Humboldt Standard – November 4, 1954
One look at the broad shoulders and expansive chest is all a sports fan needs to know that Ed (Strangler) Lewis was associated with wrestling – in the rough and tumble aspects of the mat sport – in his heyday.
The five-times holder of the world’s heavyweight championship will be in Eureka this coming Monday, principally as manager and second for the current world’s champion, Lou Thesz.
The Lewis of today hasn’t changed much from the giant of yesteryear who held the world’s title so many times and who once grappled his way through a five-hour marathon with champion Joe Stecher in Omaha, Neb., on July 4, 1916, only to have the match wind up in a draw.
Every once in a while, in fact, he still climbs into the ring to match his strength with Thesz.
But the “Strangler” of old has a greater opponent now. He spends a great dela of his time traveling across the continent, with Thesz, in the interest of youth and he’s out to whip delinquency.
Lewis began his professional mat career at the age of 14.
“I was man-sized at that age,” he says, “and was working in my father’s grocery store at Nekoosa, Wis. Freddie Beell, who taught the great Gotch, lived just 15 miles away and he became my idol.
“All the country boys who came to the store wanted to rassle with me and I whipped ‘em all. Never had a lesson in my life.”
He apparently didn’t need one for it wasn’t long until he stopped taking on all comers around Nekoosa – local talent and imported brawn – and graduated to the point where he went to the mat for his first fee — $15.
Twelve years later, Lewis tangled with Stecher in the long and drawn-out match that brought him to the threshold of greatness.
“That’s the match I remember best.”
The “Strangler” was born Robert Friedrich but he got his nickname in a Chicago match where he first stepped into the big time.
Sportswriters named him after a Lewis of an earlier day who had made himself famous with the strangle-hold before it was outlawed.
“I used a head-lock a lot,” Lewis explains, “and actually there’s only about six inches difference between the points where you apply the two holds.”
Lewis got a return bout with Stecher the year following the marathon battle and took the title away from him.
From that time on, Lewis met the best – Ed Don George, Gus Sonnenberg, Earl Caddock, John Pesek, Joe Malcewicz, Jim Londos and a host of others – all of them champions or near-champions of the mat.
Lewis had his ups and downs, too. After taking the title from Stecher, he lost it in a catch-as-catch-can bout with Stanislaus Zbyszko, but then gained a measure of immortality on the American wrestling scene by becoming the first man to regain the crown.
All in all, he wore the title and doffed it five times before finally giving it up for keeps to Jim Browning in 1933.