Zbyszko victory. Caddock would never perform in New York again.33
Stanislaus Zbyszko was not working out as champion and on March 3, 1922 he was defeated and relieved of his title by Ed Lewis in Wichita, Kansas. On April 13, in the same city, Lewis once again defeated Earl Caddock.
On June 2, 1922 Caddock wrestled the ex-champ Stanislaus Zbyszko to a two-hour draw in Columbus. Caddock pinned Stan with the head scissor after one hour and thirdly four seconds and Stan won the second with a headlock in seventeen minutes, before the time limit ran out. The match was held outdoors in the rain and the weather ruined the gate.
Earl Caddock's last known match took place in Boston on June 7, 1922. Caddock once again challenged world champion Ed Lewis and lost. Caddock did pin Lewis in the second fall, but lost the other two to the headlock.34
Caddock unlike other wrestlers had a good education and wealth. After a five-year career, he retired at the age of thirty-four. I've found no announcement of his retirement, nor any reason given other than his wanting to spend time with his three sons, Earl Jr., Robert and Richard. He also had a daughter Joan. Perhaps his health was bad, but he continued to work out and enjoyed hunting and fishing. Turning down many offers to return to wrestling, he ran his Ford Agency in Walnut until 1933 when he became President of the United Petroleum Corporation located in Omaha. He lived in good health35 at 6023 Pierce, Omaha until 1948, when he had a major heart attack and the family moved back to Walnut. He underwent major surgery in 1949 and again in 1950. He was bedridden after than and never recovered. He died at his home in Walnut, Iowa on Aug. 25, 195036 37.
On April 13, 1952, Earl Caddock was inducted into the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame. In May of 2000, Caddock was accepted into the Professional Hall of Fame at The International Wrestling Institute and Museum at Newton, Iowa.
- Earl Caddock - The Unknown Champion by Ed Garia - Wrestling Perspective July 1997
- From Milo To Londos by Nat Fleischer - 1936
- Milwaukee Free Press - Feb, 3, 1916
- Wyoming's Wrestling Farmer by Hazel Herberta Odegard
- Documents and results supplied and researched by historian Tim Hornbaker
- Boston Globe - Dec. 12, 1916
- On The Matt-And Off. Memoirs Of A Wrestler by Hjalmar Lundin
- OMAHA BEE - April 10, 1917
- The Globe And Commerial Advertiser, New York - April 17, 1917
- Speculation by Steve Yohe
- New York Times - Dec. 23, 1917
- The Des Moines Register - Jan. 16, 1918
- The Des Moines Register - Feb. 10, 1918
- The Des Moines Register - Feb. 9, 1918
- The Des Moines Register - June 22, 1918
- Omaha News - June 22, 1918
- The Des Moines Register - May 27, 1919
- The Des Moines Register - May 31, 1919
- New York Times - Jan. 31, 1920
- New York Times - March 3, 1920
- New York Times - March 16, 1920
- Des Moines Register - June 8, 1920
- San Francisco Chronicle - Dec. 14, 1920
- San Francisco Chronicle - Dec. 22, 1920
- Chicago Tribune - Dec. 29, 1920
- Utica Daily Press - Jan. 14, 1921 from Don Luce research
- Des Moines Register - April 1, 1921
- Des Moines Register - April 5, 1921
- Des Moines Register - April 13, 1921
- New York Times - May 7, 1921
- Wichita Eagle - March 25, 1920
- The Columbus Dispatch - Nov. 29, 1921
- St. Louis Globe - Feb. 7, 1921
- Boston Globe - June 8, 1921
- Boxing And Wrestling - March 1954
- New York Herald Tribune - Aug. 26, 1958
- Ring Magazine - Nov. 1950
- THE HISTORICAL WRESTLING SOCIETY # 17 - THE RING RECORD OF EARL CADDOCK by Richard Haynes with Caddock Bio by Mark Hewitt
- FROM MILO TO LONDOS by Nat Fleischer - 1936 - page 220
OTHER SOURCES AND FRIENDS:
But the conclusions and interpretations are the responsibility of Steve Yohe.
- Tim Hornbaker
- John Williams
- Richard Haynes
- IHC Members: Mark Hewitt, Libnan Ayoub, J Michael Kenyon, Fred Hornby, Don Luce, Koji Miyamoto
- Ross Schaefer