Ed “Strangler” Lewis

Ed Strangler LewisMid-1929 saw Joe Stecher come out of retirement when he was in need of more money. Desperate and without any allies, he became an employee of the Sandow and Lewis trust. He put over Lewis on May 1st, 1929 in their first re-match. When the title was put on Sonnenberg, he put the new champion over twice. He did three more jobs to Lewis in 1929 (including one in LA that drew a sell out). He never was a serious title threat again, although he wrestled in the upper card for the most part. Later in his life, he’d become part of Jim Londos’ group and put over Londos during his title reign. Stecher’s wife deserted him and took his kids, and he was never able to keep the fortune he should have made in pro-wrestling. He ended up having a mental break down and spent most of his life in a mental hospital until 1974 when he died. Compared to his great rival Ed Lewis, “The Scissors King’s” life was a tragic, depressing one.

The Sonnenberg plan was not to quickly put the title on Lewis, like with Munn, and they decided to give him a lengthy reign, using Stecher to give him credibility. Unfortunately for the former football star, former partner Mondt hired a smallish legit wrestler to attack him out in the public. Sonnenberg had no hope against the trained fighter and was made to look foolish. On December 10th, 1930 Boston promoter Paul Bowser had Sonnenberg drop the title to Ed Don George, a legit Olympian wrestler. He never bothered to inform Sandow or Lewis of the decision, either.

With the Trio split up, with promoters Mondt, Bowser, and Tony Stecher looking after their own interests, and the Great Depression starting to hit the wrestling business, the title situation became supremely frayed. In 1929, a new organization named the National Wrestling Association, a subset of the National Boxing Association, crowned German wrestler Dick Shikat World champion. He dropped this title to the “Golden Greek” Jim Londos on June 6th, 1930. Londos had been wrestling for over a decade as an undercard star, and may have been held down in the 20s by both the Lewis and Stecher groups, afraid of his marketability. By this time, though, several promoters were ready to push him to the top. Londos’ victory also brought him World Title recognition from the New York State Athletic Commission. Londos was being booked at this point by Mondt; the “trust wars” of the early 20s would soon be recreated with Londos in Joe Stecher’s place, and Mondt in brother Tony’s. There existed four strong claims to the title, with Londos holding two (NWA & NYSAC), and George holding two (original lineage, plus Bowser’s AWA title).

Lewis dropped into the background during all of this, perhaps a bit disenchanted with the way business was turning out. He and Sandow had begun to have disagreements, with rumors of them splitting at several times. Londos, with his matinee idol good looks, became the new media star in pro-wrestling. Lewis, when he did wrestle, generally did what the promoters told him, alleviating their fears that he might try to double cross them. He was eventually signed to a title match in Los Angeles on April 13th, 1931 against George. When Lewis and George met in the ring, Lewis told George “Well, Don, tonight’s the night”. George knew what was coming… Lewis was going to take the title, no matter what. Knowing Lewis to be superior to him, George complied and the two wrestled an exciting match with Lewis winning his forth World Championship according to the original lineage, and his first AWA title. This is one of the greater testaments to Lewis’ legit wrestling skills since Ed Don George was a former Olympian wrestler and even he was afraid to challenge Lewis in a shoot.


Lewis also had another match with Ed Don George in early 1932, according to Thesz. Bowser, for one reason or another, was trusting Ed at the time. The match supposedly took place in Los Angeles again, with the same finish… Ed demanding a shoot with George, and cleaning up on him. Thesz claims that Bowser had the California Athletic Commission throw out the match, although record of this match is also unproven.


