Mat Sport’s Acrobat

Ring Magazine – April, 1934
By Mike Cohn

The world of sport is full of freaks, but in no branch will you find so many varieties as in wrestling. Take for example Fritz Kley, the human contortionist who can fold himself into a pretzel appearance; Sol Slagel, another of the Kley type whose antics in the ring bring forth rounds of laughter and keep the fans in good humor throughout his match; Singh, the latest Hindu importation whose offerings of prayers followed by a continuous slapping of his right thigh have become familiar to New York fans; Matros Kirilenko, whose stately, soldierly carriage and his leopard’s skin robe have made him famous. Those are only a few of the many specimens in the mat world who have one or more peculiarities that have made a definite impression on the mat followers.

But of all the wrestling stars now before the public, there is none who is so acrobatically inclined as George Zarynoff, the short, stubbily built, bald-headed Ukrainian George, at one time a circus follower with an acrobatic troupe, who can do stunts that few of America’s foremost gymnasts can perform. When it comes to leaping over ropes, balancing on the ring strands, playing leap frog with an opponent, and squirming out of holds, there is no one in the sport who is George’s equal.

He is dubbed the “Count,” although nothing displeases him more than to be referred to as a Russian member of nobility. “My parents were of the common herd, and their parents likewise came from the common Ukrainian stock and I’m proud that I also belong to the ordinary class. We Ukrainians have no love for the Russians. We were oppressed by the late Czar and his cohorts, and a Ukrainian regards it as an insult to be called a Russian Count. That’s why I have repeatedly asked Jack Curley not to bill me as ‘Count’ because it gets under my skin, but the fans have already become accustomed to that nickname, and I suppose I’ll have to carry it with me into retirement,” said Zarynoff in my interview with him.

Zarynoff attributes his agility to exercises he had taken when a youth abroad. “We used to have peasants’ games in our village that required considerable jumping. At first I found it most difficult to get the knack, but there were some of my playmates who could leap close to six feet over a rope without much trouble.

“I recently watched an athletic meet in the Madison Square Garden on one of my few nights off and saw a high jumper leap over the bar at a height of six feet seven inches. Of course, that’s great — a feat few persons can accomplish, but I know quite a few of my fellow countrymen who could come within a few inches of that. With a little extra training, I’m sure that I could leap over the bar in a high jump at five feet eight inches.

“When you consider that I often have leaped straight into the air from the ring over the ropes to the platform at a height of more than four feet, just imagine what I could do were I to learn the art of swinging my body sideways and leaping over the ropes at such an angle as do your high jumpers. I am an expert at what you term the Russian dances which require quick movement of the feet and often wind up in a leap into the air and that’s how I first learned to do the jumps I now perform in my wrestling matches.”

Zarynoff is one of the best defensive wrestlers in the mat sport. He also is one of the most spectacular. He has a variety of offensive weapons that, according to such a fine judge as George Bothner, make him one of the outstanding grappling stars of today. It took Zarynoff years of experience and hard struggling to get where he is, but now that he has arrived, he hopes soon to reach the position where he can command a title shot.

He has been competing in this country for a little more than three years. He came to America from Australia where he spent considerable time and brought back with him close to a quarter of a million dollars which he amassed by meeting all comers both in the Antipodes and in Europe. George has lost most of that since coming here.

Zarynoff got accustomed to the American investment system as practiced at the corner of Wall and Broad streets in New York City, and that cost him heavily. In addition to this, he married a Jewish belle of Boston, two years ago, and paid $80,000 for a large and beautiful estate in a suburb of the city of culture.

Of course one can get plenty of land for that amount of money and this is exactly what Zarynoff procured. He makes good use of it, too, for while his particular fancy is breeding beagles, he has a complete farm on his estate and takes much delight in raising products of the soil.

All this is the personal side of the Ukrainian. His wrestling prowess is too well known to delve into at length. His principal ambition is the same as any other grappler, that is, to win the championship.

Zarynoff’s size is no obstacle. Standing only five feet eight inches, he can reach any of his opponents because of his bouncing faculties. He can apply a flying head scissors with the ease of any hold from a standing position. Weighing close to 200 pounds, he will match his strength with that of any man and doesn’t know the word fear.

He got his biggest test of facing danger during the World War. Cooped up in a German prison camp, he lost his hair overnight going through the tortures of the captives because he failed to divulge valuable secrets he possessed.

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