ED "STRANGLER" LEWIS
Facts within a Myth
by Steve Yohe
The Stecher Reign of 1925 and 1926
After beating Zbyszko, Stecher defended his title in Wichita against local favorite Dick Daviscourt (June 5). Then he travel to Los Angeles to get away from the Midwest heat and work one match. On June 10, 1925, Stecher defended the title against Dan Koloff, who was a powerful looking Russian wrestler and thought of as a very good worker, but was never pushed out of the contender level for some unknown reason. The match took place at the Exposition Park's One Hundred and Sixtieth Regiment Armory. Joe won the match.
The promoter was Lou Daro, who told Stecher of the city's plans to build a 10,000 seat arena near downtown Los Angeles. In 1925, in a time when only two cities (New York City and Kansas City) had indoor arenas with seating of over 10,000, it would be billed as the largest sports palace in America. The city was growing faster than any place in America and he promised Joe that his payoffs would grow with it. Tony and Joe both loved the beach and the movie stars so they made plans to return for the opening of The Olympic Auditorium.
Stecher was in Lewis' town, Chicago, to defend the title against Frank Judson on June 26 at the Coliseum. He drew 6,000 and $8,500, which may have been a near sell out at the time. Lewis and Sandow seemed to be living in Kansas City with a lot of time being spent in Chicago and Tulsa. Both wrestlers were billed as champion in Chicago and the battle between the two made more news than in any other city. The windy city was Lewis' home, but Stecher wasn't afraid to visit.
Stecher wrestled a rematch with Stan Zbyszko in Wichita (July 1) and then traveled through the south, into Ohio and finished up in Minneapolis.
The Stechers returned to Los Angeles on July 19. They both brought their families and moved into new houses in Long Beach, a large resort town south of the main city, known for its beaches and large amusement park. At the time, it was like living next to Disneyland.
Stecher signed to appear as the first main event on a wrestling card at the new Olympic Auditorium, which opened with a boxing card on August 5, 1925. The build up consisted of Stecher training with boxing champ Jack Dempsey at the Manhattan gym (July 28) and an appearance at the Hollywood Athletic Club (August 8), which had a membership of every major movie star in town.
On August 10, 1925, Stecher opened the new Olympic Auditorium by drawing 8,800 in defeating Renato Gardini. The Newspapers claimed that the building was the largest in the country with a capacity of 15,000, but that was a lie. The real capacity was around 10,000 in those years, with 12,000 possible, with standing room only. This means people sitting in the aisles. The 8,800 was an indoor California state record.
On the undercard was Los Angeles's favorite wrestler, Jim Londos and ex-champ, Stan Zbyszko. The fans loved the great looking and hard working Londos and the Stechers wouldn't hold him back, like Billy Sandow. Londos wasn't a promoter, but he had a whole line up of Greek promoters behind him, a stable of wrestling friends (Ray Steele, Gardini, and Daviscourt) on his team, and he was popular in every city he appeared in. The only thing not in his favor was size. Londos and the Stechers got alone well and matches were booked to advance both of them. On the first Olympic card, Londos beat Jim Browning in 55:26.
A report in the Tulsa newspaper on August 28, 1925, said that Lewis and Sandow had invested in an oil well located at Quincy, Kansas. The report just said they were drilling for oil, it didn't say they found any.
At the new Olympic, Stecher defended the title against Goho Gobar (August 24), and ex-champ Stan Zbyszko (September 28). On November 9, Stecher won the only fall before the two hour limit expired against Jim Londos, giving him another win at the Olympic. The champion then defended in San Francisco, Chicago, Columbus and Cleveland. He returned to Los Angeles on December 14 for a two hour draw with Londos.
The only city where Lewis could hold his own with Stecher was Chicago, but on January 11, 1926, Lewis did draw a crowd of 12,00 beating Wayne Munn in Denver.
January 25 saw Stecher beating Frank Judson in Chicago in front of 2,000. Four days later, on January 29, Lewis beat Stanley Stasiak drawing 7,000.
Curley brought the champion, Joe Stecher, back into New York City on February 1 and drew a sellout 10,000 using 57 year old European legend Ivan Poddubny as a challenger. Stecher then defeated Jim Londos in St Louis on February 10, drawing a sellout 12,000 and $38,000 with thousands turned away. In Philadelphia he beat George Calza, who I believe is one of the most underrated wrestlers in history.
Sandow was able to get photos of Lewis posing with 12 year old Frank Gotch Jr in newspapers all over the nation on February 20. The Strangler claimed that Gotch senior had taught him many things early in his career and he was going to pass the knowledge on to Junior. Lewis promised to take Junior "in tow" and make a wrestling champion out of him, just like his Dad. It was brilliant PR by Sandow but, 20 years later, Junior was working as a financial analyst in Houston. I also found it funny that the report called Lewis the ex-champion.
