E-Mail this Page Print this Page

History 04 - Saga of Earl Caddock Continues

Earl Caddock made the transition from three-time national AAU champion to world heavyweight professional champion on April 9, 1917, when he took the world title from the great Joe Stecher in Omaha. The epic match lasted nearly three hours, with each man winning a pin fall and Stecher declaring he was too exhausted to continue for the third and deciding fall.

“The Omaha ballpark never so such wild acclaim,” wrote ring historian Nat Fleischer in his 1936 book, Milo to Londos. “The crowd was simply crazed and Caddock, possessing wonderful personality, good looking, clean living, made a great hit and became immensely popular.”

His popularity soared when he stepped up and volunteered to fight in World War I, when no other professional athletes were doing so. Here’s how Fleischer explained the situation:

“Before the draft law was in effect, Caddock, with his title and all, reported at the recruiting office and volunteered his services at the call of his countrymen. He was rejected after careful medial examination because of his tonsils. This, however, did not deter Caddock for long. He left the same night for Rochester, Minnesota, called on the famed Mayo Brothers at their sanitarium, and had them perform a tonsil operation, and then returned to Des Moines less than a week later and this time was accepted…

“A book could be written on the romance following this act. Caddock certainly conducted himself as a great example for the youth of the country and as a model for his profession.”

That’s the way professional wrestling was in this nation, once upon a time. Men like Gotch, Stecher and Caddock led the way as role models and were revered from coast to coast.

Caddock saw plenty of action, fighting in foxholes in France, and was injured by an attack with mustard gas, a deadly poison that could kill or maim. Christy Mathewson, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, saw action later in France and also suffered from mustard gas. The attacks probably cut short the lives of both of these heroic athletes.

One indication of Caddock’s true wrestling skills comes from his experiences shortly after the end of World War I. His first son, Earl Jr., was born while he was fighting in Europe and when the Armistice was signed Caddock was very anxious to get back to Iowa to his wife and son. Instead, his commanding officer insisted that he remain behind a couple of days and take part in the All-Service Games. The following story appeared in the All-Army newspaper.

“Contrary to expectations, Sergeant Earl Caddock was called upon to enter competition to gain the heavyweight wrestling championship. Hamelstron of the 35 th Division chose him Monday afternoon. He lasted two minutes and 30 seconds. Jacobson of the 7 th Division met Caddock in the finals Tuesday night. He got his in three minutes, 44 seconds.”

Two of the best heavyweights in the Army could mange to last a total of six minutes with the professional heavyweight champion of the world in a true wrestling test.

BUT CADDOCK was never quite the same after he returned home from the war. In another epic match, he faced off against Stecher on January 30, 1920, in New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden. All 14,000 tickets sold out in a few days and the match was the No. 1 sports event of the year. Stecher had served in the navy during World War I and the Army escorted Caddock into the ring while the Navy led Stecher.

The match was sensational. The two warriors squared off in long black tights – two Midwestern farm boys back from the war to see who was the best wrestler in the entire world. Caddock was still unbeaten, and Stecher had still just one loss to his name.

The match went back and forth, with Caddock scoring the most takedowns and Stecher proving he was the best on the mat. Eventually, Stecher’s greater size (he weighed in at 205 to Caddock’s 188) and the mustard gas damage wore Caddock down. After two hours and three minutes, Stecher caught Caddock in a half nelson and body scissors and turned him to his back. Caddock bridged valiantly, but was finally pinned. It was the fist loss of his entire career!

Ten minutes of the match is preserved on film and can be seen in the video room at the International Wrestling Institute and Museum in Newton, Iowa.

“It is one of our biggest attractions,” said Kyle Klingman, associate director. “People are just stunned when they see the match unfold. It looks like a college match.”

Among the many amateur stars of today who have seen the film in the museum are Olympic champions John Smith, Bill Smith, Doug Blubaugh, Randy Lewis, Ben Peterson and Dan Gable. All find the video extremely interesting and educational.

“It proved to me that professional wrestling was real once upon a time,” said Bill Nelson, three-time NCAA champion for Iowa State Teachers College (1947-1950).

“The techniques they were using are stuff you see today all the time,” said Doug Blubaugh. “It’s an amazing piece of footage.”

The film was given to the museum’s director, Mike Chapman, by Bob Caddock, the son of Earl Caddock, to use as a teaching tool, showing how the sport has changed through the decades.

“It’s one of my favorite items in the entire museum,” said Chapman. “It’s an essential element of true wrestling history. It will help fans understand what professional wrestling was really like once upon a time, long ago.”

For a wide range of gift shops items — including books, posters, videos and trading cards for wrestling — be sure and check the web site of the International Wrestling Institute and Museum (641-791-1517) in Newton, Iowa. The web site is: www.wrestlingmuseum.org

Story By Mike Chapman, Newton Iowa

Close Window

Copyright © 2003 - 2005 Real Pro Wrestling, Inc. All rights reserved.