Bothner Ends His Wrestling Career

The New York Times – December 16, 1914

Victory Over Miyake His Last Bout–Defeated Many Champions.

George Bothner has retired. These four words mark the end of the competitive career of one of the greatest exponents of scientific wrestling. Unlike many who never know when the tide is setting in against them, until defeat has cut its scar on the records. Bothner retires when he is still at the top flushed with a final taste of victory. Nothing could have been more decisive than his defeat of Tarro Miyake Monday night, and nothing could better demonstrate the reason for the high public favor in which the champion has always been held. Bothner, who is now in his forty-eighth year, showed the same skill and generalship which marked his earlier career and played the game as he has done many times before under the handicap of odds that would have discouraged most men.

Many have tried, but no man, with the possible exception of William Muldoon, has ever been able to reach the wrestling perfection of Bothner. His own phrasing of wrestling is embodied in three words—balance, quickness, and head work—but in this he leaves out the essential which has contributed so largely to his success. Other men have had those qualities, but what they lacked was the ability to use their legs so that they were almost as formidable as arms. That is what Bothner can do and it is what has caused a more general fear of him than any other quality. And it is an asset that was almost forced upon him.

Bothner was never a very strong man and his play on the mat was in large part defensive. He soon learned that he must have qualities which the others could not match and the leg work began to come to him almost instinctively until it reached the point of perfection. That it is an inbred quality of his wrestling is shown by the fact that while he has been an instructor in the art for years he has never been able to teach any of his pupils the point which is his strongest, whether it be on offense or defense. With his retirement from the mat the art goes with him and there is no successor.

Champions are very indefinite things, and in wrestling is this particularly true. Bothner is called the lightweight champion by practically everybody who is a follower of the sport, even though he is no more in that class. Most of his bouts, however, were at the lightweight limit, and the tendency still to consider him in that class persists. During his thirty-five years on the mat he has taken part in more than 200 bouts, and he has not always stayed in his class. He has wrestled heavyweights as well as lightweights, and by going against the big husky fellows who agreed to throw him within a specified time he was known as the handicap king. He was king because they failed, and it was this that made his defensive work such an important factor in his plans of campaign.

Fear never entered Bothner. About seven years ago jiu-jitsu wrestling first commanded attention in this country, and a number of Japanese came here to demonstrate how they could break arms and legs, and demanded a recognition of their work as a decided advance over our old style of wrestling. Many of the wrestlers of the day were scared by the tales and would have nothing to do with the new science of self-defense, and the Japanese talked to their hearts’ content. Bothner, however, went to one of the local theatres and tried to get a bout with one of the Japs who was offering to put any one out in five minutes or forfeit a money consideration. The manager would not accept Bothner during the performance, but consented to a match after the theatre was closed. Two nights Bothner went to the theatre, but the Japs skipped away without a trial of skill. At the time Bothner was an instructor at Princeton, and Higashi, one of the jiu-jitsu wrestlers, came there once a week to give lessons. A bout was finally arranged between the two to be held at Grand Central Palace.

The Japanese demanded that Bothner wear a kimono and also that he sign a paper which would exonerate the Jap should he seriously injure Bothner. Bothner was bound to have the bout, but as a precautionary measure he took out the night before the event a $1,000 insurance policy. The bout was probably the only one of its kind ever held in this country. There was no hold that was barred. One man could strangle the other if he wished, Bothner finally won two straight falls, which were long drawn out, for the Jap was the victim of one of Bothner’s toe holds, by which the first fall was secured, and was wary thereafter.

Bothner first started in the wrestling game when he was 13 years old. He had inherited a liking for athletics from his father, Carl Bothner, who was a gymnastic instructor in Germany and later at the New York Turn Verein. It was at the latter place that he started his career. He had been wrestling but a short time when he got into a particularly hard bout which came near being the cause of his death. He was taken with a severe hemorrhage the next morning, and when he recovered his father tried to induce him to give up the sport, but that was far from the boy’s idea. Gustavus T. Bogue, then instructor at the Turn Verein, and later at Columbia University, coached the youngster for four years. When he was 18 he joined the Pastime Athletic Club, and in 1885 came under the notice of Jimmy Hughes, then a national title holder, who gave him many of the fine points of the game. He won several tournaments and captured the 125, 135 and 158 pound titles, the first and second the same year.

In 1896 Bothner took a position at the New York Athletic Club as assistant to Hugh Leonard, thus entering upon his professional career. He was there for two years and then went to the old Knickerbocker A. C. and was with that organization until it ceased to exist. For four years he was an instructor at, Princeton and since then has been at Brown’s Gymnasiums.

Bothner won the lightweight championship when he defeated Tom Riley in 1899. The latter had come here fresh from a victory in England when he won the Lord Lonsdale belt. The two wrestled in this city for a belt emblematic of the championship of the world, the last to be offered, and Bothner won with two straight falls. He twice successfully defended it, once against Max Luttberg of St. Louis in a bout at Scranton, and again against Harvey Parker of Brockton in a bout in this city. In the latter Bothner says he received the worst punishment of his career, Parker being an adept in the rough work of wrestling. In 1912 Bothner defeated another Lord Lonsdale belt holder. Henry Islinger. The first bout was a handicap event in which Islinger agreed to throw the American twice in an hour. He could not get one fall, however. The second was at 158 pounds ringside, and was declared a draw by Johnny O’Brien after nearly four hours of wrestling. Bothner never lost a handicap bout and met such men as Tom Jenkins, John Peining, Pardello and Gallagher.

Bothner never trained according to the usual methods, but he was never excessive in his digressions from the general custom. He disregarded diet entirely, eating anything he wanted, and smoked in moderation—one to three cigars a day. Beer, he says, he considers a tonic, and took a moderate amount of it, but he never indulged in any of the stronger alcoholic drinks.

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