Lewis and Stecher went against each other in Chicago on March 1, 1926. Stecher was to wrestle George Calza at the Coliseum, but Calza no showed and Renato Gardini was used as a replacement. Fans were used to seeing Gardini job in title matches, so the card drew only 1,500. Lewis defeated Stanley Stasiak at Dexter Park Pavilion with his title on the line and drew 9,000 and $18,000. So Lewis won the night. It should be noted that Stecher was in the Coliseum, while Lewis' match was at the Chicago stock yard.
Paul Bowser was in Chicago that night looking for one of the two champions to wrestle Joe Malcewicz in Boston. He returned home with an agreement with the Stechers that Joe would wrestle in Boston on March 11, 1926 against a unknown wrestler for a purse of $12,500. Tony Stecher was led to believe the promoted "unknown" would be Jake Brissler and he could bring his own referee. Bowser weird style of promoting cards made the Boston fans think Joe Malcewicz would be in the main event.
Stecher also wanted his purse paid before the match. On the day of the match, Bowser told Stecher he couldn't pay him the $12,500, but offered him a percentage of the house. Since the guy he was wrestling wasn't major, Joe agreed, but wanted his money before the match started. Bowser agreed, and the deal was made that Tony would be given a check before the start of the match. The Stechers must have suspected a dirty trick before even going to the arena.
Jack Brissler was the first in the ring followed by Joe and Tony Stecher. Then the Stecher/Jack Curley referee, Lou Grace, was not allowed into the ring and he was replaced with a Bowser referee, Leon Burbank. A group of men formed around Brissler, and he was hustled out of the ring. Joe Malcewicz, who had been sitting ringside in street cloths, jumped into the ring, undressed, and was declared by the ring announcer to be the "Unknown". Faced with the obvious double-cross, the Stechers jumped from the ring and returned to the dressing room as the announcer proclaimed Malcewicz "the new heavyweight champion of the world by forfeit."
As Malcewicz wrestled sub Ned McGuire, the Stechers held a press conference in the dressing room explaining their side of the mess. They stated they were willing to meet Malcewicz at any time for a side bet of $10,000 and stated that the worry was the Bowser referee Burbank. The press reported the mess for what it was, a failed double-cross, and the wrestling public, used to double crosses after the Zbyszko/Munn match, never paid much attention to it. Malcewicz's did claim the title in Boston, and used the match as PR over the rest of his career, but no one thought Stecher was afraid of him. Stecher was banned by the New York Athletic Commission (March 26) for a short period of time while the champion was on the West Coast, but that was lifted when Joe returned to the East to wrestle Jim Londos in May 1926.
On March 6, 1926, a news release said that Billy Sandow had purchased the contract of Joe "Toots" Mondt, which had three years to run, from Ralph Mondt (Toot's promoter brother). You wonder what that was about, if books like FALL GUYS were right that Toots was a partner with Sandow and Lewis. I think Sandow, and most of the wrestling world in 1926, used verbal contracts and Toots was just "talent". Most of Sandow's major wrestlers had jumped to the Curley/Stecher group and maybe Sandow was worried about Mondt, so he wanted the contract on paper.
For the first ten months of his title reign, Stecher had refused to wrestle Lewis. He claimed it was "pay back" because Lewis had refused to wrestle him while champion. It was something that champions did and would always do when faced with a trust buster type shooter. Joe Stecher wasn't a great thinker and all he really wanted to do was wrestle. He wasn't afraid of Strangler Lewis or John Pesek. Over the first ten months, their had been many offers by promoters from both sides for another Stecher/Lewis match. Chicago promoter Paddy Harmon offered $50,000 (June 3, 1925), St Louis' Tom Pack offered $50,000 (June 29, 1925), Denver's Ralph Mondt offered $30,00 (January 8, 1926) and there were many more offers that didn't make the newspapers. After the mess with Malcewicz in Boston, Joe changed his tactics. He began to accept the challenges of Lewis and Pesek and it was Lewis and Sandow who backed down. Pesek, of course, was out of a job and game for anything.
On March 26, 1926, all the major promoters of the Stecher group met in Omaha for a conference. Present there were Jack Curley of New York, Tom Pack of St Louis, Lou Daro of Los Angeles, Joe Coffey of Chicago, Tom Law of Wichita, Gene Melady of Omaha, and Aurello Fabiani of Philadelphia plus officials from Memphis and Atlanta. The meeting lasted into April. It would seem that the group discussed the movement of talent between territories and created a formula for the touring of the champion between cities. I believe this was a power play by the promoters to control national storylines and the world champion. They wanted the choice of champions to be in the hands of all the promoters and not controlled by individual managers like Tony Stecher, Billy Sandow or a Farmer Burns.
