Abe Lincoln the first MMA prez?

I read an ethical biography about Lincoln, and it talked about how he didn't like the use of force to win arguements. But it did state how he was the best wrestler anyone had known. He consistantly whooped ass whenever he had to.

My question is, was it a form of catch wrestling back in Lincoln's day?

My understanding is that it was sort of loosely defined, with some rules varying from region to region back then, but it was basically Catch/American Folkstyle (i.e. - collegiate). So yes, a lot of catch holds were probably allowed in the wrestling that Abe was doing.

Good old Abe did a form of side-hold wrestling which aimed at tossing, not concessions from what I've read.

This is what noted wrestling historian Mark Hewitt says:

"Actually Abe Lincoln was a wrestler before catch-as-catch-can became popularized in North America. He practiced a form of side hold wrestling, similar to collar-and-elbow except the grip was maintained by grasping a belt or bandana tied around the waist. While serving in the militia Lincoln wore a red bandana around his waist as a standing challenge to all comers. He met with very few defeats. Despite all the illustrations and movie depictions Lincoln was not a catch wrestler. However he was also a tough rough-and-tumble brawler and was reported to have waded into one street fight swinging a whiskey bottle in the air. Another story relates how he was able to raise a 600 lb. chicken coop off the ground."

Abe Lincoln story: Abe was challenged to a fight by a very strong, stocky, shorter guy. Abe didn't want to fight the guy, but the guy was persistent. Abe finally agreed to fight, but Abe would get to pick the time and place. Abe, who was over 6 feet tall, picked now, in a six foot river! The short stocky guy declined. An example of your brain being your best weapon.

This was supposedly the inspiration for Kenpo Gransmaster Edmund Parker challenging a Korean master to a fight now, in a phone booth! This was Mr. Parker's response to constant challenging by a Korean martial artist who was trying to make a name for himself.

Gary Hughes


Abraham Lincoln moved to New Salem, Illinois, in 1831. The Clary's Grove boys lived in a settlement near New Salem. They were a loud, reckless, frontier crowd who enjoyed fighting and drinking. They boasted they could wrestle better and hit harder than any other group throughout Illinois.   At times they could also be generous and good-natured. Their leader was a man named Jack Armstrong.

Denton Offutt, in whose store Lincoln was a clerk, bragged that his employee was mentally and physically superior to any of the Clary's Grove boys. He openly said Lincoln could whip any man in the community. Hearing of Offutt's boasting, Jack Armstrong challenged Lincoln to a wrestling match. Lincoln accepted.

The entire town turned out for the fight. Offutt bet $10 Lincoln would win. Other residents wagered money, drinks, even trinkets and knives. Lincoln was 6' 4" and weighed 185 pounds, but Jack Armstrong was an experienced, formidable opponent. Although he was smaller than Lincoln, he was strong as an ox. The stage was set.

For a time, the two scufflers circled each other warily. They did some grappling and twisting, but neither man was able to throw the other to the ground.  Slowly, Armstrong began to get the worst of it. Finally, Lincoln grabbed the bully by the neck, held him at arm's length, and shook him like a little boy. This aroused the Clary's Grove boys, and it suddenly appeared Lincoln might be attacked by an entire crowd of people. He backed up against the wall of Offutt's store and offered to take them on one at a time.

Jack Armstrong was impressed with Abraham Lincoln's display of courage. He came forward, took Lincoln's hand and shook it heartily. He looked at his friends and said, "Boys, Abe Lincoln is the best fellow that ever broke into this settlement. He shall be one of us." From then on, Abraham Lincoln and Jack Armstrong were the best of friends! He had a calming influence on the whole gang of Clary's Grove boys, and his charisma had the effect of repressing their violence. Jack and his wife, Hannah, even allowed Lincoln to stay in their home when he was periodically out of work. (cont.)


Lincoln returned the favor in 1858. Bill Armstrong, son of Jack and Hannah, was accused of murder. Lincoln was the defense attorney, and the jury returned a not guilty verdict. After the trial (known in Beardstown as the famous "Almanac Trial"), when the topic of Lincoln's fee arose, he said, "Why, Hannah, I shan't charge you a cent - never. Anything I can do for you I will do willingly and without charges."
Many versions of Lincoln's wrestling match exist, only one of which is presented on this page. For example, in Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln by Douglas L. Wilson, a wrestling match eyewitness, Rowan Herndon, said that "after striving a long time without either man prevailing, Lincoln said: 'Jack, let's quit. I can't throw you - you can't throw me.' Armstrong agreed and the matter was ended in fun." The drawing of the wrestling match was painted for Esquire in 1949 by Harold van Schmidt. It might be added that, although Lincoln's wrestling ability was excellent, he wasn't unbeatable. On April 22, 1832, Lincoln was thrown in two straight falls by Lorenzo Dow Thompson during a wrestling match in Beardstown, Illinois.

George Washington is actually believed to also have been involved in organized wrestling, so Abe wouldn't be the first.

Who would win in a fight between the ghost of Abe Lincoln and the ghost of Farmer Burns?

I guess that 6' 4" and 185 was considered large back in those days. I have read very little about Lincoln, but what I have read has always portrayed him as a very large man. Clearly that's not the case. Depictions of him picking guys up over his head are sort of silly. But, maybe he was strong for his weight.

He was like Matt Hughes. Pound for pound the strongest president around. He used to impress Union soldiers by holding a full sized axe lengthwise straight out from his body with one arm. I can't even do that with a push broom.

Man......what are you talking about? Holding an axe out? I guess that would take some serious grip strength if you were holding the very end of the axe.


That's what I was trying to convey, he'd hold an axe the way a fencer holds a foil (gripping the base of the handle, with the axe head at the opposite end). But he'd do standing straight up and would hold it steady in front of him and out to the side. I find it pretty impressive.

Okay. I agree with that.

Carry on everyone.

This is a great thread

In the rough and ready style of the frontier, "catch as catch can" wrestling was more hand-to-hand combat than sport. Lincoln, an awesome physical specimen at 6-feet-4, was widely known for his wrestling skills and had only one recorded defeat in a dozen years.

At age 19, he defended his stepbrother's river barge from Natchez thugs by throwing the hijackers overboard. Ten years later, Lincoln was a storekeeper at New Salem when his boss backed him to out-wrestle Jack Armstrong, local tough and county champion. From the start, Lincoln handed out a thrashing. When Armstrong began fouling, Lincoln picked up his opponent, dashed him to the ground and knocked him out.

I guess street fights were incredibly brutal back then. Fighters would attempt to guage eyes, tear of ears, and wrip off genitals. Really puts that silly Taco Bell fight clip into perspective. Doesn't it?

Another historical figure that was known to be a wrestler was Plato- The Greek philosopher. His real name was Aristoelus and he was given the nickname Plato. The word Plato meant broad shouldered one. I think that throughout history there have been many people that have been competitors in wrestling or other Martial Arts type sports. You learn alot of life-lessons through a sport like this. You also learn alot about yourself.