Ed “Strangler” Lewis Wins the Title in 1920
On Monday, December 13, 1920, Ed “Strangler” Lewis won the first of six World Heavyweight Wrestling Championships from Joe Stetcher. The fact he won the title from his biggest rival and business enemy must have been particularly satisfying.
A year before this match, Stetcher and Lewis met in a match lasting over three hours. Lewis made a mental error in rushing for Stetcher, who was reeling from one of Lewis’ headlocks. Lewis tried to pounce on him but was caught off-guard and thrown for a fall.
Lewis trained for over a year with the intent of not being caught unaware by Stetcher or losing due to fatigue. In the rematch, Lewis beat Stetcher after 1 hour and 41 minutes. Lewis ground Stetcher into defeat with his powerful side headlock. Lewis used to use a carotid artery choke known in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a bulldog choke but it was outlawed, so he developed the headlock.
While mat finishes were mostly prearranged at this time, Lewis and Stetcher legitimately detested each other. At the time, cooperation was impossible between the men. Later in their careers, they would wrestle in prearranged bouts.
After Lewis defeated Stetcher, he formed what was known as the Gold Dust Trio promotion with Billy Sandow and Toots Mondt. They permanently transitioned professional wrestling to “worked” story lines with pre-arranged finishes.
They were comfortable with this new arrangement because if someone did not go along with the story lines, Lewis would beat them for real. This practice would bite them in 1925, when they put the belt on a football player named “Big” Wayne Munn.
Lewis was a celebrity in the 1920s before pro wrestling was exposed as worked and became more of a fringe entertainment. On May 12, 1921, the Bismark Tribune ran a story about how Lewis and his wife, Dr. Ada Scott Lewis, raised their daughter Babada with scientific methods.
The story related how Babada got up at 6. a.m. and went to sleep at 8:30 p.m. Her father taught her exercises. He also carried her with him, when he went running. Her mother made sure she received goat’s milk three times a day. One of the bizarre nutritional practices was feeding Babada bacon grease. The Lewis parents believed it was a great strength food.
Unfortunately, this marriage did not last as Lewis was married and divorced five times. Touring as a wrestler put his marriages under great strain.
Ed “Strangler” Lewis was born Robert Julius Herman Friedrich in Wisconsin on June 30, 1891. He won the World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship a then-record six times. He was considered by both Lou Thesz and Gene LeBell, both of whom he helped train, as the greatest “shooter” or legitimate wrestler.
He trained LeBell after being blinded by trachoma, which he picked up from dirty wrestling mats. At the time he contracted the disease, it was not treatable. He died in New York City on August 8, 1966 at the age of 75.
Lewis left a lasting legacy. One of the last legitimate title holders, who ushered in the era of “worked” matches, and trained the next generation of champions.Pin It