By Ryan K. Boman, Editor in Chief
On December 16th, 1917, wrestling legend Frank Gotch died in his hometown of Humboldt, Iowa.
Born on April 26, 1878, he was raised on a farm and wrestling in his early teen. He gained a reputation as a local fighter, using his toe hold to defeat opponents.
Gotch began his professional wrestling career in 1899, and was soon discovered by American Heavyweight Champion. Not long after, the legendary “Farmer” Martin Burns took Gotch under his wing.
After successfully touring the Yukon Territory, Gotch would return to America to challenge and eventually defeat American champion Tom Jenkins in 1904. This would set up a showdown with Estonian grappler Georg Hackenschmidt, who would defeat Jenkins and claim undisputed world champion status in 1905 in New York. However, rather than face Gotch, Hackenschmidt went home to England.
Three years passed, and the two men finally had a match at Dexter Park Pavilion in Chicago. Gotch took down Hackenschmidt. Using questionable tactics, including thumbing his eye, butting him, and oiling his body pre-match, Gotch wore down Hackenschmidt and nearly put him in his toe hold. The European was able to manage an escape.
However, Hackenschmidt would then quit the fall and did not return for the second fall, thereby awarding the title to Frank.
The match had lasted two hours. Though publicly gracious in defeat, Hackenschmidt remained privately bitter over the loss. He would voice his displeasure in later years.
Gotch would dominate the freestyle heavyweight circuit, defeating other stars of the time, including Tom Jenkins and Stanislaus Zbyszko. The American Champion’s popularity made him in high demand, starring in a play and having an audience with President Theodore Roosevelt, even attending a baseball game with him and his wife.
The Gotch-Hackenschmidt re-matchn finally took place place at Comiskey Park in Chicago on September 4, 1911. There were conflicting stories about how the challenger Hackenschmidt was injured in the weeks prior to the bout. Eventually, he was cleared, but Hackenschmidt fell prey to Gotch’s toe hold, losing in consecutive falls in 30 minutes.
Gotch remained champion until he retired after a victory over Georg Lurich on April 1, 1913 in Kansas City, MO. His five-year run as world champion would be only surpassed in later years by Verne Gagne, Lou Thesz, and Bruno Sammartino.
Growing weary of the road life, Gotch retired to his hometown of Humboldt, Iowa. After a year of health problems, Gotch would succumb to uremic poisioning. He was just 39.
Gotch would be posthumously inducted into the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in 1951, the Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame in 1999, the inaugural Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996, and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002.