I believe that Tony Stecher gave in, at least in part, to their demands. The system would be less work for him, he'll have all the promotional problems taken care off with contenders over with the fans before he ever got to a town. All he and his champion would have to worry about would be transportation to the next city.
We know about this conference because a storyline in St Louis came out of it. Joe Stecher told the members that he wanted a match with John Pesek and would stop wrestling on April 7 and begin intensive training at Hot Springs, Arkansas. The storyline, in St Louis, was that all the promotions were bidding on the Stecher/Pesek match and that Tom Pack of St Louis won. On April 16, both Pesek and Stecher signed for an St Louis match on April 29.
On April 1, Lewis got himself into another auto-accident. This one resulted in a fist fight with a 52 year old Charles Wheeler in front of an apartment house at 430 Surf Street in Chicago. The brawl took place in a snow drift and was broken up by the police. They found Wheeler in a choke hold and Lewis bleeding from his lip. The two appeared together in front of Municipal Judge Padden. After both men shook hands and said they were sorry, the charges were dropped. Wheeler was quoted as saying: "If I had known who that big gorilla was, I wouldn't have tried it."
Lewis then beat Munn in Boston on April 5 and return to Chicago (April 19) to pin Rafalle Grenna in front of another good crown of 8,000 for promoter Paddy Harmon. Shortly after (May 11), a new Boxing and Wrestling Commission in Chicago banned all wrestling and amateur boxing shows until they could issue licenses to promoters. On June 19, a report had the commission drawing up new rules to govern wrestling. Perhaps this resulted in neither Lewis or Stecher appearing in Chicago for the rest of 1926.
On April 29, 1926, Ed Lewis was ringside at the St Louis Coliseum to watch Stecher defend the title against John Pesek. Pesek won the first fall in three hours and fifteen seconds with a double wrist lock. Stecher returned to take the second fall with a double wing lock in 33 minute and 56 seconds. When the third fall had reach 40 minutes and 35 seconds, Stecher picked Pesek up for a slam, but John wiggled around forcing the worn out champion to drop him. Pesek fell through the ropes and landed on his head, to be counted out of the ring. Pesek had a concussion and was taken to a local hospital. Stecher was held under technical arrest by the police until it was revealed that Pesek injury wasn't serious. The decision by the referee was that the fall on to the floor wasn't the fault of the champion, so the winner was Stecher.
Jim Londos continued to be Stecher's top contender and on June 10 the two drew 15,000 people to the first event at the new Philadelphia Municipal Stadium. Stecher defeated Londos in 1:50:26. Londos, who had trained for the match with Jack Dempsey, had an unusual ability to gain popularity with each loss, was becoming one of sport's biggest draws. The Stechers then returned to Los Angeles to draw more than 10,000 at the sold out Olympic Auditorium on June16 again beating Ivan Poddubny.
Bowser continued his push of Joe Malcewicz in Boston and on July 1, 1926 staged a super match between two title claimants, Strangler Lewis and Malcewicz, at the outdoor Braves Field. The match drew over 10,000 fans and ended up a draw. The two split falls in a contest that lasted three hours, twenty-two minutes and thirdly seconds. To me it was the highlight of Lewis' year.
A month later (August 2), Lewis met Malcewicz in Tulsa in front of a crowd of 8,000. The Strangler was billed as the champion but the promoter, Sam Avey, did bill Malcewicz as having a title claim on the East Coast. Paul Bowser was present and billed as Malcewicz's manager. In a first fall, that lasted one hour and twenty-three minutes, Malcewicz broke Lewis' headlock 30 times, but Ed looked like a sure winner, when the challenger catch Ed coming in and hit the Strangler with a side suplex (reverse flying mare) and got a pin.
After a 25 minute rest period, the two resumed with Lewis once again attempting to wear down Malcewicz with headlocks. After a third headlock, Malcewicz dazed by the sleeper effect of the hold, threw Lewis out of the ring. Under the rules agreed upon before the match, referee Ted Tonneman disqualified Malcewicz. Sandow claimed Lewis had injured his side and refused to let the champion return to the ring, so Lewis won because of the foul without a third fall. This made the crowd unhappy and while booing Lewis they lingered around ringside for 20 minutes, yelling for a third fall, until the police broke them up.
