When Wrestling Was Wrestling (4-14-1909)

Professional wrestling was a recognized sport in 1909. When Frank Gotch defended his world heavyweight championship in Chicago, the match was a major news story.

A 30-year-old son of Iowa, Gotch had held the title for a year. Tonight he was scheduled to face Yussif Mahmout, the latest wrestler to call himself The Terrible Turk. The site was the Dexter Park Pavilion, Halsted and 43rd Streets.

Champion Frank Gotch

Champion Frank Gotch

The main event was scheduled to start at 11 p.m. But by 7 o’clock, a half-block-long line was already snaking down Halsted Street from the Pavilion entrance. Police were called out to keep order. More than 20,000 people finally jammed into the building. That was a crowd the White Sox or Cubs might envy.

When the wrestlers met at center ring, the Turk was barefoot. That was a violation of the rules, and would make it harder for Gotch to use his signature toe hold. The champ decided to go on with the match anyway.

In 1909, wrestling matches were hard-fought and scientific—but not very flashy.  The two opponents would grab each other, then struggle to gain an advantage. To an untrained observer, the wrestlers looked like they weren’t doing anything but pose. Often this went on for an hour.

Tonight’s match was best-of-three falls. The first round had some action. The two men rushed each other, broke a few holds, and bounced off the ropes. Gotch pinned the Turk in 8 minutes flat.
The Terrible Turk

The Terrible Turk

After a 10 minute break, they went at it again. The champ kept his dominance.  He was now using the half-nelson and the crotch grip. At 9 minutes and 10 seconds, Gotch again pinned the Turk.

The match was over. Twenty thousand throats cheered the American victory.  The Tribune reported that “several prominent men from Western cities climbed into the ring, seized the victor, and carried him in triumph to his dressing quarters.”

The Turk was dazed. “I didn’t know Gotch was so good,” he admitted. “I don’t know anyone who can beat him.”

Reporters found Gotch relaxed and mellow. “I had him beaten when I laid my hands on him,” the champ said. “He is a strong fellow, but I am stronger and know more about wrestling.”

As the years passed, the public began to turn away from pro wrestling and its slow pace. That’s when the sport became more—how should we put it?—“theatrical.”



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