Facts within a Myth

by Steve Yohe


The Feburary 20, 1928 Stecher/Lewis Match

On December 21, 1927, contracts were signed with Tom Pack, by both Lewis and Stecher, for a world title match in St Louis to be held February 20, 1928.

The match was billed as a "shoot" from day one. In January 1928 Lewis had 4 matches beating Wayne Munn twice, Rudy Dusek, and Toots Mondt. He then went into strict training. Working with Mondt, Marin Plestina, and Pat McGill, he ran in the morning and wrestled all afternoon. After working at a training champ in Kansas City, he moved to the St Louis University gym on February 14. He seemed to be in perfect condition on arrival. His weight was officially 224 but reports were that he at times it had gone as low as 217 pounds. Photos taken before the match back up all the claims.[229]

Stecher had been training for the match sense December 14 in Dodge and moved to the St Louis Knights of Columbus gym in the week leading up to the match.[230] He had been through a hard active two years and eight months as champion, traveling back and forth the country defending the title against such wrestlers as Jim Londos, John Pesek, Ray Steele, Wladek Zbyszko, Dick Daviscourt, Jim Browning, Paul Jones, George Calza, Rudy Dusek, Nick Lutze, Charles Hansen, Renato Gardini, Yussif Hussane, and many others. He had backed down from no one and had accepted every challenge. But in 1927, something had change in Stecher. Around his hometown of Dodge, he became more withdrawn and did less socializing with the people in the town. Rumors were being spread that he was worn out and talking about retirement. Up until the Los Angeles match with John Pesek, he had believed he was the true champion, able to actually beat everyone. Perhaps the double-cross took away Joe's idea that there was sport in pro wrestling. He began to see it as just entertainment and a fantasy for others. By 1928, Joe didn't want to play the game anymore. He had left wrestling at least twice before and 1928 seemed like a good year to say goodbye forever.

The February 20, 1928 match drew more than 7,500 people including the acting Mayor of St. Louis, two State Senators, the Circuit Judge, the City Registrar, twenty city officials of Evansville, Ind., more than fifty newsmen, two wirer services, and most of the major wrestling promoters in the nation, including Jack Curley, Julius Siegel, Paul Bowser, Ed White, and Ray Fabiana. (I think Lou Daro called in sick, having lost a street fight to one of his wrestlers (Mohanned Hassen) in January. Special trains arrived from such cites as Hannibal, Mo. Kansas City and Chicago and the price for a ringside seat was $25. The gate ended up at $65,000. Offers for a national radio broadcast were turned down by the promoter Tom Pack and overtures from film companies were refused, because the high powered lamps would produce too much heat for the wrestlers and the fans. On the night, the arena actually was very cold with overcoats being used by just about everyone.

The rules were set for a two out of three fall match with no time limit. A foul would end a fall but not cost the guilty wrestler the complete match. A rule was made that stated that when the wrestlers were separated on the ropes, they would return to the middle of the ring in a standing position before continuing the match.

The under card had Jim Londos and Toots Mondt winning matches. Lewis was the first to enter the ring with Billy Sandow, Pat McGill and Marvin Pleatina. Stecher followed accompanied by Tony Stecher and Nick Lutze. Lewis weighted 227 and Stecher was 225. Stecher was announced as the World Champion. Lewis was the challenger, announced as the "headlock king".

The first fall saw both men wrestling defensively, with Lewis slightly the aggressor. Most of the fall saw the wrestlers standing, but Lewis did take Stecher down a few time but no real holds were applied. Unlike in past matches, Ed was more willing to mix, with Stecher waiting for Lewis to make a mistake. Neither wrestler received much punishment. Things seemed to speed up at the two hour mark and the end came unexpectedly. At two hours, sixteen minutes, and 32 seconds, Lewis took Stecher down and rolled him into an arm lock and body block for the pin. Tony Stecher protested the fall, claiming Joe was given a fast count by referee Harry Sharpe.

Back in the dressing room, Stecher was given a "pep" talk by friends Jim Londos and John Pesek (who were sitting together). They told him to stop playing the defensive game and take it to The Strangler.

