The WAWLI Papers, page 1


New York Times, December 31, 1911

"Boys, I am done.   This is positively my final appearance on the mat."

These few words, addressed to the newspaper men at the ringside in Kansas City Wednesday night, after Frank Gotch had scored an easy victory over Alec Munro, the British wrestling champion, was the final message to the sporting world of Frank Gotch, the world's premier mat artist.   Turning to Jim Asbel, his trainer, Gotch threw him the bath robe which he had worn in every match since his memorable encounter with George Hackenschmidt on April 3, 1908, and said: "Keep this to remember me by."

Ordinarily the "farewell appearance" of those who are monopolizing the spotlight must be taken with a bit of doubt, but there are few men who are gifted with the perspicacity and strength of character and a lot of other things like that to ooze gently and voluntarily out of the limelight before they are either thrown out or knocked out.   But those who know Frank Gotch personally take what he says seriously.   It is a habit one gets from hanging around in the immediate vicinity of the Iowa farmer.

Everybody who is accustomed to glance over sporting pages knows Frank Gotch, champion wrestler.   But in Humboldt, Iowa, Gotch, the athlete, comes second to Frank Gotch, stock raiser, banker, president of a street railway company and also an electric light company.   It is the latter person of whom the entire population of Humboldt waxes eloquent.   While on the mat Gotch has been gaining undying fame through his ability to grasp an opponent by the toes and twist his gambrel joint into his hip pocket, but it is Gotch, the man, who has been whacking a far more enduring dent into the hearts of those with whom he has come into personal contact through his impressive personality.

Not in the athletic world today is there a man with a stronger personality than Frank Gotch.   The pity of it is that the wrestling game, fallen on evil days through sharp practices and shady tactics of its opponents, has not known more men of the Gotch type.

It is his moral courage and strength of character that have enabled Frank Gotch to keep his name clear of stain while engaged in a profession that has come to be looked upon with something more than suspicion.   Never during his long career on the mat has there been any hint of a frame-up in any contest with which Gotch has been connected.   And never has he been anything except the gentleman and the fair sportsman, whether he is trying to pin an opponent's shoulders to the mat or attempting to push through a new deal in real estate.   Frank Gotch is the one bright spot on the darkened horizon of the wrestling game, and he is one champion who has helped to keep the profession of which he is the ablest exponent from slipping entirely down to disgrace.

Wrestling was the sport of the ancient Greeks, the perfect race.   It was the test of skill and strength that brought the highest honors of ancient Greece to the victor, and poets, orators, and the brains of the classic age vied with one another for the signal honor of wearing the laurel wreath of the champion wrestler.   It remained for the modern promoter and the prest-day exponents of the mat game to drag down the sport of the classics and trail it in the mire of disgrace through their frame-ups.   So when one is found who has waded safely through what has been stagedin this money- grabbing era and still kept his skirts clean, in the parlance of the day, "You have to hand it to him."

Never in his career as a wrestler striving for high honors, or later as a champion, has Gotch attained any undesirable notoriety, and after every big match the first strain back to old Humboldt always numbered Gotch among its passengers.   He has always avoided the white lights, the spotlight, and publicity, refrained from using liquor or tobacco in any form, and he leaves the mat with the enviable distinction of having lived the cleanest life of any man who has attained such high rank in the athletic world in recent times.

Down in Humboldt Frank Gotch is one of the solid citizens of the community.   He owns two properties in Humboldt, his own home, purchased after his marriage to a Humboldt girl last January, being the handsomest residence in the town, besides a large stock farm south of Humboldt, where he raises thoroughbred stock.   He has money invested in Dakota and Canada lands, and following a successful match in Seattle he invested the proceeds from that match in city lots in Seattle, for which he has since been offered a sum equal to four times the original purchase price.   He is a director in a bank, president of a street railway company and an electric light company, while his latest business venture is the automobile business, a large garage now being under construction for him in Humboldt.   While Gotch won't talk of his money matters himself and his Humboldt banker never tells, it is estimated down there among the "folks" that Gotch is worth in the neighborhood of a half million dollars.

In spite of Referee Smith's statement following Gotch's defeat of Hackenschmidt in Chicago last Labor Day, to the effect that nobody would appear within the next ten years who could throw Gotch, Gotch himself says that he can feel himself slipping, and he has decided to retire from the game before he is defeated.   Gotch is now 33 years of age, has taken the best of care of his physical condition, but while he still retains his former strength, he says himself that he can notice a falling off in his former desire to force the action in a match, and that where he would formerly force an opponent he is now content to wait for the other man to come to him.   He says he noticed this particularly in the last match in which he defended his title, the one with Hackenschmidt in Chicago on Labor Day.   He further adds that he has all the glory that is coming to him, and that the public will never see him as one of the actors in a scene such as was pulled off in Reno on the Fourth of July, 1910, wherein he again shows his good sense and sound judgment.

Gotch was born at Humboldt, Iowa, where he has always made his home, on April 27, 1878, of German parents.   He weighs 210 pounds and stands 5 feet 11 1/2 inches.   On April 2, 1899, he engaged in his first professional match with Marshall Green at Humboldt and he won the match.   Previous to this time he had shown great form as an amateur wrestler in and about his home town.   His victory over Green caused his fame to spread, and on June 16 of the same year he wrestled Dan McLeod, then a widely known mat artist, at Luverne, Iowa.   Gotch lost this match, and he also lost on December 16 of the same year to Farmer Burns at Fort Dodge, Iowa.   Burns was recognized as one of the best wrestlers of that time.   Burns was so attracted by Gotch's work that he took Frank to Klondike in 1901 after the Iowa farmer had won five matches in 1900.   In the Klondike region Gotch won all his matches, winning victories over the four best men of that section.   On his return Gotch won five more victories in a row, one being over Carl Pons, the much-touted German wrestler.   Gotch was then matched with Tom Jenkins, the U.S.   champion, and in the contest, which came off at Cleveland on February 22, 1903, Gotch was defeated.

After a number of successive wins, two being over Farmer Burns, Gotch got a return match with Jenkins in the following year and won the title.   His professional career since that time is too well known to call for repetition.   Since his first professional match in 1899, Gotch's record shows a string of 140 matches.   Of these he won 132 and the defeats were most in handicap matches.   In addition to these victories Gotch defeated more than 200 men in exhibition handicap matches and toured England, where he defeated all comers.

Gotch's greatest performance was at Chicago on June 1, 1910, when he pinned Zbyszko's shoulders to the mat in 6 1/4 seconds.   His wonderful endurance was shown in his first match with Hackenschmidt, when the German gave up after two hours and three minutes.

Note: Although Frank Gotch periodically either wrestled, or, more often, talked about wrestling, for the next four or five years, this essentially was the end of his era.   A number of pretenders came to the fore, Chas.   Cutler among them, but the logical successors were Joe Stecher and Ed Lewis.   Here, then, was the birth of Wrestling As We Liked It.   Ultimately, Lewis had more crowd appeal, perhaps a shade more ability -- although that is highly debatable -- and certainly better health, so he became king of the mat world over the next 20 or so years.   And not until the halcyon days of Lou Thesz, from the end of the World War II until the mid-'60s, did anyone else attain such a lofty position in the minds of mat fans.   Fifty or more years: not a bad run when you get right down and think about it ...

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