Zbyszko “Wins” World Title in 1921

     Polish wrestler and strongman Stanislaus Zbyszko first came to the United States in 1909 to campaign for a shot at World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion Frank Gotch.  He received and lost the match in a legitimate contest during 1910.  Zbyszko continued wrestling for a few more years and actually won the World Greco-Roman Heavyweight Wrestling Championship in 1914 from hated rival Aleksander “Alex” Aberg.

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Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Stanislaus Zbyszko meet in center ring for the customary handshake.

     Prior to Frank Gotch’s win in 1908, most world championship matches were contested in the Greco-Roman style.  However, the catch-as-catch-can style of wrestling supplanted Greco-Roman wrestling, which remained a dominant style in Europe longer, as the dominant style of wrestling worldwide.  After winning the title from Aberg, Zbyszko returned to Europe.  His title defenses were interrupted by World War I.

     After bouncing around Russia and Poland during World War I including a couple scary run-ins with Bolsheviks during a 1918 Russian tour, Zbyszko returned to the United States in 1919.  Professional wrestling in the United States had undergone a transformation in the previous five years.  While prearranged matches always occurred alongside legitimate wrestling contests, the 1915 International Wrestling Tournament in New York brought legitimate contests to an end.

     While occasional shoot matches occurred, when a wrestler did not want to go along with the prearranged outcome, promoters fixed the matches by pre-arranging the winners.  Story lines eventually began to grow up around the sport.

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Young Ed “Strangler” Lewis from the Public Domain

      Ed “Strangler” Lewis, a skilled shooter who could beat anyone in a legitimate contest and took the title from Joe Stetcher, who did not want to drop the belt, was the current World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.  Lewis and his promoters Billy Sandow and “Toots” Mondt, “The Gold Dust Trio” controlled the title.  Lewis would occasionally drop the belt to a competitor to keep interest in the title.  The wrestler would later drop the belt back to Lewis or he would simply take it, if they refused to do the honors.

     Mondt was only 27 years old and had been trained by Gotch’s old trainer, Martin “Farmer” Burns.  Mondt worked as a sparring partner and trainer for Lewis.  However, he was considered a promotional genius.  Fans began staying away from matches during the legitimate era because the legitimate contests could last 3 to 4 hours.  William Muldoon and Clarence Whistler wrestled to a seven-hour draw testing the patience of the most avid fans.

       “The Gold Dust Trio” wanted to use Zbyszko’s legitimate wrestling credentials to bolster the title.  On May 6, 1921, “The Gold Dust Trio” promoted a match between Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Stanislaus Zbyszko.  The match occurred in the 22nd Regiment Armory not Madison Square Garden, the past and future home of professional wrestling New York.  The match drew 7,500 fans.

     Mondt’s touch can be seen in the match between Lewis and Stanislaus Zbyszko.  Instead of an hours long contest, Zbyszko “won” the title in 23 minutes, 17 seconds due to a “mistake” by Lewis.  The May 7, 1921 edition of the New York Tribune reported that fans were shocked by the outcome because most of the big bouts had lasted at least two hours.

     Zbyszko was considered a heavy underdog because he was billed as the 46-year-old “old man of wrestling”.  Zbyszko was actually 42 years old but still long in the tooth for professional sports.  His age made the victory even more surprising.  Lewis also outweighed Zbyszko, 237 pounds to Stanislaus’ 226 pounds.

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Stanislaus Zbyszko in the mid 1910s

     At the four-minute mark, Lewis secured a body hold but Zbyszko used his strength to break the hold.  Lewis then secured a toe hold on the barefoot Zbyszko.  Zbyszko crawled to the ropes three times causing the action to be stopped and restarted in the center of the ring.  The break allowed him to recuperate a little each time from the painful hold, which Lewis held on for almost a minute and 30 seconds at one point.

    Lewis then threw Zbyszko to the floor but Zbyszko prevented a pin fall and regained his feet.  Zbyszko achieved his only offense of the match, when he threw Lewis and obtained his own toe hold.  Lewis escaped and applied a leg scissors to Zbyszko’s neck.

     After Zbyszko escaped the leg scissors, Lewis tried for his finishing hold, the headlock.  After Zbyszko shrugged out of two headlocks, Lewis showed visible frustration and made a wild rush for the headlock.  Lewis feet slipped out from under him and Zbyszko jumped on him for the fall and his first World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship.

     The quick fall shocked fans, who were quite for a few minutes before exploding with applause.  Zbyszko would hold the belt for a year before dropping it back to Lewis.  Ironically, Zbyszko was a shooter capable of beating most men in a legitimate match.  He just could not beat Frank Gotch.

     In 1926, Zbyszko changed the wrestling industry for six decades, when he shot on World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion “Big” Wayne Munn and took the title in a double cross of “The Gold Dust Trio”.  Promoters no longer allowed any wrestler other than a legitimate wrestler or tough guy like Harley Race to hold the world championship.

     What surprised you about this post?  What do you think of Stanislaus Zbyszko?

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