Evan “Strangler” Lewis Shows Mean Streak

Evan “Strangler” Lewis, also called Evan Lewis “the Strangler”, was a professional wrestler from 1882 to 1899.  Lewis was the first American Heavyweight Catch-as-Catch Can Wrestling Champion.  He was also the first wrestler to perfect the stranglehold or rear naked choke.

Lewis made his professional debut by winning a 64 man tournament in May 1882.  Lewis won the American title in 1887 and held it until 1895.  Lewis lost the belt to Martin “Farmer” Burns, who Lewis beat in Burns’ professional debut in 1886.


Evan “Strangler” Lewis from the Public Domain

Also in 1886, Lewis had a pair of matches with Matsada Sorakichi, a Japanese wrestler.  Sorakichi came to the United States because professional wrestling was not popular in Japan at the time.  Sorakichi was smaller than most wrestlers but he was about the equal of Lewis in strength.  As events would show, Sorakichi was not as skilled in wrestling.

In January 1886, “The Strangler” choked out Sorakichi in Chicago, Illinois.  A rematch was scheduled for February 15, 1886 in which Evan Lewis could not use his stranglehold.

This stipulation may have enraged Lewis.  What he attempted to do to Sorakichi would still be talked about two months later.  The April 6, 1886 edition of the Abbeville Messenger of Abbeville, South Carolina carried an account of the match.

According to the account in the paper, Lewis almost strangled Sorakichi “to death” in January 1886.  The only way that is possible would be for Lewis to continue applying the hold after Matsada Sorakichi was unconscious.  Reportedly, the promoters banned his pet hold in the rematch for this reason.  The stranglehold was not Evan Lewis’ only submission hold though.

Parson Davies was the promoter and H. C. Palmer the referee for the return bout.  Both men entered the ring at 9 p.m.  Evan “Strangler” Lewis stood 5’09” and weighed 180 pounds, normal for a heavyweight of this era.  Matsada Sorakichi was a couple of inches shorter at 5’06” but weighed 165 pounds.


Matsuda Sorakichi from the Public Domain

Sorakichi rushed Lewis in a match that lasted only a minute or so.  When Sorakichi was unable to take Lewis down, he dropped to the floor in an attempt to roll to a hold.  Lewis realized what Sorakichi was doing and grabbed a leg lock.

     Leg locks are some of the most dangerous holds in grappling because by the time you feel pain and begin to tap, the damage has already been done to the limb.  It does not appear Lewis intended to let Sorakichi tap.  He put Sorakichi in a version of a kneebar with the intent of breaking his leg.  Lewis only stopped due to catcalls from the fans.

Initially, Lewis was smiling after releasing the hold but his expression changed due to the reaction of the fans.  Sorakichi had to be helped out of the ring.  A medical examination showed that the limb was not broken but the ligaments were strained and damaged.  Lewis offered no apology for what he had done.

Evan “Strangler” Lewis was born on May 24, 1860 in Ridgeway, Wisconsin.  He would have a long and distinguished wrestling career.  Lewis died at age 59 on November 3, 1919.  According to newspaper accounts, Lewis had been ill for two years.

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Evan “The Strangler” Lewis in Paperback

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