The New York Times – April 17, 1920
Nebraska Joe Stecher is still the champion wrestler of the world. At the Seventy-first Regiment Armoy last night he successfully defending his title against Ed (Strangler) Lewis in one of the most spectacular and gruelling bouts ever staged in New York. The finish came after three hours four minutes and fifteen seconds of terrific battling, the champion pinning his rival’s shoulders to the mat with a combination head scissors and arm-lock, after having thrown Lewis bodily to the canvas while he himself was caught in the torturing head-lock that is the Strangler’s favorite form of punishment. It had been an absolutely even struggle all the way, and the capacity crowd had roared itself hoarse over one sensational development after another.
In the last few minutes of wrestling Lewis applied his headlock no less than five times in succession. But just when the champion’s strength seemed fading away he turned upon his challenger with a supreme effort and secured the spectacular fall which ended the bout. Once more it was the leg strength of Stecher that decided the issue, and a head scissors hold applied while Lewis was flat on his back, controlled with an arm lock, put on the finishing touch which during the three hours of tremendous battling had seemed again and again to be imminent.
They entered the ring at about 9:15, the champion looking lean and very fit in red trunks, while the Strangler’s far more corpulent middle was clothed in blue. The veteran George Bothner, as usual, played the part of adjudicator. Stecher went about his work quietly and seriously, keeping his head out of danger from the start and looking always for the chance to get his deadlong long legs into action. Lewis, shorter of limb and broader above the waist, showed surprising activity, and made most of the early attempts to get in close. Twice he found one of his arms caught in a vise-like grip between elbow and rib, from which only the most desperate contortions released him. Once he applied his head lock while in an upright position, but could not hold it for more than a moment, Stecher slipping away without great difficulty.
It was very open wrestling for the first half hour, both men hitting the canvas again and again, but scrambling out of harm’s way on every occasion. Once both men went through the ropes in a wild rush, Stecher straddling the plush-covered barrier in his eagerness to get his human scissors into action. Shortly after this he succeeded in clamping his knees around the Strangler’s upper body, but the girth was too big and he soon had to let go.
A few minutes past 10 o’clock Lewis once more leaped into his favorite headlock, and this time it was a real one. They went to the floor together and the crowd yelled as the torture was steadily increased. But just when it seemed that Stecher could not possibly stand the pressure a moment longer, he managed somehow to shake his head loose, and came to his feet again, dazed but free. The next real advantage came to the titleholder who, after much rushing and several mutually narrow escapes, introduced an arm scissors which quickly had one of his rival’s shoulders pinned flat, with the other perilously approaching the floor. Lewis eventually gained his freedom by starting a merry-go-round with his legs kicking and, after several complete spins, wrenched himself loose. They had been going for over an hour when Lewis once more brought his opponent down with the headlock, and this time he almost forced a decision. Keeping on the full pressure, he rolled Stecher over and over until the ropes intervened and saved the situation. It was not long after this that the defender again achieved a scissors, but Lewis quickly broke the hold. The challenger then caught Stecher in an armlock, but was greeted with a painful toe-hold in reply, and both wrestlers seemed relieved when the little session of reciprocal torture broke up in one violent heave. The Strangler’s next effort was applied to Stecher’s leg, and he trundled his rival around the ring, wheelbarrow fashion, until the champion succeeded in kicking himself loose.
The bout seemed over when Stecher finally put on an honest body scissors and kept it for a full minute and a half, inflicting plenty of punishment in the process. It was a magnificent display of main strength that finally released Lewis from the terrible grip. He secured his revenge not long afterward with two successive head locks and a sustained toe-hold, the latter giving way only to a tremendous push from Stecher’s other foot, planted in the region of the Strangler’s bull neck. The combination of leg scissors and arm lock put the challenger on top again a few minutes later, but Stecher managed to kick his leg loose and then wriggled free with his arm as well. The champion retaliated shortly by almost breaking his opponent’s arm as he again clamped it close to his side and the ropes once more stopped a possible fall.
Stecher treated Lewis to some of his own medicine when he put on a headlock of his own, but big Ed broke it quickly and answered in kind, staggering all the way to the ropes as the husky farmer boy pushed him away. Another headlock by the Strangler got a head scissors in reply, and once more the crowd yelled for a fall without success. Lewis had the better of the next half hour of wrestling, first getting the champion in trouble with a crotch hold and then holding him in a punishing scissors near the ropes. Stecher, however, came back with his cruellest body scissors, combined with a wrist lock, and the challenger was once more in a bad way. A superhuman struggle, on the part of Lewis, broke up even this deadly combination, and shortly after midnight he made another amazing escape from a toe hold which seemed to have him a decisive agony. There was practically nothing to choose between the wrestlers after they had been at it for a full three hours, and neither showed signs of weakening.
Just after they had passed the three-hour mark, Lewis got three headlocks in rapid succession, the champion seeming to weaken with each fresh application of the cruel hold, but slipping away again and again, and once reversing matters with a body scissors which squeezed most of the remaining breath out of the Strangler’s body. Lewis made another great effort and got away from the grip of Stecher’s legs for the last time, jumping right back into a headlock and shaking the champion like a small dog.
No sooner had Stecher broke this hold than the deadly grip was on him again, for the fifth time, in a few minutes. This time, however, the champion staged a spectacular comeback. With amazing strength he lifted Lewis right off his feet, while his own head was still tightly gripped, and threw the huge bulk of the challenger to the mat. A tigerish leap landed Stecher right on the head of his prostrate rival. His legs closed with a snap, while his hands grasped the outstretched arms securely. It required only a moment’s pressure to force the Strangler’s shoulders flat, and as Referee Bothner tapped Stecher in the back the riotous crowd stormed the ring to hail the successful defender of the world’s wrestling title.