Book Review: Frank A. Gotch, World’s Champion Wrestler
By Mike Sempervive – GumGod.com/Figure 4 Weekly~!
With the initial enlightenment out of the way, the fourth chapter in GOTCH: WORLD’S CHAMPION WRESTLER ~ HIS LIFE = MAT BATTLES and INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO WRESTLE, continues to recall the journey of Frank A. Gotch’s professional career - which one would have figured was destiny after reading the early stages of the book. The author, Joseph B. Bowles (the B stands for Kayfabe), and Gotch decide to take a trip to the farm of fellow Humboldt County resident Ben Barth to get a first-person account on what it was like to be humbled by the Hands of God-tch.
As seems to be the case every time a story is recalled, Barth could “remember that match distinctly,” as it was an impromptu battle that saw the man with the Alfalfa hair-part and divine wrestling ability reminding Barth that he “was growing old and that Gotch was advancing rapidly in the manly art of grappling.” Thus far, I’d gotten the impression that Gotch had been living his whole life with the goal of one day excelling in the manly arts - being used as a torture device for classmates helped build my opinion of this. But, in the KAYFABULOUS~! spirit of the book, Gotch actually says that his “advent into the professional wrestling game was purely an accident,” in which he indicates that he would have been content “sowing the winter wheat” on his father’s farm, and just brawling for the hell of it. I wonder if this is a form of The Sickness. He also bestowed a new GOTHISM~! upon us, saying that he “didn’t know any more about professional wrestling than a dog about singing, or a pig about Latin,” but amazingly took three straight falls, all via the STRANGLE-HOLD~!, against Humboldt County’s grappling champ “Mr. Chicken Picker” Marshall Green, who was probably not the inspiration for Roadkill years later.
Young Gotch, described as a “combination of beef and bone and grit,” (which if you add “fleshy,” is also how Wendy’s chili will be forever described) would be issued a challenge at a athletic meet by traveling American champion Dan McLeod, using the incredibly creative pseudonym Dan Stewart, for a bout on a cinder path. McLeod noted that correct ring attire would include shirt sleeves, with shoes and trousers. And to think I used to make fun of Big Bubba Rogers and Curtis Hughes. Now, I really have no idea if this was when our Guru actually did get noticed by the carnival circuit, or if he was already in and being managed by real-life handler Joe Carroll, but I’ll just go with Gotch’s recollection that after the bout McLeod handed a card to him that revealed his true identity, and told fellow veteran Martin “Farmer” Burns about his prowess.
This then led to talk about what makes a Turk both legitimate and Terrible. Not in the ring, mind you, just in overall lifestyle and demeanor. I’ve always thought it was the moustache, although Midnight Express proved it could be the beatings. I guess from the cartoons are in the book, it actually comes from having the crescent moon and star symbol painted on their chest, pre-dating Kamala. See, at the turn of the century, there was an invasion of dominant Turkish wrestlers that went through France, before coming to the States. Due to their quick success, many promoters quickly began using faux Turks.
This, of course, is not mentioned by the book. Burns just rolled up with an “Americanized Turk” by his side which, if you think about it, is pretty much the same damn thing that happened to Shawn Daivari. Gotch swerved Burns into having a match with him, which he would lose, but still parlay into a job traveling with the carnival. Burns would take Gotch under his wing, and his new student would promptly go on a 16 real-fake match win streak, including traveling to Alaskan mining camps under the name “Frank Kennedy.” GOTCH KNOWS GIMMICKRY~! Despite it not being anywhere near as funny as if he would have used the name “Enrico Palazzo,” it’s interesting to note that Gotch took the last name of his teacher, who became one of his regular training partners. The book recounts how successful his tour was, winning the Alaskan Klondike championship, and earning a reported to be $35,000. In fact, during the match where he humbled Silas Archer to become the Alaskan champ, the gold miners that surrounded ringside were so amped up they threw gold nuggets into the ring. GOTCH IS A COMMODITY. Despite his toughness, he did lose one bout to Australian boxer Frank Slavin by DQ when a beat-up, frustrated Gotch picked up Slavin and threw him through the ropes in the fourth round.
Gotch either forgot about his autobiography, or wanted to forget about his legit
beating, as he was quoted in The Yukon World publication in 1907 (found at the
Journal of Combative Sports website -
http://www.ejmas.com/jcs/) as saying, "After I had won at wrestling, the miners up there thought I must be invincible in any sport, so they matched me with Frank Slavin, the Australian heavyweight, who was there at that time. Well, Slavin was never much of a slouch at boxing, and no matter what any one tells you, he was better that night than he ever was in his life -- at least, I think so. He must have hit at me fully 300 times in that scrap, and I didn't let one of the blows get by me. I stopped them all with my head or my body. The fight went seven rounds -- or at least, that is what they told men the next day when I came to." I wonder how the authors missed compiling that newspaper clipping.
