King Leroy, The First

Ring Magazine – May, 1934
By Harry Benson

His first name sounds, maybe, just a bit sissified, but in the French, from which it is derived, it means “The King,” and it is his by right.

The rest of his name is fighting Irish, and it, too, is his by right.

LeRoy Michael McGuirk . . . “King” Michael McGuirk.

He is the new king of the light-heavyweight wrestlers, this broth of a twenty-three-year-old boy from Tulsa, Okla.; king because he conquered the crafty veteran, Hugh Nichols of Mexia, Texas, in a great match in the Tulsa ring on the night of March 5, while seven thousand of his hysterical fellow townspeople raised the roof with their exultant cheers.

He is recognized as light-heavyweight champion of the world in at least thirty-one of these United States, because Col. Harry J. Landry, president of the National Wrestling Association, which more or less rules the mat game in the thirty-one states, was at the ringside, pausing to see the bout while on an inspection tour. When the end came and LeRoy pinned the great Nichols with the deadly rolling double wrist lock, which is the youthful title-holder’s own specialty, Landry handed him the beautiful belt won by Nichols in the light-heavyweight tournament four years ago, in the finals of which the Mexia mat master defeated flashy Joe Banaski.

The wrestling experts say that no grappler is at his best until he passes thirty years of age, but let them not scoff at this twenty-three-year-old from Oklahoma, for he has been a brilliant prospect for seven years and was a national champion six years ago in interscholastic ranks.

Young McGuirk is no “facemaker” who depends on the use of his fists and teeth to win his matches and excite the crowds. He is a calculating, precociously cunning, scientific workman with a repertoire of sound, effective holds far greater than those of most men who have been in the professional game for fifteen or twenty years.

He was schooled in the best amateur mat school in the country, that of Oklahoma A & M, whose teams have lost only one dual meet since 1922, have won every national intercollegiate team trophy ever awarded, have dominated the national A.A.U. tournaments for a decade, and placed four men on the United States Olympic team in 1932, two of them winning world amateur championships. The Oklahoman’s veteran coach, Ed C. Gallagher, keeps ahead of the pack by teaching his boys to condition themselves perfectly and by originating a couple of brand-new holds every season. McGuirk entered the Stillwater school in 1928 to study journalism, after winning the national 145-pound title his last year in high school. During his sophomore season, he “held out” too long in a gym workout with his 235-pound teammate, the giant Earl McCready, now a leading pro, and suffered a broken leg, but returned to the line-up in time to land second place at 160 pounds in the national A.A.U. tournament in New York City. Later he won the national collegiate championship at 160 pounds, second place at 175 pounds, and the Western A.A.U. heavyweight title.

After losing in the finals of the Olympic trials in 1932, he decided to turn professional, while two of his mates copped world amateur championships at Los Angeles. One of them, Bobby Pearce, now is a pro and a top contender for the welterweight crown held so long by Jack Reynolds.

Very few get ahead as fast in the rigorous, bruising pro game as did LeRoy McGuirk; none ever reached the very top as rapidly, for his first professional match was in July, 1932. Within a month, he was wrestling, and winning, main events. He took to it like the proverbial duck to water.

He admits now that he was becoming a bit conceited when he first ran into Nichols in 1933, believing that he already was good enough to become champion, but the rough Texan sobered his youthful ebullience by beating him in straight falls.

After that bitter lesson, he settled down to strenuous gymnasium work whenever he had time off from competition, under the guidance of his old coach, Gallagher, and a new one, Matt Berg of Tulsa. It was Berg who helped him devise the new wrist lock he used to land the title.

Late in the summer of 1933, he headed north and campaigned around Ohio for several months. It was at this time that The Ring magazine first touted him as a championship possibility, after his victories over John Kilonis and Ray Carpenter and a draw with Joe Banaski.

He returned to the Southwest with a long string of victories, got another match with Nichols, and surprised the champ by winning in two out of three falls. But he had been unable to make 175 pounds and the belt stayed with Hugh.

