Jack Dempsey’s Sports Magazine – June 1938
By Marcus Griffin
On a soft, summer night in June, 1937, there was but one World’s Heavyweight Wrestling Champion. His name was – and still is – Dean Detton. He was an odd sort of fellow, this champion. His spare moments were spent filling the duties of a Deacon in the First Church of Christ of the Latter Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church.
Wrestlers are notoriously rough and easy going. Yet, Detton won their respect, became known as one of the best wrestlers to scale the title heights since the abdication of Ed (Strangler) Lewis. He was called “a champion who can wrestle.” And that, if you know the inner workings of the wrestling trusts, is somep’n!
Detton feared none, walked boldly into enemy territory, braving the schemes of rival promoters. Thus, when he accepted a match with Bronko Nagurski, the former All-American football star, he felt confident of the outcome.
True, Nagurski could point to 293 mat victories, but his opponents formed the raggle-taggle that supplements the star feature. Detton could have taken two – or even three – in the same ring, and pinned ‘em all without difficulty.
Then, the unexpected happened: Nagurski won!
The victory released an avalanche of charges, cries of “phony,” threats of revenge. It was fixed, scoffed the wise guys. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. But these two facts stood out:
–Detton suffered an injured back that incapacitated him for six months.
–Nagurski was world’s heavyweight champion.
Fair or foul, it followed in sportsman code that the mantle which once draped Detton’s stock shoulders now belonged to Nagurski.
But it never was worn by the Bronc. And because of it, wrestling today has more champions claiming heavyweight titles than the boxing game ever had in its entire history.
After the Detton-Nagurski battle, the sport, which already had shown signs of feeling the whiplash of sports writing ringmasters, who had discovered the “inside” in some minor contests, became a battle of personalities. Not the personalities of the contestants themselves, but the grasping, avaricious, and jealous natures of the men behind the scenes. Here’s the yarn:
Nagurski was managed and controlled by a slight – but extremely persuasive – Bohemian named Tony Stecher, whose brother Joe once held the crown.
Stecher was different from the rest of the managerial crew. He saw the game as a fine sport, wanted the public to appreciate its worth and merit. He, more than any other man, fought to keep wrestling clean and on the level.
And that, friends, was laudable. But also laughable in these days of double and triple crossing. Yes, Tony was in the canine chateau and the masterminds such as Paul Bowser, Billy Sandow, Tom Packs, Ed White, Toots Mondt, Ray Fabiani, Rudy Dusek, Johnny Doyle, F.R. Musgrave, Morris Siegel, Charlie Rentrop and Max Bauman – the coast-to-coast network – wouldn’t toss him a bone. Unless it were one of contention.
They had to unseat Nagurski, shear Tony of his power. But how? Find men to beat him? That would be logical and fair. Nay, not that. Maybe he couldn’t be beaten.
Then the solution was found. From Boston, the Hub’s major domo, Paul Bowser, declared:
“I won’t use Nagurski in my clubs but will set up my own champion.”
Quicker than you can say Simone Simon a new champion was crowned in Yvon Robert of Montreal, a second-rate bonecrusher who had been beaten many times by program opponents and, more importantly, by Cliff Olson. Robert was installed by the American Wrestling Association, a dummy organization controlled by Bowser.
Then, to make the situation still more laughable, and impossible, Bowser proclaimed still another champion, one Danno O’Mahoney, who had lost his “crown” the year before in Madison Square Garden to the Fatherland’s Dick Shikat. He dropped his next two matches to Rudy Dusek and Gino Garibaldi. But to Bowser and his cohorts he was “The Champ.”
Thus, one and one making two, we discover Paul Bowser with TWO WORLD’S HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONS, which should be enough for any manager-promoter. Yet, a scant nine months later in the Boston Garden, the indefatigable Bowser advertised a world title match between Steve (Crusher) Casey and Louis Thesz. Casey won – giving Bowser his THIRD champion.
It marked the beginning of the end. Promoters everywhere began making their own champions. Sportswriters and editors started goggle-eyed at every new contender, scarcely knowing whether to label him a wrestler or a champion. Wrestlers defeated many times re-occupied the spotlight as “Undisputed World Heavyweight Champions” – if you could believe the posters and broadsides.
Robert beat O’Mahoney but the latter still advertised himself as “world’s champion.” Because he had beaten O’Mahoney, AFTER Danno had lost to Shikat, Rudy Dusek began calling himself champion. Being of an unselfish nature, however, Dusek also advertised his man Cliff Olson as champion because the latter had defeated Yvon Robert, BEFORE the Canadian had beaten O’Mahoney. Getting complicated? No more than the claims to fame of the various grappling kings now cluttering up the back alleyways of America. We could go on forever listing the various dizzy and daffy ways the mat moguls used to arrive at their establishment of “undisputed” world’s champions.
In the March issue of Ring Magazine, internationally accepted as the Bible of the boxing and wrestling business, Bronko Nagurski, by virtue of his victory over Detton, and subsequent victories over various contenders, was proclaimed as “Undisputed World’s Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.” You’d think the matter would have rested there and the dizzy dalliances of mat promoters would have ended. But as we said before, you don’t know the wrestling business.
Wrestling champions have flowered since the Ring rating, almost as luxuriantly as votes for Roosevelt. Through the means of politically controlled State Athletic Commissions, phony wrestling associations and unscrupulous promoters, the following mastodons were “champions of the world” in their own territories:
Mexico ………….. Vincent Lopez
Brazil …………… Dr. Len Hall
St. Louis …………….Lou Thesz (a shoemaker)
Colorado …………..Everett Marshall
Idaho ……………Ray Steele
Eastern Canada ………….Yvon Robert
Western Canada ………….Earl McCready
Beaudette, Minn. …………. Cliff Olson
Detroit ………… Ali Baba (former Syrian rug peddler)
Florida ……………Leo Daniel Boone Savage
Cork, Ireland …………..Danno O’Mahoney
Omaha, Nebraska ………. Rudy Dusek
Manchester, England ………….Jack Sherry
Greece …………………..Jim Londos
Boston, Mass. ……………. Steve (Crusher) Casey
Texas ………………..Chief Little Beaver
Ravenna, Nebraska and Columbus, Ohio …….. John Pesek
India …………..Rama Arjan Singh
Harlem and Memphis, Tenn. ……..Samara Salassie (colored)
And, of course, Bronko Nagurski, who won his title in the ring.
To enumerate the number of times the above claimants have been defeated – among themselves, of course – would require a jigsaw puzzle expert. It’s no job for a sports writer and we wash our hands of it.
But say, in passing: “Who’s your favorite champion?”