Portrait Of A Hooker
September 5, 2005 by Iain D.
Robert H.Friedrich was born just under ten years short of the 20th century, the 30th of June 1891 to be precise. There are no records of his place of birth, nor where he spent the earlier years of his life. About only thing we can assume is that sometime in the early years of Roberts H.Friedrichs's life he learned to kick ass, serious ass.
Friedrich's wrestling 'career' began at the tender age of fourteen on the carnival circuit. His first match took place in Madison, WI sometime in 1904. Despite his youth and inexperience Friedrich won the match (opponent unknown) and so began the astonishing career of one Ed 'Strangler' Lewis.
The name (sans 'strangler' epitaph) had been initially devised as a disguise for his parents, who both disapproved of their son's career choice (perhaps they rather wish he'd gone to war to get shot). The strangler epitaph was given to Ed later on after a journalist remarked that he reminded him of former champion Evan 'Strangler' Lewis.
Ed didn't take long to make a name for himself as his exceptional shooting (I'll explain in a bit) and hooking (again, just give me a sec) skills endeared him to many promoters of the time. Twelve years after the young Robert had debuted his 200 pound frame to the citizens of Madison Ed now found himself wrestling some of the biggest names in the business, including heavyweight champ Joe Stretcher. The aforementioned Stretcher wrestled Lewis on a number of occasions, including an outstanding five and a half hour match on July 4th, 1916. The match (in case anyone wants to know) actually ended in a draw, a feat almost as incredible as the match itself, however this sort of result was surprisingly uncommon in those days as wrestling had yet to transition into the pre-booked soap opera we watch today.
As a result wrestling was treated far kinder by the media then one would expect today. Since wrestling was, for all intensive purposes, a legitimate sport (barring a few fixed results), reporters therefore were eager to play up any divides with other fighting based sports, such as boxing. Boxing legend Jack Dempsey (with the help of the press) built a famous rivalry between himself and Lewis. The feud existed whilst both Dempsey and Lewis held the top belts of their respective sports, although Dempsey was quick to admit he stood little chance against someone as technically competent as Lewis.
In modern times I doubt anyone believes John Cena would stand a chance against Mike Tyson in his prime, but in the dangerous world of pre WWII wrestling the thought of a boxing champ taking down the heavyweight champion was almost laughable. Lewis (as I mentioned earlier) was an exceptionally talented shooter and hooker. Back when wrestling was still a competitive sport wrestlers were divided loosely into two categories. The shooters were the legitimate tough man fighters, often they would be made up of ex-boxers or football stars, they were feared by many opponents (in much the same way that people feared Vader) for their overly brutal style. Basically shooters were promoter's thugs, often in inter-territory matches a shooter would be instructed to injure a rival star, they were mostly all big and heavy and not very technically competent- thus for the most part they were seen beneath the hooker, who I will now talk about.
A hooker (of the wrestling variety) was so called literally for his ability to 'hook' opponents in various holds. The hooker was a master of submissions and pressure points, a real artist when it came to pain. Lewis was a fantastic hooker; at times he was legitimately unbeatable (apparently out of more than 6,200 matches he lost only 33). To illustrate my point I have a funny story to tell; nearer the end of his career Ed was scheduled to wrestle another great, John Pesek, in a two out of three falls match (the norm at the time). Before the match it had been decided Ed would win, however when Lewis arrived at the building drunk, overweight, and half blind (he suffered from recurring bouts of trachoma that eventually claimed his sight) Pesek demanded the finish be changed believing there would be riot if fans saw him loose to such a pathetic wrestler. Word of this got back to Lewis who was, somewhat understandably, greatly insulted. The match began with the original finish still in place, and Pesek still disgusted at the job he had to do. Almost immediately however Lewis had Pesek in the palm of his hand, tying the man in knots (and thus causing considerable pain) and pinning him in less than ten minutes. After the first fall John apologised to Ed (not personally mind) and requested the remainder of the match be a work (John was of course ready to job now). Lewis swiftly replied, "Screw it, tonight we wrestle!" before taking Pesek down faster than before. This guys harder then steel nails soaked in liquid diamond, and this was after he got fat.
Lewis went had a fantastic career as a wrestler, winning the world title five times (he was the first man to do so, and one of the few to do it for real) along with three more heavyweight titles from Boston (AWA), New York, and the Wrestling Association (the last of his titles, won in 1942). Lewis also trained fellow legend Lou Thez, who (unsurprisingly) would often call Lewis the greatest wrestler professional of all time, later on in his career. Ed retired in 1937 after a world tour; however he never once stuck to this promise and continued to wrestle till 1947 when he had his last match (sorry, opponent unknown).
After he ended a career spanning more than four decades Ed became a restaurant operator, then a rancher, as well as an athletic director for a health club. Lewis even tried his hand at film acting appearing in, amongst other things, 'Stranglehold' and 'That Natzy Nuisance'; although neither film is anything special (Ed plays a guard in the latter) it's nice to see neither dented the mans wrestling legacy (there's hope for you yet Hogan).
As the Strangler neared the end of life he suffered yet another heavy blow from his trachoma leaving blind once more, he had lost his site early in his career only to regain it not long after (an action he attributed to prayer). Sadly for Ed this time God was not so giving, leaving Lewis without sight for the final years of his life.
Robert H. .Friedrich died on August 8th 1966 at the Veterans administration hospital, he was 76. He is a true legend of the business; feared as a submissions expert in the early 1900's, respected for his commitment throughout his career, admired as a living legend after retirement, and now beatified after his death as the man who really kick started wrestling. Forget Hulkamania or Austin 3:16, Lewis IS wrestling. Fact.
[I'd like to take a moment, if I may, to thank you (the reader) for supporting the Portrait Series. I hope I have enlightened you too the beginnings of professional wrestling, and inspired you to seek out more knowledge on our 'sport of kings'.
Due to the experimental nature of this column feel free to be as overly critical, or unnecessarily harsh, as you want. It is, after all, only through failure that we find the key to success.
by Iain D. ..
Thats was possibly one of the best columns I have ever read, it's not short, and it's not long, and very insightful, Rob was truly one of the greats and a man to be respected, I look forward to reading more of you're columns, hombre.
Colm Kearns wrote:
Wonderful article. I'm amazed you got the information considering it was so long
ago. Congratulations, great column.
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