With his MMA Jones fulfilled, Gotch was now ready to face off against Tom Jenkins on 2-22-1903 for the American heavyweight championship, which really had a great lineage until Fritz Von Erich shoved Mike down our throats. In the match Gotch wrote was the second toughest of his life, he lost in two straight falls, but did so after TWO HOURS. Which, for absolutely no reason, made me think of what would happen if Larry Zbyszko was around doing his stalling gimmick It would spawn one of, if not the, first great feud in wrestling history. Now if you are descended from any Native American, turn your head for a moment, as Gotch got back on the winning track by trumping the Kootenay Indian Chief Two Feathers. Or, as the author wrote, “In this memorable battle he showed great confidence, but Gotch taught him that the white man who had driven his forefathers back into the plains was the mental and athletic superior of the red man.” 1913~! Added at the end of the chapter was a quote by Mr. Feathers: “Gotch, he heap big wrestler. Me no match.” Two Feathers then put on a smiling Cleveland Indians hat, and started drinking a bottle of whiskey, while returning back to his job as a pit boss.
After then going over his mentor Burns, avenging that loss, Gotch was ready for a rematch with Jenkins that would take place in Bellingham, Washington. That’s close enough to Woodinville, Washington to make me wonder if Great-grandmamma Alvarez wore white to her wedding. The day the bout took place is up in the air, as the book states both 1-27-1904 (in chapter ten), and 1-28-04 in the record book, while others claim it to be 1-23-04. Wrestling was so good back then that Gotch could kayfabe a span of date and time. Anyway, somebody said something about somebody’s momma and all hell broke loose, as all reports state that it was an absolute brawl that ended with Gotch gaining his revenge by out-quicking – and just plain beating the living sh*t out of - Jenkins and taking the American title.
There was a $1,000 guarantee for both sides but, according to the book, Jenkins held up the promoters for more money when he saw the size of the gate. After being thrown for a fall, he fouled Gotch repeatedly to try and force a DQ but it wasn’t called for until well into the second fall when the ref finally gave up.
GOTCH: AMERICA’S CHAMPION WREFTLER.
It’s also where Gotch’s real-life rep for questionable tactics may have been born as Jenkins complained to the ref that Gotch was trying to gouge out one of his eyes. (~!) Actually, both guys pounded the crap out of each other with Jenkins continually using illegal chokes, and Gotch putting a gash in Jenkins’ chin so deep that you could see his jawbone, while flattening his nose. The book says that there were “fans” hanging from the rafters, but I took that to mean a packed house. Actually, according to Dave Meltzer in the Observer this week, “and four of them fell off into the ring during the match.” The chapter then moves to the 2-1-05 rematch between the two, in Jenkins hometown of Cleveland, also won by Gotch - though Jenkins claimed his back was injured and he wasn’t at full strength. Chapter ten ended with the subtle disclosure that Jenkins would soon be taking the title back. Actually, it truly ended with a quote from the Chicago Daily News: “Most big men are clumsy on the mat, but Gotch is so fast it would require a field glass to see him from hold to hold.”
(field glass; noun; 1. A portable binocular telescope without prisms used especially outdoors for viewing distant objects. Often used in the plural, example: I used a pair of field glasses to watch the falling stars of Randy Orton and Rampage Jackson.)
Chapter 11 then rewinds back and tells the story of Gotch’s defeat of British champion Jim Parr in June ’04. He broke Parr’s “scissors on the head hold,” which I believe was a tornado DDT from the apron to the floor, and won two falls. No TOE-HOLD~! thus far is very disappointing. The book then focuses on how the only way Gotch felt he could really be considered a champion wreftler was by avenging his first blemish in 1899. “Only one wrestler of wide fame remained in America for him to subdue, in order to have a clear title to his recently acquired heritage. That was Dan McLeod.” DRAMA~!
And there was some, as the August ’04 match actually saw the Humboldt Buddha lose a fall, but still conquer McLeod, winning the third fall with the always popular CROTCH AND HALF-NELSON~! Gotch would claim another victory over McLeod two months later, and then defeat Yankee Rogers in “the best bout ever wrestled in Buffalo.” It was a MIXED STYLES match, proving again that our deity was an originator of cross-training. The first fall was catch-as-catch-can, and saw Gotch become so enraged at Rogers slamming his elbow into his face, that he put “championship strength into action” and slamming Rogers to the mat with a forearm on his chest for the first fall. The second one ended when Gotch went for a body-lock, and Rogers gave ground into the ropes, and went flying clunking his head on a door that was “four feet away.” GOTCH HAS SUPER NATURAL POWERS.
Everyone wondered if Rogers was faking an injury to get out of the match, which ended when the “regimental hospital corps came up at a dog trot” to cart Rogers back on a stretcher. Now I have no idea whether many of the not-so-famous matches Gotch’s life were “on the level” like the “fans” know, but I know that coming up “Gotch was robbed and beaten by the most outlandish exhibition of thievery ever perpetrated in American sports.” At Madison Square Garden, no less, and that has me thinking business.
Thy Gotch has a Masters in the manly arts.
Thy Gotch is a carny.
Thy Gotch has worked under a gimmick.
Thy Gotch is greater than precious metal.
Thy Gotch originated mixed martial-arts.
Thy Gotch doesn’t discriminate ass-whippings.
Thy Gotch is a true American champion.
Thy Gotch’s family tree may have bared fruit. (~!)
Thy Gotch used many finishers, occasionally mystical.
Thy Gotch has the quickness.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of Mike's review...
Copyright © 2005 Derek Burgan. All rights reserved.