Los Angeles and the 1926 Forfeit
In August 1926, Billy Sandow and Ed Lewis took the wrestling war and their company to Los Angeles to battle the Stechers and Lou Daro face to face. It was another mistake.
On July 14 Stecher defeated local favorite Nick Lutze at The Olympic. A week later John Pesek defeated Lutze in the same ring. Lou Daro then announced that he had signed a Stecher/Pesek match for August 24.
Vernon is a small city located on the Eastern border of Los Angeles. It's an industrial city and the home of railroad lines and truck yards. The most famous business in the city is Farmer John, maker of the Dodger Dog. City taxes don't exist and manufactures are free to run their companies as they seem fit. No one really lives in Vernon, the 2000 census counted 91 people, all leasing buildings owned by the city. Vernon has its own power plant and charges very business in town for their power. Today, it's claimed that the city has a surplus of 100 million dollars. In the big city of the angels, the sale of alcohol was illegal and the sport of boxing was controlled by a ton of rules. In 1907 an entrepreneur Jack Doyle opened what was called the "longest bar in the world" in Vernon. It had 37 bartenders. Next door, Doyle opened the small Vernon Avenue Boxing Arena in 1908 and claims are that 20 championship matches took place in the small building. I believe the arena held around 4,000 fans.
On August 3, 1926 a promoter names John De Palma held his first card at the Vernon Arena. The main event had local Los Angeles Athletic Club coach, Walter Miller, meeting Joe Parelli, but the under card was filled with Billy Sandow wrestlers like Bill Demetral and Toots Mondt. My guess is that Toots Mondt was the booker.
While Stecher was in training for the Pesek match at the Olympic, Lewis and Sandow showed up in town ballyhooing a match with Stecher. The two posted a $5,000 check with the State Athletic Commission for a match with Stecher and went so far as to offer to "meet Stecher in some telephone booth" to "settle this matter once and for all".
Now, through out history, the normal move for a wrestling champion, is to tell a "trustbuster" type challenger like Lewis, to get a reputation by beating a "policeman". Joe Stecher didn't do that. The champion signed a contract with Lou Daro to meet Ed Lewis at any time and posted his own $5,000 check with the commission. This move called Lewis' bluff.
Capt. Seth Strelinger, chairman of the California State Athletic Commission, then stated that he had decided to act as matchmaker and ordered both parties to meet in his office. He promised a Stecher/Lewis match or someone would lose $5,000. On August 23, Lou Daro, with Tony Stecher, and Vernon promoter John De Palma, with Billy Sandow, met in Strelinger's office. After an argument, Strelinger gave Daro the match and De Palma received a payment from The Olympic to allow Lewis to wrestle at the larger arena where more fans could see the match and more taxes would be paid to the state. Strelinger and Daro wanted to stage the match two weeks after the big Stecher/Pesek match and Stecher agreed. Sandow refused and claimed he needed over a month to get Lewis in condition and wouldn't be ready until after September 28. All this came after Lewis had been claiming in town for a month that he would wrestle Stecher "any place, any time." A date for the super showdown was set for October 6, 1926, at the Olympic.
John Pesek, like most of Sandow's other wrestlers, had left the camp of Sandow and couldn't, at the time, be considered Lewis' policeman but he still was very independent and posed a major problem for any champion. Pound for pound, he is considered by many historians as a contender for the title of "best shooter in wrestling history". Most champions would avoid meeting him in a title match, because he had money of his own and was very capable of a double-cross. Stecher knew Pesek and felt size made him the better wrestler but the two were also friends and had trained together in Dodge many times. Pesek was not a stranger to Joe.
On August 25, Stecher and Pesek wrestled to a two hour draw. Now the result was predicted in local newspapers, so that would make the match seem like a "work". But the match was described as an uninteresting match with lots of boring stand up and Stecher spending a lot of time on the defensive. The reports were also pretty bare, with out much detail. This makes me wonder if Pesek was playing around and the match was a "shoot". I checked most of the local newspapers and the only clues I saw was one report that the referee seemed to refuse to count a fall on Stecher when Pesek had him in a jam at the hour and a half mark. Perhaps the two wrestlers, who were both considered the best shooters in the sport, had some agreement to do a "contest", or I'm just seeing something that wasn't there. Either way, we will never know. This match is the least remembered of the three Stecher/Pesek matches of 1926 and mostly overlooked considering the events that follow.
Lewis defeated old friend Mike Romano in Vernon on August 31. Romano was bleeding from the nose and mouth, so the ringside doctor stopped the match before the second fall could start. On the under card, Wayne Munn beat Howard Cantonwine and Toots Mondt beat Bill Demetral.
