100 years ago today perhaps the most important match in American Catch Wrestling and Amateur Wrestling history took place in the now long gone Comiskey Ball Park, Chicago, Illinois. A rematch between ‘The Russian Lion‘ George Hackenschmidt and ‘The Iowa Plowboy‘ Frank Gotch who had beaten Hack previously for the World Heavyweight Championship that was also contested in The Windy City.
The first match would last over 2 hours before Gotch was able to catch Hack in a submission, a huge upset at the time comparable to Rulon Gardner beating Alexander Karelin at the 2000 Summer Olympics. No one thought a svelt farmer in Gotch could ever best the chiseled, hulking frame of Hack who had body measurements similar to that of Brock Lesnar in his College days, and had a rib crushing bearhug that had made many a man submit themselves.
The second match was over far more quickly as Hack appeared out of shape and would later reveal he came into the bout injured causing speculation that someone had been planted in his training camp to injure him prior to the match. Ad Santel claimed responsibility though many believe he was putting on a facade and trying to work people as there was no mention of him by Hack in any accounts he gave. According to Hack it was in fact his training partner Dr Roller that injured him (presumably by accident) and Roller mentions it in an account as well. Still, Hack succumbed to Gotch’s famous toehold and gave up with little resistance. It was a big win again for Gotch but not one without controversy and an ever increasing atmosphere of cynicism and doubt from the paying public that eventually lead to Professional Wrestling’s collapse as a legitimate competitive sport in an era where other sports such as Baseball fell victim to the criminal element such as the infamous fixing of the World Series.
Over at the Examiner, Mark Palmer who covers College Wrestling has a more in depth look at the match and why it was important for spearheading the interest and growth in American Amateur Wrestling – back then known as Amateur Catch-As-Catch-Can Wrestling. Definitely worth a read.