Frank Gotch


Frank Gotch : biography

April 27, 1878 – December 16, 1917

Gotch reigned as the World Heavyweight Champion from his first victory over Hackenschmidt in 1908 until he retired in 1913 after defeating Estonian Georg Lurich April 1, 1913, in Kansas City, Missouri. Gotch is one of the longer reigning World Champions in the history of professional wrestling, with a reign that spanned nearly 5 years; the only other champions to have longer reigns than Gotch are Bruno Sammartino, who held the WWF World Heavyweight Championship for a record of 7 years and 8 months, Lou Thesz, whose fifth NWA title reign lasted 7 years and 7 months and Verne Gagne who held the AWA World Heavyweight Title for 7 years and 3 months.


"The story of American Wrestling at its greatest," Nat Fleischer wrote in 1936, "is the story of the career of its most illustrious champion — Frank Gotch… Gotch was to wrestling history in this country what John L. Sullivan was to boxing. He dominated the field. Through his extraordinary ability, he gained for wrestling many converts and brought the sport into such favor that it became as big in the promotorial field as boxing."Fleischer, Nat, From Milo to Londos, p. 114.

As Mark Palmer pointed out, “For starters, George Hackenschmidt and Frank Gotch were major sports superstars of the early 20th century. Fans of all ages collected cabinet cards and postcards with their images, read their books, and devoured articles about them in newspapers. Their epic matches were front-page news around the world — akin to today’s Super Bowl or soccer’s World Cup in terms of garnering global attention — and helped to launch organized amateur wrestling in the United States in the early part of the 20th century. In fact, a large number of high school and college wrestling programs can trace their roots back to the 1910s and 1920s — the era when Hackenschmidt and Gotch were still household names, and highly respected athletes.”.Palmer, Mark, “InterMat Rewind: Gotch vs. Hackenschmidt,” Intermat, August 28, 2007

Gotch was also a major sports superstar, often called the Hulk Hogan of his day, who lifted wrestling to new heights of popularity. When he became world champion, there were not many sports competing with wrestling for public attention. Horse racing remained a favorite sport and major league baseball was growing in popularity but was not yet the national pastime. Automobile racing was in its infancy; golf was still the province of the wealthy; basketball had just been invented and was vying for attention; boxing offered a man a chance at fame and fortune but was, at this time, riddled with scandals; the National Hockey League was formed the same year; and college football—the Ivy League game—was on the verge of being outlawed because it was too rough and too dangerous. Wrestling at the higher professional levels was still a legitimate sport with the added bonus that it was popular on every continent of the globe. And a number of great wrestlers were competing for top honors. In India the Great Gama was already a legendary champion, and in Europe Georg Hackenschmidt had reigned supreme with Stanislaus Zbyszko coming along. Right there you have three of the four greatest wrestlers who ever lived. But in America Tom Jenkins had been rather easily beaten by Hackenschmidt, so there was no American to capture the nation’s fancy until Gotch; and none of the other great wrestlers had either the amazing physical attributes or the gift for self-promotion that Gotch possessed.

Furthermore, the United States was beginning to dominate some of the world’s major sports. Americans already dominated boxing and within a decade would begin to dominate golf. When Gotch defeated Hackenschmidt, the domination of professional wrestling passed to the Americans. In addition, many matches had still been conducted under Greco-Roman rules, but this match caused Greco-Roman to be forever replaced by the more exciting catch-as-catch-can style.Chapman, Mike, Frank Gotch, World’s Greatest Wrestler, p. 57.