On September 14, Lewis defeated Wayne Munn in Vernon two straight falls. Toots Mondt beat Mike Romano in the semi-main event.
On September 25, it was announced that the October 6 Stecher show down with Lewis was off because the Strangler had broke a bone in his left elbow training with Toots Mondt at their Garden Grove gym. The commission Doctor stated that Lewis would not be able to perform for six weeks.
More bad news followed when Lewis's illusions of a mixed match with Jack Dempsey were crushed when Dempsey lost every round of a ten round title fight with Gene Tunney in Philadelphia on September 23, 1926. The rules in Pennsylvania only allow 10 round fights but it was a good thing for Dempsey because it looked like Tunney would have KO'ed him if the bout had lasted any longer.
Daro claimed all the seats in the Olympic were sold out and a major opponent was needed to fill the hole left by Lewis' no show. Billy Sandow offered Toots Mondt but Daro went with a rematch using John Pesek against Stecher. This time the match would be to a finish.
The October 6, 1926 Stecher/Pesek match ended up as one of the most controversial matches in wrestling history. The sold out Olympic fans saw Stecher win the first fall in 41 minutes and 10 seconds with a double-arm bar pin. Pesek evened the count with a head scissors and wrist lock in 21 minute and 45 seconds. The first fall was said to be unexciting grappling while the second fall was a wild exhibition of the wrestling science. At some point, most think the last fall, but from the report it may have been earlier, Pesek double crossed the champion. Pesek is said to have torn into Stecher and at one point the referee broke a finishing hold for no good reason. Then, with the crowd in a frenzy, Pesek had Stecher submit after what looked like a wrist lock. At first the crowd thought the referee had ruled Pesek the winner, some even stated that Pesek's arm was raised, but then the referee, Tommy Travers, ruled Pesek's hold an illegal arm strangle and disqualified Pesek. The crowd hissed and booed the decision as they threw objects into the ring in protest. Claims by the Pesek's relatives have Stecher crying in the ring but Dodge historians claim it was Pesek crying.
A hearing was conduced two days later with all side present with the referee. Seems no two people could agree on what actually happened. It was alleged, by some, that Pesek had thrown Stecher with all sorts of holds, ranging from "figure fours" to hammerlock cradles and crotch, wristlocks, strangle holds and just plain muscle wrenching. Nothing came out of the hearing and referee Tommy Travers decision was up held. Legend says that Joe Stecher gave the winner's share of the purse to Pesek.
It may be that John Pesek still had a contract with Max Bauman, but John had split from the Sandow group by the end of 1926 after an argument with Toots Mondt in a Kansas City gym during the training for the first Wayne Munn match. There was a gym (shoot) match between the two and Pesek won. Sandow was upset and a talk with Max Bauman resulted in John quitting the company. In 1926, Pesek's affairs were being handled by a cousin named Joe Dus, but Tom Pack was also helping the "Tiger Man". Some claim that Pesek's double cross of Stecher was a plot by Billy Sandow. That Sandow or Max Bauman had paid off Pesek or still had some type of control over the ex-policeman. I don't know, but it seems to fit Pesek's ego and I feel he was on his own. I respect John Pesek as a true hooker but as a "pro wrestler", his conduct against Stecher and Marin Plestina was a disgrace.
The Pesek double-cross was also a major blotch on Stecher's career. Up until that night, his history and record made him seem like the best wrestler in the sport and he believed it. The Pesek affair seemed to hurt him personally and professionally, and change his opinion of himself. He became just another pro wrestler working matches and these feeling might have been a major factor in his retirement a year later.
Billy Sandow had actually left Los Angeles on September 30, having to travel east because of the death of his father-in-law. On October 8, 1926, Lewis went into the commission office and told Capt Strelinger that the Stecher match was off and he wanted to go home. He said he hated Los Angeles so much that he was willing to forfeit the $5,000.
In early November, there were reports coming out of Chicago that a businessman had offered $100,000 for a title showdown between Stecher and Lewis. The next day, November 6, Chicago promoter John "Doc" Krone offered a $75,000 purse for the match.
Lou Daro had scheduled the Stecher/Lewis match for December 1 at the Olympic but on November 22 Billy Sandow sent word to the California commission that he refused to have Strangler Lewis wrestle Stecher in Los Angeles and wanted the $5,000 transferred to another state. Daro then replaced Lewis with Jim Londos, and the two stars wrestled to a two hour draw in front of another sold out Olympic. On December 2, the Stechers and Lou Daro were awarded Lewis' $5,000 appearance bond. Both sides got $2,500 of Billy Sandow's money.