Lewis returned back stage to the warm congratulation of his followers. Ed threw out his chest and mumbled "Billy, it's easy."

Again Lewis was the first to enter the ring at 47 minutes passed midnight, followed by Stecher who was given an ovation by his fans. At the bell, the two circled, then Lewis dove for a bear hug type takedown, the same move that had worked to win the first fall, but Stecher stepped nimbly away, whirring around to land on top of Ed. Stecher put Lewis in the same type arm lock that had cost him the first fall. Stecher was then awarded the second fall in 56 seconds.

After another rest period, the third fall started at 13 minutes passed one in the morning. Lewis continued to attack using body locks in an attempt to take Stecher back to the mat. Stecher was able to block his first few moves but the two got entangled and fell to the canvas. Lewis got an arm lock and got on top of Stecher's shoulders. Knowing he was in big trouble, Stecher rolled, bridged, and wiggled in a desperate attempt to throw off the heavier Lewis but Ed couldn't be kicked off. Stecher got to the northern edge of the ring and his left leg hit the lower rope. He then moved several more inches, and his right leg became twisted around the second rope, so far over that his foot was over the front row of seats. It was a test of strength with Lewis having the vice-like grip as Joe fought to stop his shoulders from being forced to the mat. From Stecher's corner, front row, box seats, and the balcony came the chorus: "Ropes, ropes, ropes." With the crowd in a frenzy, referee Sharpe laid beside the two wrestlers as the champion, with no leverage to kick out, was forced down by the weight and strength of Lewis. With both shoulder firmly pressed on the canvas, he patted Lewis on the back and gave the signal that made him the undisputed world champion.

Billy Sandow jumped into the ring and led Lewis to his corner. Stecher, dazed, got to his feet and moved to the center of the ring expecting to continue. He appeared amazed to see Lewis and Sandow celebrating the victory. Hundreds of fans rushed up to the ring yelling at the ref, while pointing to the ropes. The referee, Harry Sharpe, gave his decision to the announcer and Lewis was pronounced as the new champion. The time of the third fall was 12 minutes and 50 seconds.[231]

The next day, the result of the match was reported in every newspaper in America. Reports in out of town, pro-Lewis, papers claim there was no controversy over the result,[232] but in St Louis the paper was filled for days of stories of Tony Stecher complaining about Joe being pinned with his feet in the ropes. Joe, himself, had very little to say. His statement was "I have no alibis and am willing to take the result as a sportsman should. It was just the breaks of the game that it turned out as it did. But I still believe I can throw Lewis."[233]

Lewis stated that there wasn't any room for doubt in anyone's mind who was the better man. "Some people thought I'd either hop on a bicycle or get rough. I didn't do either, and did all the aggressive work. Stecher is game, I'll say that for him. He took a lot of punishment. But I don't think he is good enough to ever beat me." When asked if he would be willing to defend against Stecher in a rematch, he said "Why should I? I think he showed that he is not to be rated with the top contenders." Lewis also made the point that he didn't win a title, he defended one.[234]

Joe Stecher retired a short time later to run his concerns in Dodge which included farms, a local movie house and a grain business. At the time, he seemed to have all the money he would even need. He was wrong.

Regardless of the screw finish, it has to be said that Joe Stecher's shadow no longer clouded the career of Strangler Lewis. Stecher's record verses Lewis at the time was five wins, three loses and two draws, but Lewis won the two title changes and that's all the public would be allowed to remember. Unless you consider this 1928 match, in which he was billed as the challenger, a Lewis title defense…… Strangler Lewis never defended a world title against Joe Stecher.

Now that the storyline has been covered, lets get to the politics. Why did the Stecher side allow Strangler Lewis to regain his title? When Sandow and Lewis agreed to join Tom Packs in March 1927, I don't believe he did so with the promise of getting the title, but Sandow may have been able to read the situation and anticipated that the promoters would look to Ed. The public had been promised a Lewis/Stecher match for at least six years and it was too much of a build-up to let get away. With everyone agreeing that the match had to take place, the next problem was the finish. That also worked out, in that Stecher was tired out, had run through most of the major contenders, and was more than willing to retire. Unlike what you would think after three years or more of war, Joe liked Lewis and respected him as a wrestler. The name "Strangler Lewis" was bigger than his own and there would be no loss of "face" in losing to him. Especially if you threw in a screw finish… like having Joe's feet tied up in the ropes. The money would be good too.

