Frank Gotch's Boxing Skills

Frank Gotch flirted with the idea of boxing throughout much of his wrestling career. After Jack Johnson beat Tommy Burns, Gotch's name was sometimes mentioned as a potential "White Hope" capable of taking the fistic laurels away from the black champion. The following appraisal of Gotch's talents in this area comes from Tommy Ryan, the great nineteenth century middleweight, who worked with him for a time in Milwaukee:

"The big fellow is not well versed in the art of boxing, despite the fact he has had a number of private tilts with 'Kid' McCoy and he has had several fights. I thought he knew enough to cut loose and whale away with both hands, just to demonstrate that fighting and not clever boxing was his idea of the game, but he was away off at that sort of work. Do I think I can make a fighter of him? Well, that depends on him. i do not think he will be of the scientific class, but he should make a clever slugger if he follows my instructions."

Shorthly thereafter, Gotch signed for his first match with Hackenschmidt, putting any boxing aspirations to rest.


So frank could bang?Gotch vs Johnson in "wrestler vs. boxer match"Now that would have been cool .
Nathan ,you just made me think of.... how many boxer vs wrestler matches were there?I can only think of anoki & ali., and lebell vs savage"of course that was more like judo vs boxer",and the anoki fight was a work.Anyway,a hardhitting gotch= nightmare

Gotch trained with "Kid" McCoy as mentioned above and did develop some boxing skills. Jim Corbett believed that with proper training Gotch could be champion. One man who didn't believe this was Frank Gotch.

I believe the two main factors in preventing Gotch from taking up the Johnson challenge were his new wife Gladys and of course Jack Johnson. He was ringside for the fight between Johnson and his good friend Jim Jeffries and saw all he needed to see. Of course Jeffries wasn't much more than an ill prepared shell of his former self in that fight but Johnson still made an impression on Gotch.

There was an old cartoon from a Chicago paper based on an actual chance meeting of Johnson and Gotch on a Chicago street. The cartoon shows the two champions walking along as the tall buildings around them bend out of their way.

I believe Gotch would have won easily if allowed to use his grappling skills but the match was to be under boxing rules and that would not likely have been pretty. Johnson would have destroyed him.

Mark Hewitt's book lists a number of Boxer vs wrestler matches. Maybe Nathan would detail a couple?

One unoffical match took place at the Jeffries training camp while he prepared for the Johnson fight. Farmer Burns who was brought in late to help with Jeffries conditioning took exception to the manner in which "Jeff", as Burns and Gotch called their friend, was being trained. Burns wrote Gotch to tell him that the camp seemed to have readied Jeff for a "foot race" not a fight.

A tough middleweight boxer by the name of Billy Papke (who once stabbed a man as I remember) who was also in camp took offence to Burns' position and a bout followed. Burns won by leglock pretty quickly.

The boxer versus wrestler debate seemed to be ever-present during the early decades of the twentieth century, culminating in the ongoing discussion over a potential match between Dempsey and Lewis in the early 20's. Plenty of press was given to this contest, which never came off. Mark Hewitt's book has the most detailed list of boxer versus wrestler matches that has yet been compiled.

Many athletes made forays into both sports. At the turn of the century, due to bans placed on boxing, several prominent boxers turned to wrestling for a paycheque. Notable in this regard were Tom Sharkey and Jack Monroe. Fitz also had a brief, ill-fated entry into the world of wrestling. Unlike Monroe and Sharkey, he simply wasn't built for it!

Several wrestlers also fancied themselves boxers. In terms of bringing something "new" to the subject, I recently uncovered a boxing contest between James Esson, the British heavyweight, and Dr. B.F. Roller in Montreal,1916. Roller long fancied himself a pugilist, but was beaten rather handily by Esson.

The term used for people who both boxed and wrestled competitively (and generally applied within the context of AT Shows) was "combination-men." A really good combination-man, however, was a rare animal, and I wouldn't put Frank Gotch into this category. Perhaps the best of that era was Charles "Kid' Cutler, who had a fairly successful boxing career, and also became recognized as the world's wrestling champion following Gotch's "retirement." In the 1920's Paul Berlenbach also made the transition from champion amateur wrestler to world's champion professional light-heavyweight boxer.

Much more could be written on this subject, since, in my view, the worlds of boxing and wrestling were very much linked together during this period.


Berlenbach was the ultimate combination man

I'd love to see more on the combination men. They were the Paleo-

"Much more could be written on this subject, since, in my view, the worlds of boxing and wrestling were very much linked together during this period."

Absolutely, and a great point.

Martin Burke had a few stories along this line including an ill fated attempt at wrestling by Dempsey that saw him not only beaten but also jailed.

Does Martin still post here? Anyone know? What a great poster he was/is.

Often, being a combination man was a matter of necessity. If a guy couldn't pick up a wrestling match in a town, he might be able to secure a boxing bout instead. This was quite common in some areas, as the popularity of either sport ebbed and flowed.


Nathan, what is your email? I lost it (only have your phone #). Thanks!


Sent by private message... my phone # may be out of date, so I'll send another one in a second.


10-4. Got it thanks! Sent you an email. :)