After Sandow and Lewis left town, there are no more wrestling cards in Vernon and promoter John De Palma disappears. In early July 1927, a fire burned the Vernon Arena (or Coliseum) to the ground.
At some time during 1926, Sandow published eight handbooks on conditioning, self-defense, and how to wrestle. It was similar to the Farmer Burns and Frank Gotch books written while he was champion. The books were filled with photos of Lewis, Mondt and Sandow demonstrating holds and training exercises. They were called THE SANDOW-LEWIS LIBRARY and can be bought today through PALADIN PRESS.
Stecher went out on tour wrestling through the South and Wichita, into Philadelphia and New York City before hitting St Louis. The East had reopened its door to pro wrestling and it had a new hunger for entertainment with new arenas being build for the sporting public. New stars were created and styles changed to fit a public who didn't see pro wrestling as a true sport but something to have fun with and be entertain by. There was a need for wrestler/performers, and the idea of only true shooters being the stars when out the window. The number of cards in each city, and the number of matches on each card increased. More wrestlers were needed, but the number of actual shooters remained at a stable number, so over time, the number of performers began to dominate the true wrestler types. The championship matches, for the most part, were still presented in a serious way, but the undercards were filled with brawling and wrestlers flying out of the ring into the audience. The promoters gained in control, and they wanted the power to say who would be champion in there own small company. The days of Gotch, Stecher, and Lewis controlling wrestling were coming to an end.
The idea in 1927 was that the promoters would work together to make agreements and promote a national storyline that would benefit everyone, but as the sport progressed into the 1930's, it found that satisfying the needs and ideas of the many groups wasn't that easy. Wrestling wars were created that made the Stecher/Lewis troubles in the 1920's look small time.
A strange event took place on December 19, 1926. Strangler Lewis defeated Mike Romano in Philadelphia. Now there is nothing strange about Ed beating Romano, he beat him all the time. The weird part is the promoter being Ray Fabiani and Jim Londos wrestling on the undercard. A major member of the Stecher promotion booking Lewis might show that the ice between both groups was melting.
Lewis then was in Boston on January 13 to wrestle a two and a half hour draw with Pat McGill for promoter Paul Bowser.
On January 21, 1927, a report pops up saying that after Toots Mondt lost to Joe Malcewicz in Tulsa, he and Billy Sandow had a heated argument in the dressing room. Some believe that the two broke off their business partnership at that point. I don't know. It may have just been a worked storyline, after all the reports of Toots training with Lewis in 1926.
Stecher defeated Nick Lutze in Philadelphia on January 7, 1927. On the under card, a new major star named Ray Steele (Pete Sauer) defeated Jim Londos by decision. In the following years, Steele would become Londos' greatest opponent, wrestling each other in every major city in the country. Both were working for Stecher at the time and, on January 18, Stecher got a win over Steele at Atlanta. Steele, who was billed under his real name Pete Sauer in the South and Los Angeles, was a major hooker and a fine performer. Fans seemed to love him win or lose and he was a major draw across the country.
On January 23, Billy Sandow and Lewis with the Stechers present met with Aurelio Fabiani in New York City. They talk about a title match in Philadelphia. No news came from the meeting.
Champions worked a much tougher schedule after 1927. Gotch, Stecher, and Lewis used to train in large cities for a least a week before major matches, but under new agreements and with every territory wanting a title match, the champion might be on the road for 4 to 6 matches a week. The title matches became shorter but there were more of them. For the first 3 ½ months of 1927, Stecher was working all over the country and didn't get a rest until mid-April.
Other than his trips to Boston, Lewis travels consisted of mainly mid-west trips. He wasn't making much money and he was forced to read all the newspaper stories about him running out of the Stecher match in Los Angeles. On February 28, Lewis beat Romano in Chicago. It was the eight match between the two in the Windy City. He and Sandow realized they needed a new plan.
Stecher defended the title against Renato Gardini at New York City on March 7 in front of 10,000 for Jack Curley. Stecher then wrestled for Tom Pack in St. Louis (March 15) beating another new star in Paul Jones.
Pack then traveled to Philadelphia to meet with the Stechers. The topic was Ed Lewis. Pack wanted to promote the super match with Lewis. Tony Stecher knew that he also needed the big money match, but didn't think, after what happened with Pesek, that it was wise for the champion to wrestle someone out side their trust or company. I think they agreed that Joe would be willing to work with Lewis, if he would dump the idea of the Sandow group and cross the line. Of course, the story was released to the public in a different form. Pack's storyline was that Lewis hadn't wrestled a major wrestler in over two years and needed to meet one of the contenders, but if he did that, Stecher would wrestle him.
