Wrestling’s Dream Match: Gagne Vs. Caddock

Police Gazette – March 1957
By Stanley Weston

By far the most proficient wrestler in the world today is Verne Gagne, a beady-eyed ex-football hero with thinning black hair, two college degrees and a yearly income larger than that of the President of the United States. To those devout mat fans who longingly remember the cat-like stalking of Joe Stecher, the grimly determined Frank Gotch and the inexhaustible repertoire of Earl Caddock, young Vernon (Verne) Gagne is the lone link between wrestling’s “golden age” and the present.

In less than ten years Gagne has become the most sought after attraction in the wrestling business. To book him, promoters must file their requests at least one month in advance and it is not unusual for them to reshuffle their show dates to conform with Gagne’s tight traveling schedule. But even with such advance notice, it is impossible for Verne to accept all the matches offered him. One booking agent kept a close record of Gagne’s offers over a three-month period. “For Gagne to handle all the work tossed his way,” the agent said, “he wouold have to wrestle six times a night, 365 days a year.”

Straight man Gagne deplores the absurd gimmicks generally associated with his trade: flowing whiskers, perfume dousing, gaudy tunics, etc. Doggedly he sticks to his cold professional views: “Win the bout as quickly as possible but give the customers a run for their money so they will come back again next week.”

Gagne’s brilliant technique and his immense knowledge of complex holds has swayed even the most stubborn skeptics over to his side. The late George Bothner, for instance, was so intrigued by Verne’s expertness that he said: “This boy is being wasted on people who can’t appreciate him. I only wish he could have been in his prime forty years ago when we had men his equal.”

Suppose Bothner’s dream could be made to come true? Suppose Gagne were competing against greats like Gotch, Stecher and Caddock? How would he rate then? In an effort to find the answers, Police Gazette editors proposed a hypothetical match between Gagne and his generation-ago counterpart, “Man of a Thousand Hols,” Earl Caddock.

We selected Caddock as Verne’s conjectural opponent because both seemed to be cut from the same mold. Like Gagne, Caddock used a vast variety of holds sliding from one weapon to the next with uncanny grace. He mastered the art of leverage and for every hold used against him Earl always had the perfect counter.

Caddock, who died in 1955, was, like Gagne, a comparatively small man as wrestlers go. Rarely did he concede less than twenty pounds to an opponent. But size was never a factor. As Caddock put it: “I gladly sacrifice weight and strength for speed and agility.”

Caddock was an easy going Iowa farmboy plagued by sickness throughout his early youth. He took up wrestling to strengthen his frail body and wound up winning the heavyweight championship of the world. Wrestling was a never ending challenge for him. He read and memorized every word on the subject. He constantly experimented with new methods and spent endless hours in the gymnasium perfecting the revolutionary maneuvers which were to make him world famous.

Caddock’s vast range of holds was so astounding that the great William Muldoon once said: “They short-change Caddock every time they call The Man of a Thousand Holds. Ten thousand would be a more exact figure.”

After losing his championship to Caddock in 1917, Joe Stecher, confused and chagrined, moaned: “I thought I was wrestling against five men at the same time.”

Stecher and Caddock later became close friends and Caddock taught Joe some of his pet holds – including his famous half-nelson, double wristlock combination. But Stecher, even with such expert instruction, was never able to execute the maneuver with Caddock’s cunning finesse. The reason? Earl’s weapons weren’t merely holds as described in various textbooks. They were instead perfectly coordinated acts in which every muscle and nerve in his body played an intricate part.

To determine how Verne Gagne would fare against Caddock, if both were in their prime, we put this question to five leading experts: Assuming both were 25 years old, who would win a Gagne-Caddock bout? Describe the action as you think it might have progressed.

The experts canvassed were Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Joe “Toots” Mondt, Ed Don George, Rudy Dusek and veteran wrestling reporter Dick Levin. All knew Caddock personally and all, except Levin, wrestled against him.

All five experts agree that the bout would have been exceptionally fast – and that no one hold would have been held more than five minutes. Based on a one-fall-to-a-finish match, the unanimous opinion is that Caddock would have won after approximately one hour, fifteen minutes of a close struggle.