Then something happened which made a vast difference. He hadn’t been feeling well, and a physical examination showed badly infected tonsils. Out they came. His weight dropped to 154 pounds during his convalescence, rose again to 164, stopped there. He found that his poor condition had kept him overweight despite his hard work to take off the unhealthy poundage.

Nichols was lured into a defense of his crown, and lost it.

It was a great duel. The veteran champ, drilling long hours in the gym, had whipped himself into his best condition of two years and was his usual wily, tigerish self. The youngster, however, was in equally good shape, had a smart plan of battle and stuck to it, harassing Nichols’ left arm all the way with his bone-crushing wrist locks and arm locks until, at the finish, the wing dangled almost useless at Hugh’s side.

The first fall went to McGuirk in twenty and one-half minutes with a wrist lock and head scissors. Nichols, wrestling carefully, evened it in eighteen minutes with a crab hold. McGuirk came back fresh after the intermission, weakened the champ with more wrist locks and a series of toe holds, shook himself free from Nichols’ famous cradle split, and after eleven minutes, spinning the frantic title-holder around the ring with the rolling lock, stopped suddenly to clamp on a body bar for the pin.

That’s the story thus far, and it may be a dramatic story which barely has started. LeRoy Michael McGuirk may not hold the title long. Nichols is far from through at thirty-five and swears he will regain the belt. The great Clarence Eklund, who retired as champion in 1928, has emerged from his Wyoming ranch and appears, at forty-seven, to be about as tough as ever. There are many other threats, but McGuirk, dazed at first when he realized he had scaled the heights, is filled with youthful ambition to stay there, and ambition has carried him far.

Of all the contenders, McGuirk declares he considers the fearful-looking Frank Wolff of New York the most dangerous, which is natural enough, since the German has beaten him twice and also has beaten Nichols. Among the top-notchers the new king has victimized are Jimmy Logas, George Sauer, Alvin Britt, Jimmy Lott, Elmer Guthrie, Ted Travis, Mustafa Pasha and Les Wolfe.

He should be a popular champion, much more popular than Nichols, who is inclined to be vicious and to take what the fans consider ulnfair advantages in the ring. The new titlist is handsome, has one of the most nearly perfect physiques in the light-heavy division, and dresses like a campus idol. He was president of his college fraternity and a high-graded student in journalism, starring on collegiate publications and working his way through school as sports correspondent for a big daily in the Southwest.

McGuirk was born at Garvin, Okla., December 13, 1910, so his twenty-fourth birthday still is months away. He was married three years ago, while in college, to his co-ed sweetheart, who attends all his matches wherever he goes. When he quits the ring, he intends to enter the newspaper business. But that is a long way off for LeRoy.

McGuirk was just beginning to enjoy the fruits of victory when “Tex” Austin, wrestling editor of The Ring, received a letter of protest from Clarence Eklund, which should not be overlooked and which should prove very informative to many mat fans, especially those who are sticklers for facts. Eklund goes on to say, “The wrestling profession automatically retired me from active competition. I had made two trips to Australia and New Zealand. In 1928, I won the tournament in Australia in which twenty-two of the leading wrestlers of the world were entered. From the United States came Ad Santel of West Coast fame, Ted Thye from Portland, Pink Gardner from Schenectady, N.Y., and Hugh Nichols, Kaufman and myself from the Middle Western States. An imposing list.

“The facts at present follow — I have defeated every wrestler of note at my weight, with the exception of Charles ‘Midget” Fischer of Butternut, Wisc. As near as Fischer or his manager, Max Bowman, ever came to a match with me was to state that I was too old to wrestle, or that I had retired.

“I have deposited $100 with the Missouri State Athletic Commission as a forfeit for a $500 side bet match to be held before any authorized promoter offering the highest purse or percentage.

“According to fourteen doctors representing commissions in various states, my age ranges from thirty-two to thirty-four years.

“According to wrestlers, I am younger than all my contemporaries, when youth is judged by ability. I am forty-six years old.

“When I am asked if I am as good as I once was, I reply that nothing except physical and mental test on the mat can answer that. I stand ready to meet any 175-pounder in the world.”

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