Pack then traveled to Kansas City and ate dinner with Billy Sandow in his home (around March 20). Pack explained the plan to Billy. The idea was for Lewis to come over and at least work with the Stecher side. The first step would be a major match with John Pesek in St Louis on April 4. Sandow knew he hadn't made major money during the war with the Stechers and they could make a ton of it if they just worked with the new promoters and quit playing games. So Sandow, Lewis and Bowser agreed to Pack's plan. Others like Fabiani, Daro, and Law were in on the deal but I don't know if Jack Curley was happy with the idea.
The Lewis/Pesek match was announced in the press and on March 24 Lewis and Sandow visited Pack in St. Louis to scout locations for a training site. The plan had Lewis training at the National Gym during the week leading up to the April 4 match.
After the October 6 attempted double-cross on Stecher, Pesek didn't wrestle for the rest of the year. Pesek was friends with Joe Stecher, and I don't think Joe held any resentment against his fellow Nebraskan. I think Joe felt the champion should be the best wrestler and it was his own fault in letting Pesek get the best of him. Sometimes you make a friend out of a bully by beating them, but then I'm probably goofy as hell. As for everyone else, but Tom Pack, Pesek had killed his career and didn't wrestle again for the rest of 1926.
Tom Pack was helping manage Pesek, who was still a major star in St Louis. The only performer bigger in the city was Jim Londos. So Pack booked Pesek against Londos on January 25, 1927.
Jimmy was also kind of damaged goods at the time. In Memphis on January 14, he was taken into police custody, and booked for larceny. A Mike Cassaras of Jackson Mississippi charged he was ripped off of $12,000 after betting on the outcome of a fake Londos wrestling match in 1925. Ripping off amateur gamblers was how pro wrestlers made their living in the early part of the century and Londos would have been playing the game too. But by 1925, most wrestling promoters realized they were looking for major trouble if they encouraged fans to bet on a "worked" sport and they had moved away from their gambling past. These charges against Londos were published across the nation and would be brought up by his enemies for the rest of his career, but nothing seems to have come from them. In most people's eyes, you had to be really dumb to bet major money on a pro wrestling match in 1925. We know nothing about Londos actually going to trial, I think the charges were taken care of real fast, but one of wrestling's major stars being arrested ended, for sure, any involvement the sport had with gambling. The same can not be said of boxing, baseball, basketball and about every other sport in America.
It would seem to most smart fans that Londos was going over the Pesek that everyone in the wrestling world was mad at, but that didn't happen. The match ended up being a four hour classic. The 185 pound Pesek lost 13 pounds but the 200 pound Londos lost 10 and the match. Pesek won the first fall with a head scissors and a arm lock in one hour and twenty-seven minutes. Londos won the second fall in one hour and forty-two minutes after five rolling headlocks. Pesek then won the third fall in 49 minutes and 10 seconds. The 10,000 fans called the match great and reports claimed there was no rest holds! The semi-final between Rudy Dusek and Paul Jones lasted 1:10:30. They loved that match too.
The result cost Londos a match with Stecher and seemed hard to explain at the time, but Tom Pack had plans for Pesek. He wanted Pesek over before a match with Lewis.
On February 25, 1927, a story in COLLAR'S EYE and reprinted in the LINCOLN NE STAR, stated that John Pesek was back in the Stecher trust. It claimed that the promoters held $21,000 of his money, that he could only get it back if he return and behaved himself. The money seems to have been impounded after the October 6 match. As punishment he would be asked to do a number of "jobs". On March 16, Pesek lost two straight falls by disqualification to Jack Sherry at Columbus.
Lewis' first match in St Louis in almost three years did take place on April 7, 1927. It was a finish match and Tom Pack started the contest before the semi-final of Paul Jones and Joe Zigmund (Mayor of Brainerd Nebraska) at 9:00, so that fans might get some sleep in case of another wrestling marathon. The pre-match publicity was filled with all the normal Lewis's lies. He had only been a pro 12 years, miss-spelled his real name, talked about his collage degree, the five hour draw with Stecher was a brutal match, he lost to Munn by a foul, the record with Stecher was even, and he had only met Pesek one other time, but he was billed correctly as the ex-champion. Pesek weighted 188 pounds to Lewis' 230, a difference of 42 pounds. There was 9,000 fans in the St Louis Coliseum but the paid attendance was 8,672.
The Strangler won the first fall in 1:03:19 after four headlocks. Pesek fought a tough battle but Ed's size over powered him. Pesek came back in a glorious fashion pinning Lewis using a flying mare off an arm lock in 29:05. Looking fit and as fast as ever, Lewis pinned Pesek in the third fall with a combination head scissors and a arm bar in 7:51.
