Legends of the mat in Australia

The following is an article I found in an old copy of the now defunct Groundfighter magazine. I thought it was such a good article I typed it up to post here.

The Russian Lion George Hackenschmidt;

written by Gavin Dickson

transferred to the web by Redneck

Without a doubt, the greatest wrestler of the twentieth century was George Hackenschmidt. He was a living legend in his day, admired by millions and believed by many to be unbeatable on the wrestling mats. During his four month visit to Australia, he stimulated the growth of professional wrestling to an unprecedented high and for the time, wrestling was actually more popular than boxing.

Hackenschmidt was born in Estonia in 1878, at that time part of the Russian Empire. He developed into a strong youth with a magnificent physique and learned the rudimentary skills of wrestling during his period of national service in the Russian Military. As an amateur he did well in international Greco Roman tournaments in Vienna and Paris. He learned more of the finer points of the game from travelling professionals who included Russia on their European circuit. One such wrestler was George Lurich, the best heavyweight in Europe. Lurich defeated the young Russian on several occasions but Hackenschmidt was learning all the time.

In 1900 he turned professional and won a competition in Moscow. He then embarked on a tour of Europe, wrestling in Budapest, Constantinople and Vienna. In Vienna he won a tournament billed as being for the professional Greco Roman World Championship. It was then that the sporting world started to take notice and he was given the name "The Russian Lion".

By 1903 Hackenschmidt was persuaded by the English Entrepreneur, Cochran to take on the American Tom Jenkins. The Catch-as-Catch-Can
World Champion. In London, in front of a massive crowd, the Russian convincingly defeated the American and was declared by the media to be Champion Wrestler of the World at any style.

Hackenschmidt's popularity at this time was phenomenal. He was probably the most well known sportsman in the world and could claim large purses for any wrestling performances. Riding on the wave of popularity, he decided to tour the world between December 1904 and March 1905, Harry Richards of the Tivoli brought him out to Australia. The Australian Champion at this time was Clarence Weber. Born in 1882 in Victoria, even as a schoolboy Weber was noted for his athletic achievements. In February 1904 he challenged Buttan Singh, a clever Indian Gushti Wrestler for the Australian Catch-as-Catch-Can Title. Weber won this after a difficult fight
And again defended his title several times against Singhs training partner Gunga Brahms, a powerful Turk named Suleiman, the Englishman Gunner Moir and other wrestlers such as Gus Rennert, Bert Woods and Dick Porter. Weber was undoubtedly the Australian Champion and probably the best wrestler in the Southern Hemisphere.

On Hackenschmidt's arrival in the newly federated Australia, he began by taking on all newcomers. He defeated Dillie Nielson at the Sydney Opera House in 8 minutes. He then beat both Butta Singh and Gunga Brahms in quick time. He also participated in a handicap bout with Gus Rennert in which he was to pin his opponent in the ten minutes or lose the match. Hackenschmidt was unsuccessful and Rennert was declared the winner. No such luxury was given to Weber, the Melbourne crowds were astounded when the Australian Champion was thrown and pinned by the World Champion in just on 10 minutes and in a return bout was pinned by the Russian Lion in 5 minutes. People were amazed at the great strength and wrestling skill of Hackenschmidt and soon amateur and professional wrestling clubs were opening to aspiring wannabe champions. In fact wrestling had never been as popular and was soon eclipsing boxing as the premier combat sport in Australia.

The Russian Lion left Australia in 1905, never once being pinned, never once being thrown despite numerous challenges. He continued undefeated
on his World Tour until 1908 when he met Frank Gotch and his Catch-as -
-Catch-Can World Title. The wrestling world was stunned. In America professional wrestling was struggling to compete against Professional boxing for popularity. As World Champion Frank Gotch tried to introduce other combat elements such as striking and some complex and spectacular throws to the sport to increase spectator appeal, the result was an all in type of Pankration which, eventually due to overshowmanship became the hyped up professional wrestling we know today.

In Australia professional wrestling remained clean until the late 1930's. Indeed matches between Clarence Weber and Buttan Singh for the Australian title in December 1905 and November 1906 drew huge crowds and public interest. International matches were arranged between the New Zealand Champion Forde and South African Champion Grotz with Weber inevitably always the winner. In 1907 he was challenged by Dave Smith for the Australian Title Belt, he defeated Smith by two falls after just 31 seconds. Weber retired after this bout as the undefeated Champion of Australia. When challenged by Gus Rennert for the title, Weber advised his challenger to try himself with Buttan Singh. Rennert did so only to be defeated by the Indian 1 fall to 0 after almost two hours of wrestling. Their weights were Rennert 14 stone and Singh 11 stone 12.

Interest in professional wrestling declined sharply after Webers retirement and a further check was imposed by World War 1, which robbed Australia of some of its finest youngmen. After the war however, a capable young wrestler, Sliding Billy Maaske began to attract some attention. From 1918 he was undefeated and in 1922 he won the Australian heavyweight title. In 1923 Clarence weber was persuaded to emerge from retirement after 15 years, he was aged 41. In front of packed stadiums in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, Weber soundly defeated his younger opponent to regain the title.