Sandow, of course, wanted Lewis back on top, but Ed was almost 38 years old, not always in condition, and his eye problem was an on and off thing. For most of us today, we are used to seeing photos of the rotund Lewis and the idea of a fat Lewis fits in with our images of the wild 1920's and other fat personalities like Babe Ruth and Al Capone. The promoters and fans of that time were far less willing to accept that image of an out of shape champion wrestler. The promoters and Billy Sandow were always pushing Ed to lose weight. I think Lewis' weight loss before this match wasn't because of a possibility of a shoot but because the promoters wanted Lewis to look like a champion. By the date of the match, he only weighted three pounds more than Stecher. So Lewis was given his title back. It was billed as his third title reign, but if you include the two Olin title wins…five.

With this said, I don't believe the promoters were thinking of keeping Lewis champion. Lewis and Stecher had dominated pro wrestling's storyline sense 1915 and it was time to give the fans new stars to watch and spend money on. I think promoters wanted the big national star Strangler Lewis on top, so they could make a new star out of the guy who knocked him off.

Who were these promoters that made Lewis champion? Tom Packs, Tony Stecher, and Billy Sandow for sure. Fabiani seemed in on it. Paul Bowser was always close to Sandow, maybe even the true third member of the trio. We do know that Jack Curley, who sat in the front row during the title change, was against it. The day after the match (February 21), an Associated Press story stated that the New York Commission would not recognize Lewis as world champion until he met and defeated contender Hans Steinke. Steinke was a 275 mass of muscle that Curley had brought to New York from Germany. No one knew how good he was and that meant Billy Sandow would be afraid of him and Lewis would stay away. This fact played up in the newspapers would give Curley, Fabiani, and the states of New York and Pennsylvania reason to create a title line of their own.

The 1929 Title Reign

Following the February 20 title change, it didn't take Lewis long to get back in action. On February 29, he defeated Joe Malcewicz in Kansas City for promoter Gabe Kaufmann. Reports claim that Lewis was planning to tour Europe in the summer and that someone in Hollywood had offered the champion $200,000 to star in a movie.[235]

On March 6, he defeated Paul Jones at Atlanta and then attempted to defend the title in Chicago March 12. The big city was still being plagued by a "mark" commission. Lewis was to wrestle Alex Garkawienko, but the Chicago Commission was split about allowing the card to take place. One of the commissioners claimed that Garkawienko wasn't a European champion from Russia, was managed by Billy Sandow, and not a fit opponent for a world champion. The match was allowed to take place after Lewis agreed to post a $5,000 bond to meet the winner of a Chicago tournament to decide a true undisputed champion. The "mark" Illinois Commission would continue to disrupt Chicago for years, and do harm to one of the best pro wrestling markets in the country.

From day one of his new title reign, Lewis had the reputation of a champion who was guarded and wouldn't meet worthy contenders. The truth is that he was just wrestling Paul Bowser wrestlers, like Malcewicz, Garkawienko, Joe Komar, George Mcleod, Stan Stasiak, Lutze, and Howard Cantonwine.

On March 17, 1928, Tom Packs announced that he and Philadelphia promoter Fabiani, would bar Ed Lewis from wrestling in their promotions unless Ed agreed to meet "legitimate title contenders". Lewis did not defend this title in St Louis for the rest of 1928. It seems to me that there was a power struggle between promoters and Paul Bowser won the prize. The storyline in St Louis was that Packs wanted Lewis to wrestle Jim Londos and Lewis refused. It's possible, but no sure thing, that Packs wanted Lewis to drop the title to his star Londos but Sandow and Bowser had other ideas. This is the first sign of the rivalry between Lewis and wrestling next huge super star Jim Londos.

