Stecher Beats Cutler for American Title
When Frank Gotch retired as World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion after beating Georg Lurich in his last match, promoters scrambled to find a successor. Samuel Rachmann tried to put forth his own champion by hosting the 1915 International Wrestling Tournament in New York City. Rachmann wanted his challenger Aberg to win the tournament and be recognized by the public as the champion.
Frank Gotch’s former manager and renowned professional wrestling trainer, Martin “Farmer” Burns had his own claimant. Burns discovered another powerful farmer, this one from Nebraska, in Joe Stecher. Burns would match Stecher with the American Heavyweight Wrestling Champion Charles Cutler.
Stecher was born on April 4, 1893 in Dodge, Nebraska. Stecher worked on his father’s farm and developed significant natural strength. He was also an accomplished athlete and wrestler from an early age. As a 16-year-old amateur high school wrestler, Stecher defeated professional wrestling star Dr. Benjamin Roller in an exhibition.
Stecher turned professional after high school. His older brother Tony trained and managed him until Stecher defeated a skilled wrestler trained by Burns. Stecher began working with Burns in addition to his brother. While quite young, Stecher was undefeated as a professional. Stecher would wrap his powerful legs around his opponent and squeeze him with a body scissor until he was exhausted. Stetcher then pinned the opponent.
Rising rapidly, Joe Stecher met Charles Cutler on July 5, 1915 in Omaha, Nebraska. Gotch was the American Heavyweight Wrestling Champion prior to beating Georg Hackenschmidt for the World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship. Burns felt if Stecher could win the title, he could become the recognized champion. Chicago sports editor and frequent referee Ed Smith was the referee for this match.
Cutler rushed Stecher to begin the match and put him on the mat with a croutch hold. Stecher evaded several pin attempts before working behind Cutler for his body scissors. Cutler started bucking like a bronco trying to get Stecher off his back. Stecher’s sinewy limbs stayed in place despite Cutler’s best efforts for nearly 10 straight minutes. Stecher continued to squeeze the life out of his opponent until he was able roll Cutler on to his shoulders. Stecher won the first fall at 17 minutes, 3 seconds.
Stecher stood in the corner, while Cutler’s seconds worked on him for 5 minutes to revive him. Stecher showed a confident smile as he thought the title would be his. Cutler wasn’t done though.
When the second fall began after the 15-minute intermission, Cutler surprised Stecher with a half Nelson and bar hold. Cutler had Stecher’s shoulders close to the mat but Stecher slipped out of the grip. This last effort seemed to be the last gasp for Cutler, who wrestled defensively for 9 more minutes.
Stecher slipped behind Cutler again and applied the body scissors. Cutler knew he was done and struggled for only a few seconds before being pinned for the second fall. After 10 minutes and 59 seconds in the second fall, Joe Stecher was the new American Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.
Frank Gotch was ringside for the match. He agreed to come out of his two-year retirement to meet Stecher. However, Gotch was injured in training and the match never occurred. However, Burns still achieved his objective. The public recognized Stecher as the champion.
We don’t know which or if any matches Joe Stecher wrestled were legitimate. Stecher wrestled in the exhibition era, where most, if not all of the matches, became staged exhibitions. Real or not, Stecher was the first recognized champion since Frank Gotch.
Stecher did have a real rivalry with Ed “Strangler” Lewis based on a strong dislike shared by both men. Reportedly, some of their matches turned into “shoots” or legitimate wrestling. However, we will never really know which of his matches were legitimate or not.
Sources: The Alaska Daily Empire, July 23, 1915 edition, p. 5