Book Review: Frank A. Gotch, World’s Champion Wrestler
By Mike Sempervive – GumGod.com/Figure 4 Weekly~!
The path to religious and spiritual enlightenment often begins through the stories and teachings of works like Buddha’s Noble Truths, the five books of Moses, the New Testament and the Koran. That path can lead to wonderful things, such as the proprietor of this fine publication passing stringent testing of his own spiritual know-how, and becoming the finest working Reverend since Slick. With the conversion he also became a Doctor of Divinity – which is a name I’m sure several awful indy scene guys have used at some point.
Of course the same paths could lead to Jonestown, Waco, or - worst of all - a forced screening of the Dianetically-approved Battlefield: Earth. But that’s not important. What’s important is that divine knowledge has been passed down over the years in the written form, and I have come across one that is no different. The ultimate book of lore, the infamous, GOTCH: WORLD’S CHAMPION WRESTLER ~ HIS LIFE = MAT BATTLES and INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO WRESTLE. The story and teachings of Humboldt County’s own, Frank Alvin Gotch.
One of the biggest sporting celebs of his era who is directly responsible for not only the boom of college wrestling in the 1920’s, but also having such a powerful aura that he caused a grown man to change his last name from Istaz to Gotch, and become a torturer of young Japanese wrestlers. This book influenced Bryan so much that he gives Gotch his own weekly front-page column - despite the fact HE’S BEEN DEAD FOR EIGHTY-EIGHT YEARS. I had to know what was inside this treasure of American literature, and to do it I went to E-Bay and spent a total of 65 bucks, including shipping. I figured that it was actually a small price to pay considering that I’m expecting a religious-type experience out of this, and I’m pretty sure that salvation comes with a debt.
While it’s not an original, it’s a mint condition reprint of the book printed 50 years after the original pressing in 1913. Written by Chicago Daily News sportswriter George Robbins and Joseph Bowles, the book consists of interviews with Gotch, his friends and associates, compiling newspaper accounts and, in the same KAYFABULOUS~! fashion that Hulk Hogan did decades later, they just made up shit along the way. I had a feeling the book would be paying for itself, as the preface of the thing began: “All the world loves an honest battler. That is why baseball has continued to grow in popularity and draw immense crowds. The players are ‘on the square’ and the ‘fans’ know it.” Now they’re on the juice and everyone hates Barry Bonds. But, at least the Cubs haven’t won a World Series yet. The preface continued with, “Gotch has been ‘on the level’ and endowed with ‘the goods.’” MEATNORMOUS~! It claims the king of Sweden would have declared Gotch, not Jim Thorpe, “The World’s Greatest Athlete” if he had ever laid eyes on him, and that inside Gotch were “the elements which command the approval of plain, every-day Americans, everywhere, that his preeminence in their esteem is very easily understood.”
It seemed over-the-top, but then I read the next sentence: “Who can fail to approve the type of character that remains modest and unaffected in the enjoyment of great success, temperate in speech and habits of life, loyal to what is true and right?” ALL SHALL BOW TO THE MODESTY OF GOTCH. In closing, the preface said that when it comes to the newspaper clippings it compiled, “unfortunately in some instances the clippings which had been preserved in the Gotch scrap-books gave no clue as to the authorship of the papers.” I’ll just assume those parts are written by one of the phony “Apter mag” writers like Matt Brock or James Guttman.
The first chapter of the book is entitled, “How Frank Does It Now,” and after just reading that Gotch has been “endowed with the goods,” I shuddered. The chapter looked just like a newspaper story that had been reprinted, because that’s what it was. Well, actually, it was a reprint of a Chicago Daily News story about a Kansas City Star-Times story about Gotch’s defeat of George Lurich. With no sign of bias or hyperbole, the column began to subtly tell the story of that day, “GOTCH (it was actually written in all caps) was in town – our own happy, unconquerable Frank, farmer, business man, best loved of America’s athletes, and wrestling champion of the world since April 3, 1908.” Shockingly, it didn’t then add that he was also a man who rescues babies, volunteers for the needy, heals the sick, and actually is MEATNORMOUS~! Although, it did point out that, “There were women, too. Mostly in the boxes – there were hundreds, in all.” Unlike when I’m told the same about Ring of Honor shows, this may actually be true.
