Zbyszko Injures Dr. Roller
On May 17, 1910, Stanislaus Zbyszko’s year-long tour of America continued as he met Dr. Benjamin F. Roller in Buffalo, New York. Zbyszko, a Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion from Poland, wanted to generate interest in a potential match with World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion Frank Gotch.
While Dr. Roller was never able to beat Gotch, he was considered one of the top American wrestlers. A Doctor of Physiology, who worked his way through college playing professional football, Dr. Roller worked as a researcher until 1906. Feeling the need to continue his athletic career, while he still could, Dr. Roller resigned his position with the University of Washington.
Dr. Roller lost to Gotch in an early exhibition but his fortunes improved considerably. He would beat Gotch’s mentor Martin “Farmer” Burns, Fred Beell, a young Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Joe Stetcher. Lewis and Stetcher would become world champions. Dr. Roller also helped train George Hackenschmidt for his rematch with Gotch in 1911.
However, Roller was meeting the first serious challenge to Frank Gotch in years, when he met Zbyszko. It wasn’t going to be an easy match for the Polish wrestler though.
Like many of the legitimate wrestling matches, the action was rather slow and it took the men some time to secure any kind of hold. It was particularly difficult to grab the barrel-like Zbyszko, who stood 5’09” but weighed between 227 and 260 pounds.
Dr. Roller was lighter but taller at 6’00” and 200 pounds. The slim Roller tried to use his long limbs and slimmer physique to prevent Zbyszko from securing an upper body lock, the favored hold set of the Greco-Roman wrestler. In Greco-Roman wrestling, only holds above the waist are allowed.
Roller was successful initially. Zbyszko continued trying to tie up with Roller, who used defensive wrestling and evasion to avoid the hold. Zbyszko was careful to keep Roller from grabbing one of the Polish powerhouse’s legs for a single or double leg takedown.
Finally after about an hour of stalemate wrestling, Zbyszko secured a waist hold and slammed Roller to the mat. Roller landed on his left shoulder and was in obvious pain. Zbyszko pinned him at 1 hour and five minutes for the first fall. The men were to wrestle two-out-of-three-falls to a finish meaning the match couldn’t end in a draw.
Roller returned to the center of the ring with his left arm hanging at his side. His seconds tried to get Roller to concede the match but he refused. Zbyszko decided to end it quickly, so he went behind Roller to secure a second waist hold.
Instead he grabbed Roller’s injured arm and started to put it in a hammerlock. Roller’s seconds immediately through in the sponge forfeiting the match, which is what Zbyszko wanted as he immediately released the hold. Zbyszko took the second fall at 1 minute and 4 seconds.
Zbyszko would get his match with Gotch later in 1910 but would lose in a controversial match. Gotch would never give Zbyszko a rematch.
Ironically, Zbyszko would “win” his first World Heavyweight Championship in 1921, when he was 42 years old in a prearranged match with Ed “Strangler” Lewis. Zbyszko would hold the belt for about a year.
In 1925, the 46-year-old would have his last world championship win, when he double crossed his promoters and beat the much younger but unskilled wrestler “Big” Wayne Munn. The Goldust Trio put the belt on Munn to capitalize on the interest in his large size at 6’06” and 260 pounds.
Zbyszko wrestled Munn for real and pinned him in two straight falls. Despite Munn’s lack of skill, it was an accomplishment to beat such a large man at Zbyszko’s advanced age.
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Sources: Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, May 17, 1910 edition, p. 15