Did Muldoon Duck McMahon?

     On March 22, 1881, Greco-Roman World Wrestling Champion William Muldoon met Collar-and-Elbow World Champion John McMahon at the Terrace Garden in New York City.  Muldoon and McMahon met in a best-two-out-of-three-falls match.

     The first fall was conducted by Greco-Roman rules.  The second fall would be contested using collar-and-elbow rules.  The last fall would be decided via what The New York Sun called catch-as-catch-can style.  However, it appears the third fall was actually a Cornish wrestling style match.


Collar and Elbow Wrestler John McMahon from the Public Domain

    James Killain of Troy, New York was referee for the bout which started at 08:50 p.m.  Muldoon and McMahon met for the handshake before starting the first fall.  McMahon had good size at 5’10” and 190 pound but was ten years older than Muldoon.  The 40 year-old McMahon was at a physical and technical disadvantage with Muldoon in the first fall.

     Muldoon threw McMahon within two minutes onto the stage, which had a thin layer of carpet stretched over it.  McMahon managed to wiggle free but his escape was brief.  Muldoon threw him down a second time before the five-minute and successfully forced McMahon’s shoulders to the mat.

     After a 15 minute rest, the men tied up in McMahon’s specialty.  It looked for a second as if Muldoon would win the second fall as he lifted McMahon onto his shoulders.  McMahon quickly escaped and proceeded a little more warily.  McMahon threw Muldoon with a foot trip but did not get the fall.


William Muldoon from the Public Domain

     On their third tie up. McMahon struck home.  A twist of McMahon’s hips sent Muldoon onto his shoulder and hips looking at the ceiling.  Unsurprisingly, each man won in their specific style.

    The controversy arose during the third fall which was supposed to be conducted in jackets like Cornish wrestling or Sambo today.  Muldoon wanted to wear a cardigan instead of the jacket.  After a couple stops and starts, Muldoon agreed to put on a jacket.  However, Muldoon found the jacket so constricting he refused to take part.

    Killian called off the bout at that point with both men having one fall.  When I read the newspaper coverage, I had to ask if Muldoon was scared of losing the third fall and it was his way of getting out of the bout.

      I think it is possible a young champion was worried about losing the third fall to an older challenger with much more experience.  However, I have suspected for some time that several of these matches were arranged leading up to the pay off in a legitimate match.

      In this match, both Muldoon and McMahon looked good winning in their specialty very quickly.  Neither man may have wanted to wrestle the third fall so the jacket controversy was a way for the men to extricate themselves from the match.

     McMahon wrestled longer than Muldoon.  He retired in 1891 at the age of 50.  He died in 1912 at 71.

      Muldoon went on to be one of America’s premiere trainers.  He also served as a New York State Athletic Commissioner.  Muldoon lived to the ripe old age of 81.

     What do you think?  Did Muldoon duck McMahon or did they set the match up that way? You can leave a comment or ask a question about this or any post on my Facebook pageTwitter profile and Google+ page.


William Muldoon: The Solid Man Conquers Wrestling and Physical Culture in paperback

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