Monday, March 8, 2010

Fall Guys Chapter 5

The Gold Dust Trio

Lewis and Sandow had been buffeted around by the eastern combination, “The Strangler” being denied championship recognition when he beat all comers in a tournament staged by Jack Curley during the War.

With the advent of “Toots” Mondt to the Sandow-Lewis team, the rise of “The Strangler” not only became rapid, but the gates zoomed to undreamed of heights. Lewis snared the title from Stecher on December 13, 1920, at the Seventy-first Regiment Armory, and the march to wrestling prosperity for Sandow, Lewis and Mondt thereupon began.

Lewis’ advent as titleholder started the biggest sports combine ever controlled by three men and made fortunes for those interested.

The wrestling services of Lewis and Mondt were always in demand, but the haphazard methods of the mat promoters made it impossible for them to accept many proffered dates. Each promoter was working independently of promoters in other cities.

This prevented the building up of suitable opponents for Lewis and Mondt and ruined many mat cards already advertised for other cities.

Too, most of the professional neckbenders of the period were doing their own business.

At times, though signed for an important bout in say, Kansas City on September seventh, that with proper promotion and publicity would draw a big gate, the wrestler might also sign a contract to wrestle on September first in let us say, St. Louis. If he were defeated it meant the card for September seventh in Kansas City was ruined.

Mondt’s fertile brain conceived the plan of managing, promoting wrestlers and wrestling bouts on the same scale as vaudeville was booked and staged. Sandow was quick to grasp the import and possibilities of Mondt’s ideas and at once set to work.

Sandow had the appearance and the necessary background to meet people and transact business. Lewis and Mondt handled the wrestling end.

Within a few months after the triumvirate of Sandow, Lewis and Mondt had been formed, the trio had moved wrestling from burlesque theaters and ratty hideaways into the finest auditoriums in America.

Lewis and Sandow had been mere stooges doing the bidding of the eastern combination known as “The Trust,” which was the outgrowth of the many Gotch, Stecher, Caddock and Cutler matches.

Jack Herman of Chicago and Buffalo, and Joe Coffey of Chicago, were minor lieutenants in the “Big Four” group.

The wily Mondt at once began laying his lines to smash the dominance of this combination. It took only a few months for him to succeed and he did it by changing wrestling style and methods of promotion.

Perhaps no greater student of modern wrestling exists than Joe “Toots” Mondt. Effective holds, sensitive nerve centers, leverage, balance, feints and strength development were all an early part of his schooling.

He knew the background and history of every form of competitive sport and sought to apply this knowledge to the furtherance of wrestling. He wasn’t long in find­ing a solution.

He recalled the history of an early bare knuckle fighter, one James Figg, who dated back to 1716. Mondt dug around in a library until he unearthed printed proof of Figg’s fame and went to Sandow with his data. Sandow read the information with interest.

He learned that Figg had been famed throughout England as a swordsman, wrestler and all around athlete from his boyhood. Figg had also gained fame in the British Isles as a fighter. His method was unique.

Instead of confining himself to pure and undiluted grappling, Figg would bang a rival with his fist in the clinches whenever it was possible. This helped him to gain victory. Later he slugged in the open and, as a pugilist, depending mainly upon his fists, beat some good wrestlers by the simple process of first knocking them out and then pinning their shoulders.

Eventually, Figg’s style became known as “Figg’s Fighting.” Sandow was interested in what he read, but it was Mondt who supplied the inspiration.

“We’ll take the best features of boxing and the holds from Graeco-Roman, combine these with the old time lumber camp style of fighting and call it “Slam Bang Western Style Wrestling,” Mondt said.

Sandow and Lewis acquiesced and with the help of other matmen who saw the possibilities, the new trio of Sandow, Mondt and Lewis speeded up wrestling, changed the public taste and within a few months wrestling gates soared to new heights and the “Big Four” was brought to its knees and forced to work with the new trust.

Sandow signed wrestlers to contracts, it is said that he had as many as five hundred hulking bonecrushers under his banner at one time.

Thus was Sandow in control, not only of wrestlers, but wrestling clubs too, for without matmen, independent grappling promoters couldn’t operate and via contract, Sandow had every worthwhile attraction under his thumb.

Practically overnight Billy Sandow became the coast to coast wrestling Czar, and he cracked the whip over meat tossers and promoters alike in the style expected of royal rulers.
In the basement of his California home, Sandow built a gymnasium which he called “The Bullpen.” In the enclosure, from early morning until late in the after­noon, his behemoths tugged and hauled, working out “finishes,” testing each other’s hearts and ability, and giving the “Boss” a general line on the workers he had under contract.

When two men faced each other in the ring before an audience, each knew pretty well the other’s ability, and it must be said to Sandow’s credit that in those early days the best man usually won. Billy firmly believed that only a top notcher should be on top.

Sandow’s belief that only a wrestler of ability should be champion kept Lewis on top of wrestling’s Mount Olympus for many years. Though outlaws like Marian Plestina, Jack Sherry, John Pesek, and other tough wrestlers disputed the personable “Strangler’s” right to the heavyweight wrestling crown, Sandow rested easy of night, secure in the knowledge either Lewis or Mondt could ably cope with the rebels when forced to do so.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into the Sandow, Lewis and Mondt coffers. They had struck pay dirt and were mining their lodes for all they were worth.

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