Lewis believe, and justifiability so, that he "made" Londos. He didn't do jobs for Jimmy but he did put him over in many matches in Canton and St Louis. The larger Lewis, in size and "push", had lost exhibition matches to Londos and given him falls. Lewis and Sandow felt they had made a lot of money for Londos and expected some loyalty, but after Munn's loss to Zbyszko, Londos jumped to the Stecher side, taking a bunch of other wrestlers with him. Lewis had developed a strong hatred for Londos and he was willing to do anything that would make him look bad.

On March 30, Lewis beat Toots Mondt at Houston. This was the last time Ed would defend this title against his good friend.

Lou Daro still had a use for Lewis and his title so he became part of the Sandow/Bowser alliance. Daro had a major territory in Los Angeles and a good arena with low rent, so thought out the 1920's and 30's he was able to use whatever talent or promoters he wanted. Daro was willing to work with anyone who could make him money. For the next few years, Los Angeles would be one of Lewis' strongest city. On May 2, 1928 Lewis returned to LA and defeated Nick Lutze at the Olympic Auditorium in front of almost 9,000 fans. The match lasted 1:29:35.[236] Lutze was very popular and a rematch to a finish took place on June 13 at The Olympic. Lewis won two out of three falls and drew a sellout 10,000 with a gate of $16,000.[237]

The Olympic's biggest draw early in the year was Jim Londos, but he disappeared from the city as soon as Lewis began making appearances.

On June 25, Lewis defeated Malcewicz in Houston and drew a record crowd. At the time, the National Democratic Convention was in town. The party ended up nominating Al Smith, who went on to lose to the Republican Herbert Hoover. So Smith, Malcewicz, and the country all ended up as losers.[238]

On May 28 and on July 9, Lewis defeated Marin Plestina in Minneapolis.[238a There was a story told in the book FALL GUYS by Marcus Griffin. The story says that Toots Mondt ran into the trust buster Plestina at the Hotel Pfeister in Milwaukee around June 1926. The two went to Mondt's room for a drink. Mondt made Marin an offer to leave his manager Joe Marsh and join the Lewis group. He told Plestina he could go with him to Lewis summer home in Nekoosa, Wisconsin. Marian would then wrestle Lewis in a gym shoot, and if Plestina could win that match, Ed would drop the world title to him with in two months. If he lost the shoot, Marin would then "play ball", work matches and still make good money. Plestina had gotten a lot of publicity from manager Marsh, but very little cash. He was getting old and he had a family to support, so Plestina agreed.

In stories told by Mondt and Lewis, it was always Billy Sandow who had no faith in the Strangler and wouldn't let him take on "trust buster" types in contests. It was their way of telling fans that Lewis was game and not to blame for avoiding major contenders over the years. So this story is important to Lewis supporters.

Marsh got Plestina to Nekoosa, and Lewis liked the idea, but Sandow hated it. So they wrestled and Strangler Lewis beat Plestina two falls in less than thirty minutes. Griffin then claimed that Lewis defeated Plestina in "almost every big city in America".

I would love to believe that story and the idea of Ed beating Plestina in a "shoot" match, but there are problems. From results we find that Plestina had left Joe Marsh and was working for the Jack Curley group by April 1925 in Boston (against Bowser). The time line of the match, taking place in June 1926, seems OK because Plestina was one of Lewis's known trainers before the Munn matches and the title win over Stecher. But the first match in an arena, took place in May and then July in 1928. The record only has Ed defending the title verses Plestina three times. Why did they wait so long to wrestle? By the time they got in the ring, everyone was getting old. Was Sandow afraid of a guy working for him? Well Pesek and even Dick Shikat worked for him and Ed avoided them too.[239]

I think Plestina needed a good job and joined up with Sandow, first as a trainer and later agreed to be talent for a few more bucks. As for Lewis being able to beat him in a shoot, I believe it. Nothing makes me think Plestina was a top level shooter.

