Stetcher and Lewis At It Again
Ed “Strangler” Lewis enjoyed one of the most successful careers in professional wrestling. Although Lewis wrestled in mostly staged exhibitions, he possessed legitimate wrestling skills. Future protege Lou Thesz said many times Lewis could beat any wrestler at any time, so he was the ideal world champion in the modern era of prearranged mathces.
However, early in his career, Lewis could not defeat everyone at will. His rival Joe Stetcher provided a stubborn challenge for Lewis. Whether they did not trust each other or just disliked each other, their early matches ended in a number of controversies. Lewis would eventually take his first world championship from Stetcher in a bout, where Stetcher didn’t want to drop the belt to Lewis.
When they first met in 1915 and 1916, Stetcher was equal in skill to Lewis. To combat Stetcher’s offensive ability with the scissors hold, Lewis employed a defensive style. Fans found this style infuriating but Lewis continued to evade Stetcher’s holds. When the men met on July 4, 1916 in Omaha, Nebraska, Stetcher apparently had enough.
18,000 fans showed up at the Omaha Fair Grounds in what amounted to a hometown venue for Stetcher, who was born in Dodge, Nebraska. The gate was $30,000, a giagantic sum of money in 1916.
The 22-year-old Stetcher and 24-year-old entered the ring in peak condition. Stetcher aggresively pursued Lewis, who continued to evade Stetcher’s attempts to secure a scissors hold around his waist. Stetcher did get a scissors hold on Lewis’ arm but the 230-pound Lewis shook off the slimmer Stetcher.
Frustrated and sick of “The Strangler’s” evasion, Stetcher dropped to the ground and invited Lewis to put any hold on he wanted. Lewis tried to lock on a toe hold twice but Stetcher spun and pulled his leg out each time. Lewis began to evade the contest again.
After four hours, referee Ed Smith, Sporting Editor of the Chicago American, suggested the bout be suspended and continued the following night. Stetcher agreed but Lewis insisted the match continue.
Since it was getting dark, an automobile was driven up to ringside. The automobile’s headlights were used to illuminate the ring.
Despite wanting to continue, Lewis did not change his tactics. At the five hour mark, Ed Smith declared the match a draw and left the ring. Stetcher and Lewis glared at each other for a few minutes before leaving. While the staredown could have been theatrics to promote future matches, Stetcher probably was furious with Lewis for his tactics. Ed Lewis just did not like Joe Stetcher. Period.
Ed “Strangler” Lewis eventually eclipsed Joe Stetcher, who had a good but not as remarkable career as Lewis. Stetcher would prove Lewis’s toughest rival and the one man who threatened Lewis’ reputation.
Sources: The Ogden Standard, July 5, 1916 edition, p. 2Pin It