Even though the story stated the crowd was screaming to see a TOE-HOLD~! it makes no mention of it being the last “official” fake real wrestling match Gotch would have. He had many “exhibition” fake real wrestling matches after this, but apparently not one that was ‘on the square’ like the ‘fans’ knew. Instead, the chapter ends with a short bio of his “manager” Emil Klank. It states that Klank was trained by, and toured with, Martin “Farmer” Burns before going out west to “wrestle alone.” Klank “wrestled Gotch at Denver in 1907,” and had an arm ligament “snapped” with a BAR-LOCK~! It then goes on to read that since Klank, who is of “German parentage” (Because it says so right here on page 16 - I love Random Shit), began serving as Gotch’s manager he hadn’t lost a fall. It never says why or how Klank got the job as Gotch’s manager - especially after having his arm bar-locked in such a fashion that it would injure him - but I’m assuming that Klank looked at his injury as some sort of grappling epiphany and knew right then and there that joining with Gotch would put him on the path to eternal righteousness.
Anyway, as previously mentioned, the chapter didn’t explain that the Lurich match was his last. It waited until chapter two - which begins with an ODE TO GOTCH poem called “The Wrestlers” that was written in the Chicago Examiner. And yes, it’s as bad as you’d think. It’s followed by a yearly listing of his “official” fake real wrestling matches, and features the first of many bad, old sports editorial cartoons. It was courtesy of the Chicago Inter Ocean (~?), which made it made it the third Chicago newspaper that covered pro wrestling which no longer exists. The third chapter briefly recaps how the Gotch family settled in Humboldt, and who the siblings are, before quickly going back into building the legend. Writer Lloyd Kenyon Jones, who may or may not actually be a younger relative of current wrestling historian J. Michael Kenyon, talks about a five-year old Frank asking one of his sisters to chop his finger off with an axe. And Messiah used to think he was hardcore. Then, the unknown mystery sister actually obliged. SHE’S HARDCORE~! Of course, not only was the finger able to be saved but while it was happening young Gotch just sat there looking at it with interest. The chapter also goes on to tell that Gotch pre-dates that guy Dan who ran Maryland Championship Wrestling, as being CORPORAL PUNISHMENT - using a word I have never seen before in my life: OBSTREPEROUS~!
(Obstreperous; uhb-STREP-uhr-uhs; adjective: 1. Noisily and stubbornly defiant; unruly. 2. Noisy, clamorous, or boisterous. 3. A WWE international flight).
He described how he would be used by teachers instead of a hickory switch to discipline other kids if they got too unruly. Gotch as a Gestapo for the Man is a sin. And Gotch knew it, as it’s immediately revealed that one of his great goals was to grapple with his teacher - who just happened to be one of the finest wrestlers in Humboldt. INCONCIEVABLE! The “Battles With His Teacher” portion of the chapter begins with: “Ed Kennedy, now baggage master at Fort Dodge, Iowa, was my school teacher…” indicating that no matter how this story begins, it will end with Gotch sending a man packing. In their first battle, despite not knowing “any more about the toe hold or the half-nelson than a rabbit knew about Latin,” (a GOTCHISM if I ever saw one) the 16-year old tripped up his teacher for a fall in the winter of 1894.
Of course, this meant a revenge match, and both sides agreed it should take place THE NEXT SUMMER. During the contract signing for the big bout, Ivan Koloff insulted Gotch’s mother, causing Gotch to jump over the table to attack him, but he ended up being laid out by both Nikita Koloff and Uncle Ivan, before punching out NWA president Bob Giegel a week later and getting stripped of the U.S. title. It seemed that because of all the insanity, Mama Gotch didn’t approve of her son rolling around with his teacher, so he “double-crossed” her by arranging her absence on that day. Where was she? It doesn’t say. Who cares, though? GOTCH ORIGINATED THE SWERVE. Using the same source that would make CBS News proud, a man who became a “wealthy farmer residing near Humboldt” let us know in grandiose fashion that Gotch and the teacher battled to a 30-minute draw. GOTCH SWERVED ME~! (~!) Well, the teacher didn’t go packing right then and there, but the old, rich farmer said about Gotch: “It finally made him a hard-fought athlete among a race of physical giants around Humboldt,” making it official that it was at that time when Gotch became a deity. Too bad, too, as I was really looking forward to reading that after three days of being encased in winding sheets and entombed, he emerged from behind the boulder and ordered everyone to hard-boil eggs and paint them in pastels.
Thy Gotch is preeminent.
Thy Gotch is modest.
Thy Gotch has been blessed with the goods.
Thy Gotch laughs at severed limbs.
Thy Gotch does not tolerate obstreperous behavior.
Thy Gotch does not job to authority.
Thy Gotch originated the swerve.
Thy Gotch is a hard negotiator.
Thy Gotch strolled down Broadway.
Thy Gotch is rugged.
For Part 2 of Mike's review click HERE.
Copyright © 2005 Derek Burgan. All rights reserved.