Another wrestler would begin a career in 1928 that would become an important figure in Ed Lewis' career. Gus Sonnenberg was born on March 6, 1889 on a farm in Green Garden, Michigan.[240] After attending a country school, he moved to Marquette, Wisconsin in 1912 to live with his older sister while attending high school. He was known for his line play on the football team at Marquette High School. Sonnenberg played right guard and later was moved to tackle. He also was a kicker. In 1916 the Marquette football team went undefeated, took the U.P. championship and out scored the opposition 211 points to 7. After graduating, Gus then passed up scholarships to major colleges to go to Dartmouth. The university didn't offer athletic scholarships, so Gus worked small jobs to support himself while playing football. Possible because of WWI, he left Dartmouth to teach and play ball back in Marquette. He returned to Dartmouth in 1920 to play on a good team and was good enough to make the all-American team at tackle. In the 1920 Dartmouth-Pen game he kicked an important 80 yard punt and was considered a major football star. He was smart, well spoken and known as a lover of good poetry. He then left Dartmouth for the University of Detroit. He graduated in 1922 with a Law Degree. He then worked for an automotive company but would take time off to play pro football. Pro football was small time in the 1920's and Sonnenberg didn't make much money, even while being a star. From 1922 to 1928, he played with The Green Bay Packers, Columbus, The Ohio Tigers, The Detroit Panthers, and The Providence Steam Rollers. In Providence, he played along side of John Spellman, who was also a pro wrestler. One night a bunch of the player went to the match to watch Spellman perform. Gus thought the sport was a joke and he claimed he could do better than anyone on the card. So on a bet, Sonnenberg was taken to a gym and trained as a pro wrestler. To the surprise of everyone, Gus was better than everyone.[241]

Gus Sonnenberg had his first match in January 1928, and he followed that by winning 28 straight matches. He was a natural with the persona of a true star. It wasn't long before he came to the attention of Boston promoter Paul Bowser, who saw his potential and pushed him to the top level.

Unlike Wayne Munn, Sonnenberg was a good worker who had a feel for pro wrestling. He was small at 5' 7" and 200 pounds, but was explosive and powerful. His style was to work everything around a move called The Flying Tackle. He would fly across wrestling rings, like he did on football fields, to drive his head into the chest and stomachs of his opponents. He was quick on his feet and could deliver a series of tackles before the other wrestler could recover from the first. The true finisher was a tackle where he grabbed his opponents two legs and combined the football move with a double leg take down. The other wrestler would crash to the mat hitting the back of his head on the canvas. When he missed the move, he would fly out of the ring into the crowd or to bump on to the arena floor. In a way, Sonnenberg was the first wrestler in 3D. A fan or news reporter at ringside had to keep their head up because at anytime Gus could end up in his lap.

Sonnenberg revolutionized pro wrestling. From the beginning of time, the major stars were defensive wrestlers like Gotch, Londos and even Stecher. With Sonnenberg, his offense was his defense. He was aggressive and never let up. There was action from the first minute to the last, and the fans loved the style. Gus's matches were short and sweet. His style was a result of the fact that he wasn't a "wrestler". He was an athlete and a "worker". Any mid-level true wrestler could have beaten him in a contest. But Gus was very tough and physical and the style could be called "stiff" but the idea was to put on a good show and entertain.

With in a few short months, wrestlers all over the country was using the flying tackle. Gus Sonnenberg probably influenced the sport as much as any wrestler in history. A lot of hard core insiders and fans hated the style and called him "Gus the Goat", but the crowds he drew overcame any criticism.

On May 11, 1928, Sonnenberg defeated Wayne Munn at Worcester to set up a title match with Lewis. Bowser signed champion Lewis and Sonnenberg with the biggest guarantee in New England history. The story was that Lewis was promised $15,000 and Gus would get $7,500. The date was June 29, 1928 and the place was Boston Arena.

Bowser did a great job of promoting the match, filling the newspapers with stories of Sonnenberg and the storyline of a young wrestler meeting the feared Strangler. The advance sale of tickets was huge. The only true fear was the idea that the young performer, with only 40 matches and five months of training in his career, might choke and mess up the match. Lewis and Joe Malcewicz took a fast train from Houston and arrived in Boston the day before the match.

