Zbyszko and the Last Shoot Match

Stanislaus Zbyszko was born Stanislaw Jan Cyganiewicz on April 1, 1879 in Jodlow, Poland, which was part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. According to Wikipedia, he chose the ring name Stanislaus Zbyszko because it was the name of a fictional Polish knight.  An article in the Walla Walla, Washington newspaper, The Evening Statesman’s Tuesday, February 8, 1910 edition, publicized Zbyszko’s university and intellectual accomplishments.

Stanislaus Zbyszko was in the United States campaigning for a try at Frank Gotch, the Heavyweight Champion of the World.  Zbyszko was both an accomplished wrestler and weightlifter like George Hackenschmidt, the man Gotch beat for the title.

Zbyszko had already wrestled with Gotch to a one hour draw in 1909.  They would wrestle again in June 1910 but many would say Gotch used poor sportsmanship and jumped Zbyszko during the handshake pinning Zbyszko in under 6 seconds.  Gotch would then beat Zbyszko for the second fall after 30 minutes.  Gotch would not wrestle Zbyszko again after this match.  However, due to the tainted nature of the loss, Zbyszko actually found himself a more sought after wrestler by promoters.

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Stanislaus Zbyszko from the Public Domain

In late 1910, Zbyszko would take on his greatest opponent, the Great Gama.  Gama, an undefeated wrestler Gotch and many other champions avoided, was not able to beat Zbyszko the first time they battled.  The match ended in a draw.  After this match, Gama solved the puzzle.  He defeated Zbyszko in all their subsequent matches including the last one in 1928, when both men were pushing 50 years of age.

Ironically, Stanislaus Zbyszko won his first World Wrestling Championship after his prime, when wrestling was “worked” or pre-arranged.  In his prime, the matches were “shoots” or legitimate contests.

In the prearranged era, Ed “Strangler” Lewis needed someone to drop the belt to occasionally.    Zbyszko had enough of a reputation to make the contests seem legitimate.

“Strangler” Lewis was part of a promotion group that controlled the World title.  Lewis was a “hooker’ or legitimate wrestler skilled in submissions.  He could legitimately beat any wrestler around.  When he was supposed to win the championship back, if the other wrestler refused, he simply beat him legitimately and took it.

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“Big” Wayne Munn After Winning the Championship in 1925

Joe Stetcher, who had been part of the promotion group but bore Lewis a grudge for beating him legitimately in 1920 after Stetcher refused to drop the belt.  Stetcher saw an opportunity when Lewis and his partners put the title on “Big” Wayne Munn, a football player with no actual wrestling ability.

Zbyszko was scheduled for a match with Munn on April 15, 1925 in which Zbyszko was going to lose.  Munn’s would seem more invincible after beating a man of Stanislaus Zbyszko’s reputation.  However, Joe Stetcher paid Zbyszko to beat Munn.

In the last verified shoot match, Zbyszko pinned Munn again and again until the referee, who was in on the prearranged outcome, had to award the belt to Zbyszko.  Zbyszko quickly dropped the belt to Stetcher in a worked bout.

Stetcher’s and Zbyszko’s double cross changed how wrestling promoters protected their championships.  Legitimate wrestlers like Lou Thesz or legitimate tough guys like Harley Race were chosen to carry the belts to prevent double crosses like the one perpetrated on Munn.

Zbyszko retired and had a prominent role in The Night and the City (1950) at 71 years old.  He died in St. Joseph, MO on September 23, 1967 at the age of 88 years old.

Today, Zbyszko is all but forgotten but for the first two decades of the century, he was one of the most celebrated athletes in the United States and Europe.  Later in his career, he changed how a profession was conducted for almost 50 years.  What do you think of his legacy?

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