30 June 1891
Ed Lewis was a true pioneer of the sport and one of its
earliest and most dominant champions. He truly "paved the road" for pro
wrestling to be recognized as a legitimate sport in the eyes of the public
during the early 20th century, and he was also there to see the fallout of the
"sport's" dark "legitimacy" secret revealed to that trusting public. This
multiple-time World Champion (and expert submission shoot fighter) helped
establish pro wrestling at a time when it was somewhat unestablished, and
for that, the sport will always owe him a debt of gratitude...
"The Strangler" was not born Ed Lewis, but rather, Robert
Friedrich on June 30, 1891. Like many future Hall of Famers from this time
period, he started wrestling at the age of 14 (by that time he already weighed
nearly 200 pounds) at small carnivals and in farm towns throughout middle
The sport of wrestling was very
different during those early formative years than it is now...in many different
ways. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, there were still many actual
professional wrestling contests or "shoots" (although the concept of a
"predetermined winner" was certainly not unheard of) and most matches were
decided in 2 out of 3 fall contests. The emphasis of the wrestlers back then was
to draw and entertain tens of thousands of fans by
incorporating wild gimmicks and costumes, but rather, simply
to gain the advantage over, and then defeat, your opponent
through leverage, fighting skills, and grappling -- and still
turn a profit.
When Lewis first started
in the sport, a "work" was considered by many top names of the
era to be very much beneath their dignity, although the
pre-determined match was beginning to be used by promoters
more and more frequently. In the late 1800's and early 1900's,
most (but far from all) pro wrestling matches were still,
indeed, legitimate matches be tween 2 wrestlers. Lewis himself
was involved in arguably the longest running wrestling match
in history, when on July 4, 1916 Lewis wrestled former
champion Joe Stecher to a 5 1/2 hour draw. Often referring
disdainfully to wrestling that incorporated wild personalities
and choreography as "slambang" wrestling, Lewis began his
career just prior to the transition in the sport that forever
led it down the road of "sports entertainment"...
Lewis got his "Strangler"
nickname, according to legend, from a reporter who saw
similarity between a rookie Lewis and the former champion Evan "The Strangler"
Lewis. Ed Lewis also used a variation of what is now known as The Sleeper hold,
which appeared to the public at the time as though he was strangling his
the most accomplished submission wrestler in the sport during the early 1900's,
was feared and respected both inside and outside of the ring for his extensive
knowledge of amateur wrestling, and even more for his wide array of crippling
wrestling holds known as "hooks". All of the wrestlers knew that Ed Lewis easily
could (and sometimes did) injure and legitimately cripple any wrestler that
crossed him, anytime he felt like it.
Among the many championships he would win were no less than 5 Undisputed World
Heavyweight Championships between 1920-1931, holding the title 5 out of the 11
years and making him the World Champion w/the most World title reigns for 30
years, until Lou Thesz broke his record.
He also won the A.W.A. (Boston) World Heavyweight title, and unified that with
the Undisputed World championship. However, on April 14, 1931 he lost the AWA
championship (the 1st step in what would eventually re-shatter the World Title
once again into many factions) in a very controversial match by DQ to Henri
Deglane. However, he was still recognized as World Champion in Chicago (then the
center of the wrestling world) and in most other wrestling hotbeds across the
He won the New York State Athletic Commission (N.Y.S.A.C.) World Heavyweight
title in 1932, and re-established himself to East Coast fans (and promoters) as
the true World Champion. 10 years later (nearly 30 years after his wrestling
career started) on November 26, 1942 he defeated Orville Brown for the Midwest
Wrestling Association World Heavyweight title in Kansas City, KS. and again
reaffirmed just exactly who was the #1 wrestler in the world.
Ed "Strangler" Lewis wrestled his
last match in 1947, marking the end of a career that spanned 4 decades. By his
own records, Lewis wrestled in over 6,200 matches and lost only 33. After his
retirement from the ring, Lewis trained and occasionally managed protégé and
N.W.A. World Champion Lou Thesz (pictured).
During the height of his popularity, he was a sports
celebrity ranking with the likes of baseball's Babe Ruth and Boxing's Jack
Dempsey. In an era when the general public truly believed in wrestling's
legitimacy (from the mid-1800's until 1921), Ed "Strangler" Lewis was among the
sports/entertainment elite...enjoying unbridled fame, having close personal
friendships with Ruth and other world-famous celebrities, and earning millions
of dollars at a time of economic strife for the rest of the country. At one
point, Ed "Strangler" Lewis was arguably the #1 sports celebrity in America...
In fact, Lewis and boxing champ Dempsey had a long-running
"feud" throughout their simultaneous reigns...mainly coerced by the press, who
were looking for a story, and fans who clamored for a match-up between the 2
popular World Champions. However, nothing ever came of the speculation and
newspaper "war of the words" between the 2 champions, despite Lewis'
willingness. Dempsey later admitted that the match never happened because he
knew that he didn't stand a chance against the World Wrestling Champion. Not
He faced and defeated the very best
fighters of his era...Stanislaus Zbysko, Orville Brown, Joe Stecher, Jim Londos,
Dick Shikat, Freddie Beel, Jack Leon and many, many other wrestling legends
during his record-setting 5 World Championship reigns...
Robert "Ed 'Strangler' Lewis" Friedrich
died on August 8, 1966 at the age of 76. He will forever go down as a Founding
Father of pro wrestling and one of, if not the greatest champions ever.
Ed "Strangler" Lewis, Champion of Champions and the man that nobody could defeat
unless he let them.