The match sold out the Boston Arena with 12,000 filling the building. It was only the third time in it's history that the Arena had been sold out. The "standing room only" crowd sat in their seats, stood rows deep along the back fringes of the seats and even hung from the bare girders that hung from the roof. It was a Sonnenberg crowd from the moment the bulky, square-rigged little figure poked his head out and walked to ring. Lewis followed him to the ring. Announcements were made and group photos taken, then the bell rang and the match started.

The first 5 minutes was slow with both wrestlers feeling each other out, but Sonnenberg took Lewis down to the mat with an arm lock. It was soon broken but from then on there was action every minute, with Gus always making the war and Ed always warding him off with a speed remarkable for a 230 pounder. Twice Lewis attempted the headlock and twice Sonnenberg hurled him across the ring to the delight of the partisan crowd. Lewis circled around the ring, always with the ropes close, so that a Sonnenberg tackle would carry him into them and not on to the mat. At the 30 minute mark, Sonnenberg was raging like a wild man, charging and ramming his way through the heat to get at Lewis. He arm dragged Ed to the mat but the champion wriggled away and put Gus into a headlock. The challenger looked groggy and dazed after he broke free and Lewis jumped on him with another headlock. Gus stumbled away and three times he ducked under Lewis' attempt at another headlock. When Lewis following him to the middle of the ring, Gus slammed into the champion with his hardest flying tackle. Ed head went backward as he was knocked flat. Gus jumped on him with an arm bar and half nelson to get the pin in 37 minutes and 30 seconds.

Newspaper and hats flew through the air, as the entire house stood to give tribute to the little man. Lewis laid stunned, for a few minutes, with the air completely knocked out of him. He was assisted form the ring. When he returned for the second fall he lifted himself into the ring like a feeble old gentleman, rather than a champion of the world.

Sonnenberg slammed into Lewis at the start of the second fall, driving him into the ropes. Another smashing tackle put a dead look in the champion's eyes. As Gus attempted a third, Lewis woke up and stepped to the side. Sonnenberg missed his target and flew out of the ring, over the heads of startled reporters, to land head-down in a sawdust heap. He land there moaning as the referee counted him out. Sonnenberg couldn't get up and he was carried to the dressing room through the stunned crowd. Lewis' quick move had saved his crown and Sonenberg couldn't continue.

The match was a thrilling affair and everyone left the building wanting a rematch. Ed Lewis had got the football player over and pro wrestling had a new star.[242]

On July 12, Lewis announced he was going to take the summer off to tour England and Europe. He'd then return for a farewell tour of America before retiring at the end of the next year. Lewis left New York City on an Ocean liner on July 20. I don't believe he wrestled overseas and it seems to have just been a vacation with his new girlfriend or perhaps he was looking for specialist to treat his Trachoma. He returned home on September 1. He was interview in New York, and the reporters commented that Ed looked fat. Lewis claimed the extra pounds came from drinking German beer. He also bought a complete new wardrobe in Paris.

Lewis and Sandow returned to Los Angeles to defeat Joe Malcewicz in two straight falls on October 3, 1928. The match drew a near sellout of 9,300 and a gate of over $16,000. The reports were that Lewis had "nice round cheeks" and "appeared to have a lot of excess flesh around his abdomen". One hour and 11 minute into the first fall, they both were stunned after banging heads together. Lewis luckily landed on top of Malcewicz and got the pin. Malcewicz was still weak following the rest period and Lewis beat him in 21/2 minutes with a series of headlocks.[242]

Joe Malcewicz is over looked by many historians and Hall Of Fames, but he was a talented performed and a true wrestler. As a major opponent of Lewis, he developed a finishing hold he named the "backward body slam". I believe it was the same hold used by Lou Thesz as a "side suplex" in the 1950's. Malcewicz's hold was used as a counter to Lewis head lock, which couldn't be applied without giving your back to the opposition.
I wonder if it was Lewis, or even Malcewicz, who taught the move to Thesz.

