Strange But True: King of the Ring

Professional wrestling today is more show business than sport. Most modern wrestlers would have been disqualified immediately if they had used their “normal” tactics in the old days, before television made the sport so popular.

Many years ago a young boy named Robert Friedrich got his hands on a 50-cent mail-order book about wrestling. The book had been written by a man named Evan Lewis. At the age of 14, young Robert decided to become a professional wrestler. In order to keep his parents from finding out, he changed his name to Ed Lewis, after the man who wrote the instruction book.

During his career he developed a punishing headlock, and so he was given the nickname Strangler Lewis. By July 4, 1916, he was ready to challenge the champion, Joe Stecker. The fans in the Omaha arena watched Stecker and Lewis wrestle for five and one-half hours. Finally the match was called a draw. In 1920, Lewis and Stecker met again for the championship at the 71st Regiment Armory in New York. Lewis won.

Strangler Lewis wrestled all comers for 43 years. In 6,200 matches he lost only 33. Once he challenged heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey. Dempsey would box; Lewis would wrestle. Dempsey refused the offer. After all, Lewis weighed about 260 pounds and had a chin like granite.

Ed “Strangler” Lewis was probably wrestling’s greatest champion. And he first learned about the sport from a half-dollar mail-order book.

From The Giant Book of More Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

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  1. According to Wikipedia, his signature hold wasn’t a headlock, but a sleeper hold–which the French weren’t familiar with and when they saw him do it in a match over there they thought he was choking his opponent.
    Also, looks like Liss spelled Stecher’s name wrong.

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