Champion Got Start Via Defeat By Ringer

Chicago Tribune – March 30, 1913
By Harvey T. Woodruff

Frank A. Gotch, world’s champion wrestler, met a “ringer” in his first serious engagement on the mat. Gotch proved inferior to the scientific tricks of his opponent and was thrown, but the realization that it took Dan McLeod, then in his prime, one hour and forty-one minutes and forty-six minutes, respectively, to tumble him fully decided Gotch in his budding determination to become a champion grappler.

This match took place at Lucerne, Ia., back in 1899. Gotch had become a neighborhood celebrity and was the idol of the Humboldt lodge of the Order of Woodmen, of which he had become a member. There was strong rivalry between Humboldt and a neighboring lodge, which announced it would have a wrestler present to win the prize offered at the Woodmen’s picnic.

Humboldt lodge accepted the blind challenge and was quite satisfied to allow the “Mysterious Stranger” from the rival town to take a trimming. He appeared smaller than Gotch although built on lines suggesting great strength.

The pair took holds at the fair grounds on a plot of ground, which contained a layer of cinders beneath the surface. Before the bout had proceeded far these cinders were torn loose and many of them found resting places in the cuticle of the wrestlers.

If Gotch was surprised with the agility and skill of the “Mysterious Stranger,” the latter was no less surprised at the strength of what had been described to him as a green farmer boy. To shorten the story, the pair pulled and rolled all over the plot, Gotch breaking many tricky holds and finding his own amateur efforts unavailing until the stranger finally forced him down and into the cinders with a half nelson. The bout lasted nearly two hours.

Gotch was “all in,” but he went back gamely for the second bout, only to be thrown more quickly by the same hold. Gotch was disheartened and discouraged, yet the very next day sought out the stranger to see if he could not get a return match and refresh his reputation.

Imagine Gotch’s surprise when the stranger informed him he was none other than Dan McLeod. McLeod was impressed with embryo grappler he had found and offered to start him on a professional career. Gotch was delighted, and found McLeod as good as his word, for he turned the boy over to “Farmer” Burns, who taught Gotch the intricacies of nelsons, half nelsons, hammerlocks, bridging, scissors and the entire repertoire of the cunning professional. That Gotch proved an apt pupil is evidenced by his subsequent success.

Champion Gotch was born on April 27, 1878, on a farm near Humboldt, Ia., of German parentage. He spent his boyhood and early youth on the home farm, attending school in the winter and helping with the work on the farm the rest of the time. His open air work and regular habits developed the strength and muscle which was of such value later in the arena.

Following the McLeod match and the instructions from Farmer Burns, Gotch engaged in bouts with all comers until he contracted the Klondike fever in 1901 and went to the far north to dig gold. But Gotch found the digging poor and the “picking” good. There were plenty of rough, ready fellows willing to pit their strength against anyone and back that skill with a bag of gold dust. So Gotch accommodated them and took the gold dust.

His greatest match in the Klondike was with a wrestler named Archer. Archer was the last word among the far north wrestlers. When Gotch had beaten all the others it was up to the champion. Archer could not find a suitable excuse, but he had lost his nerve and went into the arena a beaten man.

Gotch won the first fall in approximately eighteen minutes and the second tussle in less time. In that country of easy money the match netted Gotch $18,640, and he quit the Klondike with $35,000.

Shortly after the Archer match Gotch had pugilistic aspirations. After securing a knockout in five rounds against a third boxer he took on “Boomer” Weeks, the “Spokane Giant,” at Seattle. The bout ended in the fifth round. Gotch was not the winner, but was cured of pugilism.

Gotch really became American mat champion in 1906 when he defeated Tom Jenkins in Kansas City. Jenkins then was considered the kingpin among the grapplers. Frank lost a bout to Fred Beell at New Orleans the same year, but in a return affair at Kansas City turned the tables handily, and since that time has not lost a finish contest.

Gotch became the acknowledged world’s champion after his bout with George Hackenschmidt in Chicago in 1908. “Hack” left town alleging rough and unfair tactics, which Gotch, of course, denied.

The return match between Gotch and Hack at White Sox Park on Sept. 4, 1911, was the rankest kind of a fiasco and black eye to wrestling. Hack was in no condition to wrestle, owing to an injury in training. Instead of postponing the match, the promoters, who had spent a small fortune in advertising and preliminary expense, allowed the public to be mulcted of over $87,000 in gate money. Gotch won with ridiculous ease, Hack succumbing in two easy falls.

Gotch’s success is not due entirely to his great strength. Many of the bulky foreigners he has met have been his equal if not his superior in brute strength. But Gotch thinks too fast and is too tricky for them. This was shown in his contest with Zbyszko, when he dived under the Pole’s proffered handshake at the start and secured a hold which upset Zbyszko in 6 1/4 seconds. In the second fall he grabbed the Pole and downed him while Zbyszko was complaining about his ankle or shoe lace — no one ever seemed to know exactly what. Unless he has gone back to marked extent, Gotch is far superior to the present crop of American and foreign wrestlers.

The champion invests his mat earnings in Iowa farm land, which reprsents a large acreage. He retires after every big match, and emerges just as regularly when an opponent capable of drawing a big gate is developed. He is matched to meet George Lurich at Kansas City on Tuesday. There is no reason to suppose this contest will result differently from others in which Gotch has figured.

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