Two weeks later on October 17, wrestled the "Trust Buster" Marin Plestina at the Olympic Auditorium. The two had wrestled a couple of other times in Minneapolis during the year, but this was billed as their national showdown…..at least in Los Angeles. Lewis won the first fall in 41:26 with a headlock. Plestina surprised everyone by pinning Lewis using a flying mare in 12:45 to win the 2nd fall. This upset Ed and he returned with a vengeance to pin Marin in 2 ½ minutes using Malcewicz's backward slam.[243]

Lewis wasn't touring at the time. He was just headlining in Los Angeles and working a few date in outlining Phoenix and Salt Lake City. On October 26, he did travel to Philadelphia to draw 7,000 in beating Paul Jones in 48:32.[244]

On the under card was one of the local stars on the East Coast named Dick Shikat, a powerful German wrestler who was being pushed in Philadelphia and the rest of the East Coast. Shikat was a major wrestler, but as a worker he was what was called a "crowbar". He worked so "stuff" that a lot of wrestlers didn't like getting into the ring with him. He was very popular with the type fan who like their wrestlers to be real wrestlers.

The top star in Philadelphia was Jim Londos. The Greek was having a huge year in 1928, with wins over all the major wrestler in Philadelphia, including John Pesek and Ray Steele. On June 25, 1928, Londos established his dominance on the East Coast by beating Dick Shikat on an outdoor card in front of 13,000 fans. Londos was drawing bigger crowds that any non-champion in history. Lewis probably was bought into town because Londos went on a five month tour of Europe. On December 9, 1984, Londos defeated European champion Karol Zbyszko, cousin of Stan & Wladek Zbyszko, in Athens Stadium, Greece, birth place of the Olympic games, in front of 65,000 fans.

Also on the Lewis/Jones under card was Toots Mondt. Toots had left the Sandow company because of a argument with the Bauman brothers. His wrestling career was also slowing down by the end of 1928 due to injuries, so he started working for Ray Fabiani, possibly as the Philadelphia booker. I wonder if it was Toots who got Lewis this booking in Philadelphia, an area he was considered banned in because he only wrestled Bowser contracted performers.

Mondt got a good push in St Louis by Tom Packs in early 1929. He drew with John Pesek (Jan. 11), defeated Dick Daviscourt (Jan. 29), and jobbed to Jim Londos (Feb. 21). On March 5, Mondt wrestled a 60 minute draw with Dick Shikat. Mondt had known Shikat from Chicago where Dick had worked under cards on Lewis/Sandow cards, without ever being considered for title shots. Mondt knew his wrestling career was about over and Shikat also knew he wasn't going to get promoted over Londos without major promotional help, so Mondt became Dick Shikat's manager soon after the March 5, 1929 match. Mondt put over Londos in a few major matches in 1929, but was never really a major wrestler after 1928. He wrestled off and on for a few years, but only to fill holes and put over talent. You have to give Toots Mondt some credit as a booker/promoter, for he never made the mistake of pushing himself over the other performers. A fault many bookers suffer.

Mondt was with Ray Fabiani for a short time but alliances with Jack Curley brought Toots into New York City where he probably booked and bought into Curley's company as a partner. Even if he wasn't a partner with Curley, he became and remained one of pro wrestling's most powerful insiders. Toots Mondt was one of pro wrestling innovators, but it's hard to tell what he did and what he didn't….because he was also a braggart who took credit for everything. One thought on Toots you should kept in mind…whatever he created, he also destroyed.

On a short vacation in Avalon (November 13, 1928), a small tourist town on the island of Catalina Island, Lewis announced his engagement with Miss Elaine Tomaso, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Salvatore Tomaso of Glendale, California. Seems Lewis' marriage with Miss Bessie McNear didn't last long (nothing was ever written about it), and it ended in divorce. The late Salvatore Tomaso was a well known director and composer and his daughter Elaine was a pianist and former actress.