Prime reason for Caddock’s victory would be his great stamina and ability to counter. Said Strangler Lewis: “As clever as he is, Gagne could not cope with Caddock’s genius. Gagne might work into a strong position, confident of a definite advantage, when suddenly he would find himself laying helpless in one of Earl’s homemade counters.

Reporter Levin, although of the opinion that Caddock would have held the upper hand throughout the bout, thinks that he would have been forced to call on every ounce of his skill and strength to beat Gagne.

Rudy Dusek was the most definite in his views: “Caddock was entirely too much man for Gagne,” Dusek said flatly. “I think he could have pinned Gagne any time he wanted to. Gagne is a great showman. Caddock was a great wrestler.”

Toots Mondt saw it as a very close match with Caddock often on the verge of defeat. “Caddock’s ring generalship would win for him in the long run.”

Don George’s opinion was similar to Mondt’s. Said George: “Caddock was the type who concentrated on one particular target. He’d drive you crazy with his dogged persistence. I think he would have outsmarted Gagne and forced him to quit.”

Here is the experts’ condensed version of a Verne Gagne-Earl Caddock match:

Both men advanced quickly at the bell. Gagne missed a try for an armlock and Caddock took immediate advantage by clamping on a punishing headlock. Gagne dropped to a sitting position. He tried to squirm loose but Earl held tight. After two minutes, Gagne spun out of it. They circled in mid-ring. Gagne worked quickly into a body scissors. Earl tried to break away by countering with a headlock. But Gagne held tight and then strengthened his advantage by clamping on a half-nelson. Caddock was in visible trouble as Gagne quickly applied the pressure. Earl bit his lips in pain and tried to kick loose. Gagne’s legs turned white as he squeezed them around Earl’s waist.

Caddock finally freed himself by unlocking Gagne’s feet. He then snapped on a flimsy toehold which Verne broke easily.

At the fifteen minute mark, Caddock began to concentrate on Gagne’s left arm. He twisted it around in assorted armlocks and stretched it to the breaking point with painful hammerlocks. Each time Verne finally broke loose he ran around the ring, vigorously shaking his arm, trying to work back the circulation. Throughout the remainder of the match Verne favored that arm.

Caddock feinted for toeholds and leglocks and when he had Gagne off balance he snapped on that inevitable left armlock.

Gagne was at his best working from a standing position. As soon as he dropped to the mat Caddock worked him over with an endless assortment of holds. For every weapon Verne tried, Caddock had the tailormade counter. At the forty minute mark, Gagne tried a new attack – the torturous Japanese leglock. This is Verne’s pet hold, one he has completed mastered. He punished Earl with that hold until the old master began to counter it with a double wristlock. That vise-like counter neutralized Gagne’s best chance for victory.

Caddock went back to work on Gagne’s mutilated left arm. A perfect hammerlock this time, with a wristlock tacked on for greater leverage. Verne’s face twisted in pain. He slammed the floor in desperation. The referee asked him if he wanted to quit. Gagne hesitated a moment, then screamed: “NO!” Caddock increased the pressure. Once again the referee put the question to him. “Want to quit?” Gagne slowly shook his head.

After an hour of wrestling, Gagne was entirely on the defensive. His left arm hung by his side helplessly. He was tired and breathing heavily but he couldn’t rest. Stalking him every second was the crouching figure before him. Caddock feinted toward Verne’s limp arm then clamped on a full-nelson. But he held that only a few seconds, trading it for a bar armlock on Gagne’s throbbing limb.

Applying full pressure, Verne was forced to his knees and then to his back. Slowly Caddock bent the arm backward, then he dropped his weight across Verne’s chest, working for the fall. The referee, on hands and knees, poked his hand under Gagne’s shoulders. They were still an inch off the mat. Caddock increased the pressure to Gagne’s dead arm and pressed harder against his chest.

Again the referee reached for the airspace under Verne’s shoulders. But this time where wasn’t any. He counted: “One. Two. Three,” then patted Caddock’s sweating back. The match was over and the winner in one hour, twelve minutes – Earl Caddock.

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