Lewis Frustrates Stecher and Mayor

     Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Joe Stecher conducted one of the greatest rivalries of the early arranged professional wrestling exhibition era.  Lewis and Stecher wrestled many times including a five and a half hour draw in 1916.  Several of their early matches appeared to be legitimate.  Legend also has it that Lewis actually had to beat Stecher in a “shoot match” or legitimate contest in 1920.

young-ed-strangler-lewis

Young Ed “Strangler” Lewis from the Public Domain

     However, Lewis’ and Stecher’s first match on Wednesday, October 20, 1915 in Omaha, Nebraska was not a crowd pleasing affair.  While Lewis was two years older at 24 years of age,  the 22-year-old Stecher had toured with Frank Gotch and Farmer Burns.  Stecher had more world-class experience at the time and claimed the World Heavyweight Championship.

     Knowing Stecher was dangerous, Lewis carefully avoided tying up with the young wrestler.  As a matter of fact, Lewis avoided tying up with Stecher for most of the match and simply pulled away from him each time they came close to a tie-up.

     After two hours of Lewis’ avoiding the match, both the fans and Stecher were frustrated and angry.  Whether this match started their rivalry or they disliked each other prior to the match, Stecher charged at Lewis and knocked him out of the ring.

     After the fall, Lewis complained to the referee that he struck his head on a chair.  Lewis claimed he could not continue the match, took the count out and headed back to the dressing room after this anti-climatic finish.

     Mayor Benjamin Bosse was one of the fans dismayed by the outcome and sent a physician back to check on Lewis.  Lewis was sitting in a chair, joking and did not appear to be injured.

     When the physician reported this information to Mayor Bosse, the mayor exploded.  Mayor Bosse ordered the purses of both wrestler’s be held up until he could launch an investigation to determine if the match was legitimate or not.  Charges of fraud and prearranged matches dogged professional wrestling since the 19th Century.  Mayor Bosse assumed promoters had “fixed” the match.

     It is more likely that Lewis knew he was not ready for Stecher yet but didn’t want to get pinned by him, so it was Lewis’ way out of the match.  The following year both men wrestled to the almost six-hour draw.

     Greco-Roman World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion Aleksander “Alex” Aberg was campaigning  to replace Frank Gotch as the recognized World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.  However, it looked like Stecher or Lewis would be soon recognized as the heir apparent.  Lewis probably wasn’t ready to handle Stecher yet.

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     Source: The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, October 21, 1915 edition, p. 21

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