Lewis returned to Los Angeles to beat Paul Jones again on November 21 drawing 7,000.[245] The unavoidable rematch with Joe Malcewicz took place on December 19 drawing 8,500 and a gate of $15,000. Billy Sandow missed the match as he was home in his Kansas City sick bed with the flu.[246]

>> Continue to CHAPTER 22


  • 229 ST LOUIS DAILY GLOBE-DEMOCRAT, February 14, 1928
  • 230 ST LOUIS DAILY GLOBE-DEMOCRAT, February 17, 1928
  • 231 ST LOUIS DAILY GLOBE-DEMOCRAT and ST LOUIS TIMES, February 21, 1928—Most of the backstage information and quotes came from the ST LOUIS TIMES and reporter Sid C. Keener.
  • 232 THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE, February 21, 1928
  • 233 ST LOUIS DAILY GLOBE-DEMOCRAT, February 22, 1928
  • 234 In THE UNPUBLISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY Ed claimed that the first fall was a "shoot" and that he and Stecher had agreed to the idea before the match started, even with both knowing Ed would win the match. I don't buy it. Just sounds like Lewis talking. All three pins seem theatrical to me. It was all very dramatic and seemed laid out in advance. It's possible that the first two hours was a shoot, because it was mostly boring stand up like they did in their early matches, but once it got to be mid-night with no fall, with two more falls after that, and fans needing to go to work in the morning, they went back on script and rushed through the rest of the match…..Much of this paper is speculation. I think it's easy to pick it apart and figure out what is fact and what is just Yohe giving opinions. I encourage the reader to think for himself and form there own ideas….when ever that is possible.

    I don't believe Lewis' headlock was a true shoot move that could be used in a contest. The move that Lewis went to, in what seemed like a shoot situation, was like a bearhug but Ed would grab his opponent's arm like in a hammerlock and key lock with his other arm. Getting the opponent on the mat, he would shift his upper body weight (most of his weight was in the upper portion of his body…his legs were thin.) over the other wrestler's shoulders. With one arm tied up, the downed wrestler couldn't bridge out or get leverage to kick out. Most of Ed's non-headlock pins, came from this move. I think this was the hold that pinned Stecher but Joe legs were hanging over the rope and the side of the ring, making it even harder to escape the pin.
  • 235 ST LOUIS DAILY GLOBE-DEMOCRAT, February 24, 1928---Don't believe the numbers being thrown in some of these news reports. Appears that Sandow and Lewis had planed on a European tour before the title change. That makes me think that they knew that Ed wouldn't be champion with a long reign.
  • 236 LOS ANGELES EXAMINER, May 3, 1928—Lutze was body slammed and then pined by Lewis using a headlock. Lutze bladed over his eye.
  • 237 LOS ANGELES EXAMINER, June 14, 1928
  • 238 BOSTON GLOBE, June 26, 1928
  • 238a The first match, on May 28, 1928, between Lewis and Plestina, had the two splitting the first two falls. Plestina out wrestling the champion and had Ed on the verge of defeat, when Lewis KO'ed Marin with a punch. The only reason Lewis wasn't DQ'ed was the referee he brought from Chicago, Ted Tonneman. Plestina and everyone in Minneapolis thought he could win with one of their own referees, so a rematch took place on July 9, 1928. Lewis took two out of three falls, winning both falls by tricking Marin.
  • 239 The Plestina story is in chapter 7 of FALL GUYS.
  • 240 THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL, MEMPHIS, February 10, 1929 and KING OF THE RING: GUS SONNENBERG: LAWYER, FOOTBALL STAR, HEAVYWEIGHT WRESTLING CHAMPION OF THE WORLD By Joan Oberthaler---To get an idea of what pro football was like in 1928, see the movie Leatherheads staring George Clooney.
  • 241 BOSTON GLOBE, June 20 to June 30, 1928—I took the description of the match from David F. Egan's report.
  • 242 LOS ANGELES EXAMINER, October 4, 1928
  • 243 LOS ANGELES EXAMINER, October 18, 1928
  • 244 PHILADELPHIA PUBLIC LEDGER, October 25, 1928
  • 245 LOS ANGELES EXAMINER, November 22, 1928
  • 246 LOS ANGELES EXAMINER, December 20, 1928