Tom Pack then visited the Stechers who were vacationing at Hot Springs, Arkansas around April 13. Pack offered Joe a large purse, said to be $75,000 (I don't believe that number.) for a title match with Lewis in St Louis. Reports are that Tony and Joe were willing to "play ball" and this time they weren't talking about baseball.
Following the Lewis match, John Pesek's career took a downward turn. On June 9, he has given a St Louis rematch with Jim Londos and got beat. He then returned to Los Angeles to wrestle a draw with Jimmy (July 20). On August 3, he had a contenders match with Paul Jones, and if he had won, he would have gotten a rematch with world champ Joe Stecher…he lost. Pesek then went to Philadelphia for loses to George Calza (October 12) and Nick Lutze (November 18).
On April 11, 1927, Lewis' old friend Wladek Zbyszko finally got a shot at the world title, something Ed would never give him, losing to Stecher in New York City. Stecher also beat Wladek in Atlanta on May 26. Twice during the year Stecher defended the title in front of 10,000 fans in Philadelphia (August 2 and October 28).
On June 2 there is another report, this time out of Boston, that Toots Mondt was breaking off his relationship with Sandow and Lewis. Regardless of the rumors, Toots continued to wrestle and lose to Lewis in title matches and was still one of Ed's trainers.
Old friend Bill Demetral had been giving Billy Sandow trouble in Chicago. Demetral had obtained a $5,000 loan, with his home as collateral, from Sandow. Demetral reported to the Chicago Tribune sports editor that the money and the fear of foreclosure was a tool used by Sandow and his trust to make sure Demetral wouldn't beat Lewis during a title match. The newspaper published that story and others exposing the workings of pro wrestling in the city. This may have been a reason why Lewis stopped working in Chicago in late 1926. The governor of Illinois ordered an investigation and threatened to ban wrestling in the state. A Legislature committee investigated the charges caused the cancellation of a big outdoor June 16 card at Wrigley Field, Chicago, where Ed Lewis was booked to wrestle Joe Malcewicz. Sandow spent a lot of money in an effort to stop the probe but on July 1, 1927, he, Lewis and Demetral appeared before the committee and testified under oath. It's claimed that Lewis saved the day by claiming he wasn't afraid of any wrestler and was willing to wrestle Bill Demetral then or at any other time to prove there was no way the Greek could beat him. Demetral declined the challenge and the investigation ended.
On September 27, 1927, Jack Dempsey lost his rematch for his heavyweight boxing title to Gene Tunney in Chicago. This was the fight with the most famous round in boxing history. Dempsey had been out classed for six rounds by Tunney, but in the seventh he caught him with a right hand and followed up with a series of hard punches as the champ fell near the ropes. Dempsey didn't go to a neutral corner and referee Dave Barry refused to count until Jake moved away. Tunney got a "long count" and made it back to his feet. Dempsey had two minutes left in the round to finish the hurt champion, but was out boxed for the rest of the round and for the next two rounds. By the end of the tenth round, Dempsey was out on his feet and Tunney won an easy decision. Once again Tunney had proved himself to be Dempsey's master, but over the years all the public would remember was the seventh round and the "long count."
There are many similarities between Ed Lewis and Jack Dempsey, both were creations of manipulative managers, both were hated by the public as champions, but became hugely popular after their careers ended. Perhaps because they represented a type of credibility their sports had lost. Dempsey fought only one major fighter as champion, Willard was an oaf, Brennan was sick, Carpentier was small, Gibbons was old, and Firpo was unskilled. He ran from men like Harry Wills and Harry Greb. The only top level fighter he met was Gene Tunney and he lost, at least, 18 out of 20 rounds. Tunney's problems were that he was an intellectual, who lived with the upper class and read books, while not caring what the public thought of him and didn't believe in the idea that a champion fought until beaten. He also, because he was only allowed to fight Dempsey in 10 round fights, was the first heavyweight boxing champion to win his title by decision. Tunney was not the type of fighter the American public and reporters wanted. As time pasted, Dempsey remained in the public eye and he was remembered as a great champion. But Dempsey had his Tunney, as Lewis had his Stecher. Worse for Lewis, he also had a Londos.
Knowing the friendship between Lewis and Dempsey, it's very possible that Ed was at the Chicago fight that night. Everyone else in the world was.
On November 8, Lewis defeated Paul Jones in St Louis in two straight falls. During that month Billy Sandow posted another $5,000 bond with the Athletic Commission for a title match with Joe Stecher. On the 28th, the Stecher brothers visited with Tom Pack in St Louis.
>> Continue to CHAPTER 21