Wladek Zbyszko Loses Unexpectedly

Wladek Zbyszko’s legacy is often overshadowed by his brother Stanislaus Zbyszko.  Stanislaus, who was 12 years older, posed the last real threat to Frank Gotch’s World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship.

Wladek Zbyszko was a skilled wrestler in his own right.  Unfortunately, he didn’t arrive in the United States until 1914, when most wrestling matches were prearranged.  Wladek had proved his bona fides as a legitimate wrestler by winning the Paris Greco-Roman Wrestling Tournament in 1913.

After a tour of South America, Zbyskzo travelled to the United States to face his brother’s old rival, Aleksander “Alex” Aberg.  After a series of matches with Aberg, Zbyszko took part in the 1915 International Wrestling Tournament in New York.


Wladek Zbyszko in 1917

By 1917, Zbyszko was working with the Gold Dust Trio, the promotional group of Ed “Strangler” Lewis.  Wladek Zbyszko would have two reigns as World Heavyweight Champion.  These title reigns are considered arranged agreements with Lewis and his promoters.

During 1924, Zbyszko decided to make another run at the World Championship by taking part in a series of matches.  As part of the series, Wladek Zbyskzo took on lightly regarded John Erkovich in St. Louis, Missouri on Thursday, November 6, 1924.  Not unexpectedly, Wladek threw “Erko” with a half-nelson hold at 14 minutes and three seconds.

John E. Wray, the Sports Editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote, “We will venture, however, to voice the opinion that great though he may have been as a wrestler, Wladek Zbyszko is definitely slipping as an actor.”  Simply put, Wray didn’t believe the second two falls to be legitimate.

Wray noted that while Erkovich’s tactics were rudimentary and lacked versatility, Zbyszko seemed unable to fend off the attack.  Wray noted that it seemed like Zbyszko was letting “Erko” take the lead.

At 12 minutes and 5 second, Erkovich secured a toehold on Zbyszko.  Zbyszko yelled out in pain and turned onto his back giving Erkovich the second fall.

The third fall started with Erkovich trying to press the attack awkwardly.  Wladek Zbyszko impersonated Ed “Strangler” Lewis and began applying a serious of powerful headlocks.  The 225-pound Polish powerhouse appeared to be headed for victory in the third fall, when he slipped trying to apply another headlock.

Erkovich jumped on Zbyszko’s chest for a quick pin and the third fall during the 6th minute of the match.  At first, the crowd was shocked.  Soon, they began to question if the match was fixed.  Due to the timing of his career, most of Wladek Zbyszko’s matches were fixed contests.

If Wladek Zbyszko had come to the United States five years sooner, he may have contended with Frank Gotch but Zbyszko had to finish college first.  Like his brother, he possessed legitimate skills even if most of his matches were not legitimate contests.

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Sources: St. Louis Star-Times, June 10, 1924 edition, p. 12 and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 7, 1924 edition, p. 44

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