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Provided by J Michael Kenyon through WRESTLING AS WE LIKED IT.

"Saw Frank Gotch As The Superlative"
by George A. Barton (Minnesota Boxing Commissioner)

Ring Wrestling, December, 1968
Copied without permission.

Minneapolis, Minn.-- The years roll along. Sixty of them have passed into the limbo of time. But talk about Frank Gotch's big victory over George Hackenschmidt in Chicago in 1908 does not abate. There is much wrestling in the United States. There are some fine grapplers the world over. But there has been no duplicate of the matchless Gotch.

I read with great interest the Ring Wrestling story by David Willoughby, in which he aspersed Gotch's victory and played up Hackenschmidt beyond all his just dues. I was very glad to see Ring Wrestling break into the Willoughby opus and defend Gotch, as he should have been defended. I take strong exception to Hackenschmidt's accusing Gotch of gouging, heeling, kneeing, butting and kicking and using his knuckles to blind him in their first bout.

I can speak with authority in taking exception to these charges because as sports editor of The Minneapolis Daily News I was at ringside and reported the match for the Cloverleaf Newspapers, Minneapolis and St. Paul Daily News and Omaha Daily News. I was only 25 years old and am now 83. The match was held in April, 1908, at the Dexter Park Pavilion, located in Chicago's stockyards district. The match was promoted by W.W. Wittig, of Minneapolis, a theatrical man, a close friend of mine. I know that Gotch did not resort to any foul tactics but won on his merits.

The bout was dull because both men were on their feet for two hours and three minutes, neither being able to put the other down on the mat. After they had tussled and tugged for 123 minutes, Gotch finally got behind Hackenschmidt, grabbed him around the waist and slammed him down on the mat. Before Gotch could press his advantage, Hackenschmidt said to referee Ed Smith, sports editor of the Chicago American, "Give Gotch the fall-I forfeit it!" During that era all matches were decided on a best two out of three basis. Hackenschmidt refused to return to the ring for the second fall, thereby forfeiting the match to Gotch. Wittig pleaded with Hackenschmidt to come out for the second fall, but the Russian Lion replied: "No, Mr. Wittig, and wrestler who can keep me on my feet for two hours and throw me down like that, deserves to win. I resign, and tell the referee to declare Gotch the winner." Hackenschmidt was a vain person and could not bear the humiliation of defeat by having his shoulders pinned to the mat.

Before the match, Hackenschmidt told me he would defeat Gotch in two straight falls in 15 minutes or less, just as he had done to Tom Jenkins, Gotch's predecessor as champion of America. I gathered from Hack's attitude that he held Gotch in contempt. He told me in Minneapolis a month before the bout when I promoted a match between him and Henry Ordemann, that he would beat Gotch quickly, in two straight falls.

I also reported the second match between Gotch and Hackenschmidt at Comiskey Park on Labor Day, 1911, when Gotch defeated him in straight falls in less than 30 minutes. Gotch used his famous "Gotch step-over toe-hold" applied to Hack's right leg in gaining each fall. In interviews after the match Hackenschmidt said he had injured his right knee in a workout two weeks before the match and requested the promoters to postpone the bout for at least a month. The promoters, Jack Curley, Joe Coffey, Ed Smith and I.H. Herk, talked him out of it, saying the weather in October would not be suitable for an outdoor match, Hack insisted. Hackenschmidt knew Gotch had broken the legs of several opponents who resisted Frank's dangerous "step-over toe-hold" which explains why he did not fight to escape from this deadly grip and risk permanent injury. The return bout drew $87,000, a record for a wrestling match which stood for many years.

Frank Gotch and I were close friends from 1906 until his death in 1918 at the age of 43. I promoted a number of bouts featuring him in Minneapolis.

I began promoting wrestling matches as a sideline in 1906, and Gotch was one of the first noted wrestlers who worked for me. I continued to promote wrestling matches in Minneapolis until the early 30's when my work as executive sports editor of The Minneapolis Tribune which published morning, evening and Sunday, became so heavy I had to give it up. I turned the promotional activities over to the late Tony Stecher, brother of Joe, former World Heavyweight Champion. Among the noted wrestlers who worked under my promotion for more than a quarter of a century, in addition to Gotch, were: Hackenschmidt, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Yussiff Mahmout, Ivan Padubny, Hjalmar Lundin, Constant Le Marin, Ivan Linow, John Freberg, Henry Ordemann, Dr. B. F. Roller, Fred Beall, Charley Olson, Charley Cutler, Yankee Rogers, Jess Westergaard, Hans Steinke, Jimmy Londos, Bill Demetral, Ed Strangler Lewis, Joe Stecher, Earl Caddock, John Pesek, Martin Plestina, George Bothner, Walter Miller, Chris Jordan, Johnny Meyers, Bull Montana, Mike Yokel, Wainow Ketonen and Ralph Parcuat. Having seen all of these wrestling greats in action, I hail Gotch as the greatest of all time.

From the time Frank won the world championship from Hackenschmidt in 1908, until his death in 1918, Gotch never lost a fall, much less a match, defeating in straight falls such as Hack, Stan Zbyszko and Mahmout. He toured the United States and Canada meeting all comers, agreeing to throw them inside of 15 minutes or forfeit $100.00. Very few collected.

I regard the modern crop of wrestlers as showmen whose tactics in the ring are ludicrous. Strangely enough, the public enjoys their roughhouse methods, as attest to the big crowds they draw in cities large and small. The fans adore violence, not science. Great wrestlers come and go, fighting desperately to approach the Gotch standard, and never quite making it. It is to be hoped that, once and for all, aspersions on Frank as the mat's all-time paragon are discontinued.


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