The interest shown by the public in these and other matches, encouraged Jack Munro, the General Manager of Stadiums Limited to import a team of Wrestlers from the U.S.A. It was through these men that show wrestling was introduced to Australia. Within 10 years show wrestling came to dominate the professional wrestling scene and the proud legacy left by men such as George Hackenschmidt and Clarence Weber was forgotten

These stories are great reads.

Most people who fancy themselves wrestling historians believe that when Frank Gotch defeated George Hackenschmidt for the World title on April 3rd 1908 he did so because of his use of "foul tactics". And worse yet, that he beat "Hack" in the rematch on September 4th 1911 greatly due to having paid a skilled but little known "Hooker" Ad Santel to injure Hackenschmidt in training. None of this is true, it is all the invention of two men, Santel and sadly enough, Hackenschmidt.

Why Santel would make up such a story I don't know, but it's not hard to see why Hack jumped on the bandwagon. The truth is really not hard to find. No such stories were ever told by either Santel or Hack until after the untimely death of Gotch on Dec. 16th 1917.

Lets look at what was said while gotch was still living: Ed Smith, who refereed both matches (and was chosen by the Hackenschmidt camp) said that although Hack was stronger than Gotch he lacked Gotch's skill, speed and heart. And that Hack simply quit both times because he was "afraid of Gotch".

Better yet lets look at what the man who trained Hack, Dr. B. F. Roller had to say. "I saw this morning at sunrise that Hack's courage was failing. I do not want to say much of this sort because I do not want the public to think I am turning against a man because he is defeated, but I must admit that, as I predicted yesterday, gameness was the largest factor in the contest....... I am glad this thing is over and I would not go through it again for the whole of the gate receipts."

How about Jack Curley, Hacks manager, "He wouldn't do what I wanted him to at any time and I certainly wouldn't go through the same ordeal for twice what I made out of the match."

About the injury: "I'm fit to wrestle for my life." Hackenschmidt before the match. After the match, "I strained two ligaments in my left knee, in a bout with {Dr. Roller} two weeks ago." With Dr. Roller, not Ad Santel. And later Dr. Roller would comfirm this. To his credit he tried to dispell the tall tale spread by Santel after Gotch's death but rumors die hard.

The first match lasted 2 hours and 3 minutes with Gotch gaining a submission by one of his 17 different varities of the toe-hold. It was not as close as 2hr. 3 min. would seem. As most of that time was spent by Gotch using tricks taught to him by his legendary trainer Martin "Farmer" Burns to tire Hack down. The second match was a one side butt-kicking.

No one has answered my question yet. Who was the Aussie who got a bronze in freestyle in the Olympics in the thirties? I think he's still alive. I can recall him being interviewed on TV, they used to draw out a space in the sand to train. Did we ever get any other medals in freestyle or greco? I heard we got some in the early fifties but I'm not sure.

For someone that doesn't like long posts, that was a long post.

And a good read.




for my writers cramp :)

Excellent read!!

George Hackenschmidt was a remarkable wrestler and a remarkable man with one major blimish on the record in both of those categories. His two defeats at the hands of Frank A. Gotch and his inability to deal with these losses in a truthfull and sportsman like manner.

But first I'd like to point out the positives in George "The Russian Lion" Hackenschmidt. He was said to have the most incredible physique and strenght of his day. He wasn't a bad wrestler either. I'm going by memory on the year, I think it was 1896, that Hackenschmidt won the Greco-Roman wrestling championship and placed second in the weight-lifting competition at the world championship's in europe.

He could rep 311 lbs. twice from a bridge position. He could one arm bench 286 lbs. And was said to have once put 361 lbs. over his head with one arm. As I said before the "Hack Squat" was named for him, and it was told that he could do 550 reps with 110 lbs. on this exercise.

On June 1st thru June 3rd 1900 he defeated the champions of eight different countries to claim the Czar's Tournament in Moscow. His longest match lasted about ten minutes.

After his wrestling career ended he became a noted philosopher, engaging in a number of debates throughout Europe and Authoring the best selling book "How To Live". He was well known for his generous ways and charitable works, even donating his gold medals to be melted down and used as fillings for the teeth of returning veterns of WW1.

A good look at Hackenschmidts physique can be had at:



When I have time later today I'll post some interesting facts and quotes about Hackenschmidt and the only man ever to dominate him on the mat, Frank Gotch.

First tidbit - the "Hack squat" is named for him.


Who was the bloke who got a bronze in the Olympics in the thirties?

Very interesteing read.



Dick Gerard won a medal in the Olympics for Australia, think
it was silver not bronze, I would have to check. Met him about
four years ago, I think he still is alive. Hope thats who you are
looking for.

interesting and very educational..;)