St. Louis Post-Dispatch – September 13, 1949
By John Edward Wray
Wrestler Ray Steele’s death due to a heart attack last Sunday will come as a surprise to the wrestling world . . . On the mat, all good athletes die old . . . But Steele was only 50 . . . Just a youth compared to septuagenarians like Stan Zbyszko, George Hackenschmidt and other antiques who on occasion still can put on a good show.
Steele, although a development of the showmanship type of “rassling,” got his early training the hard way . . . Always in top condition, he knew all the angles and could have held his own with top men in days when an ambitious mat athlete, trapped by a scissors, hammerlock or double nelson, could suffer a broken arm, leg or even a neck . . . That happened as a matter of fact on more than one occasion.
Steele, like old John Pesek, was a streak of lightning at his best . . . Lloyd Carter brought him to St. Louis in the early twenties and finally worked him into preliminaries in the promotions of Jimmy Londos and Tom Packs . . . Before long Ray was engaging in main event roles . . . And when the Jack Curley and Jimmy Londos factions began fussing over title rights, Steele was sent east to “take” Ed (Strangler) Lewis and get him out of “Champion” Londos’s way.
It all failed, as far as Steele was concerned . . . Referee Ed Forbes disqualified Ray for striking Lewis with closed fists, elbowing and committing other fouls under the New York rules . . . The Strangler was unable to catch up with Steele to apply his favorite chancery (headlock) holds until later . . . After about 20 minutes Steele developed blisters on his feet – both men were shoeless by agreement – and Big Ed caught him.
It was then that Steele began using his fists and after 28 minutes and three official warnings, Referee Forbes declared Lewis winner . . . The commission also declared Steele suspended for 60 days, the following day.
The Strangler even at that time was no chicken . . . He was still a great wrestling star. One of the boasts Ed used to make was that he had a standing cash offer to any wrestler who could “get behind” him in a match – without any obligation to throw him.
To get behind an opponent usually meant that the contestant brought his man to the floor on his hands and knees and took a position kneeling behind him ready to apply a hold . . . It was considered a great advantage in catch-as-catch-can events. We did not see the Lewis-Steele match in New York, but Sam Muchnick vouches for the fact that Ray had Ed on the defensive in the manner described.
Steele was one of a famous family of Nebraska athletes . . . His real name was Pete Sauer . . . When he became a wrestler he took on a professional moniker which occasionally got him into trouble . . . Beaten opponents frequently charged him with being a “ringer” and pointed to his assumed name . . . But he called himself Steele to divert attention from his family and ease his parents’ minds.
His brother George was a famous athlete, playing with the National pro football league . . . He later became a college coach . . . George also could wrestle a bit . . . There is a nephew, George, who was all-America at Nebraska and who now coaches the Navy team at Annapolis.
“Steele wrestled here frequently for Packs and later performed on some of my wrestling cards,” Promoter Muchnick told this writer . . . “He was such a splendidly built man that his death came as a big surprise . . . He had written me saying he had about completed training at Warm Lake, Idaho, and would be ready to wrestle when my season opened . . . Now, he’s unexpectedly dead.
“He was one of the most proficient of wrestlers at both modern and catch-as-catch-can styles . . . He won the National Wrestling Association championship in 1940 . . . But a year later he lost it back to its original owner, Bronko Nagurski . . . He’s the only athlete I know that was able to get back of Lewis when the Strangler was trying to prevent him . . . to do that, he had to be good.”