The match drew 35,265 fans for a $96,302 gate, a record that would stand until 1952. It was a one fall match that saw Londos win after forty-nine minutes. After a body slam, Londos hooked on a hammerlock and three-quarters nelson for the fall. On the undercard, AWA champ Ed Don George drew Jim McMillen with boxing legend Jack Dempsey guest referee. Lewis and Londos were perhaps too convincing in making it appear as a legitimate contest, as the Chicago Tribune described the match as “on the square” although boring, none the less. As a way to prove he would not doublecross Londos, Lewis reportedly laid down a $50,000 guarantee. It is important to note that Lewis was a professional. He doublecrossed George, but only when provoked. When he realized his time as the top star had definitely gone by, he passed the torch to Londos despite his personal feelings towards the man. Make no mistake, he issued massive propaganda during the 20s and beyond to pump up his legend, but not at the expense of destroying a new breed of wrestlers. The propaganda was to promote his era. Unlike Hulk Hogan or Big Daddy, or maybe even Frank Gotch, he gave back to the business. And, of course, they gave him a ton of money to put over Londos…

Lewis toured Europe again in early 1935 while the American market began to fall off drastically. The Great Depression hit the country in 1929 and was weakening the business gradually afterwards although the Lewis vs Londos program was enough to draw the impoverished fans through 1934. The semi-united promoters proclaimed the bout the start of a golden age of prosperity, although business took a rapid turn downwards that would not be answered until nearly fifteen years later when Lou Thesz, Gorgeous George, Verne Gagne, and televised wrestling would create another boom period. Jack Pfeffer and Dan Parker’s assault on kayfabe also alienated massive amounts of fans. Lewis and Londos clashed again in 1935, with Londos going over for the most part, and the gates gained in those matches never exceeded $20,000 (they had a rematch in Los Angelas to a decent house). One would think a rematch for a bout that drew nearly $100,000 would pop a similar figure but no dice. Wrestling had been an amazing mainstream phenomenon throughout the late 20s and into the early 30s with Strangler Lewis and Londos as top stars. Lewis rubbed elbows with Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Red Grange, and various other celebrities but the industry collapsed with only the Midwest as a consistent hot territory.

Mondt wore out his welcome in the Northeast and moved west to Southern California where he co-promoted with Lou Daro. They promoted Londos as World Champ out there before he become tough to book then went with Vincent Lopez as their claimant (may have this part wrong, can’t remember).


Later in 1948 he was named chairmen of the “Wrestling Promoters’ Association of America” in Los Angeles. Nothing much came of it, though. At the same time, the National Wrestling Alliance was being formed by promoters around the country. It represented a union of all the top men in the country. St. Louis’ Sam Muchnick, Ohio’s Al Haft, Minnesota’s Tony Stecher, the Northeast’s Toots Mondt and Vince McMahon Sr., and so on all joined.


By 1954, Lewis had lost most of the money he had made over the past four decades of wrestling. His main job was the “official greeter” at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. It was not a poor job, but apparently to Lewis, it was demeaning to his legacy as a wrestler. At the same time, Thesz was embroiled in a constant struggle with the NWA promoters over their insistence at having him wrestle in “tank towns” where Thesz would make little, and only the local promoter would make money. As a way of killing two birds with one stone, so to speak, Thesz demanded that Lewis tour with him as his manager, getting three percent of the gate where Thesz wrestled. Most of the members in the NWA balked at the idea since it would theoretically cost them money, but Thesz had enough allies to get it done, plus the NWA knew Thesz was drawing good money for them. Lewis and Thesz became even better friends over the next four years, with Lewis travelling to the “tank towns” before Thesz to drum up publicity. Lewis was a fantastic speaker, so the media loved to get comments from him. The Lewis-Thesz team turned out to be a perfect marriage; Thesz was the world class wrestler and worker, while Lewis was the voice. (Lewis managed Thesz when he defeated Michele Leone in 1950 in Los Angelas for pro-wrestling’s first $100,000 gate). The relationship carried on like this until 1957, when Lewis convinced Thesz that he did not need the NWA and that he should begin freelancing around the world. Lewis had done the same thing decades before. Thesz arranged for his own bookings in Australia and Singapore, while the NWA somewhat reluctantly agreed to book him in Japan as well. Following the tours, Thesz dropped the title to his handpicked successor, Dick Hutton, on November 11, 1957. Lewis retired from his managing job at about the same time. Thesz freelanced for the next few years while Lewis lived in retirement.

-Justin Crast

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