ED "STRANGLER" LEWIS
Facts within a Myth
by Steve Yohe
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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".
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.
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