One of the early greats who helped to define professional wrestling, he is still unknown to many modern day fans.
Real Name: Joe Stecher
Stats: 5′ 11″ 215 lbs.
By Steve Slagle
In the years immediately following the retirement of wrestling’s top star of the early twentieth century, Frank Gotch, pro wrestling experienced a bit of a tailspin. Without the credibility brought to the profession by the respected Gotch, or the impressive revenue generated while the internationally known champion held the World title, promoters were desperate to find “the next Frank Gotch.” Of course, a star such as Gotch comes only once or twice per generation, but with his absense from the sport came opportunity for those matmen who were ambitious and talented enough to answer the call.
With the undisputed champion in retirement, a “new number one” was ready to be crowned and a bounty of talented grapplers stepped up to the challenge. One of those early post-Gotch champions was an athletic, talented wrestler by the name of Joe Stecher. Wrestling in the shadow of the legendary Gotch was no easy task, but Stecher was more than determined to establish himself as the best wrestler in the world, and, as the World Heavyweight champion for more than six years all total, he undoubtedly proved his worth while forever cementing his lofty position in professional wrestling history…
Following the retirement of the sport’s number one attraction in 1913, promoters across the country were searching for a man, or men, that could help fill the void left by Gotch’s departure from wrestling. Nebraska’s Joe Stecher was one of the top young grapplers of the day, and, after amassing an impressive collection of victories throughout the Midwest and Western states, Stecher came to national prominence on July 5, 1915. That date marks the day that the unassuming young Stecher defeated Charlie Cutler for the World championship in what was, at that time, one of the premier wrestling cities in the world, Omaha, NE. In fact, Gotch himself (pictured) was in attendance that night in Omaha, and it was with the world-reknowned former champion’s support that the new titleholder set out to carry on in the tradition of Gotch and other greats who had held the belt, while at the same time, stake his own claim as a deserving champion in the ‘King of Sports’.
Stecher was the man who introduced the Leg Scissors to professional wrestling, and it was with his trademark submission move (which could be placed either on the head or the torso) that Stecher won a large percentage of his matches, both before and after he became the World Heavyweight champion. While he was by no means a large man in terms of pro wrestling, Stecher was wiry and athletic, deceivingly strong, and well-versed in the fundementals of grappling. For two years, the young champion sat atop the wrestling world as the Heavyweight champion, defending his title frequently and serving as the unofficial post-Gotch ambassador of his sport. And while it’s true that it was nearly impossible to match Gotch’s extraordinary popularity or his immense box-office drawing power, the soft-spoken but highly competent Stecher was still a definite crowd favorite, and a successful champion in virtually every measurable way.
Joe Stecher’s first reign as the World champion ended on April 9, 1917 in a match that was considered a major upset. Stecher, who was nearing his third year as champion, was defeated in a title match against a relative unknown by the name of Earl Caddock in a hard-fought but clean bout. Following his loss of the championship, Stecher remained one of the top wrestlers in the game and a solid performer at the box-office. Eventually, he worked his way back into the championship picture, and on January 30, 1920 he defeated Caddock for the World title in a rematch held in New York City.
After an eleven-month run with the belt during which he met & defeated the best wretlers of the day, Stecher came up against the man who was perhaps the most formidable opponent of his career, a wrestler who emerged as the most dominant wrestler of the post-Gotch era, the legendary shooter Ed “Strangler” Lewis (pictured). On December 12, 1913, Lewis — the most skilled & dangerous wrestler in the game at that time — defeated the overmatched Stecher for the World championship, ending Stecher’s second reign as the champion. Many years later, Stecher commented that “Lewis was the toughest man I ever wrestled.”
Following his loss of the title, the talented Nebraskan continued on as one of wrestling’s most recognized names and a consistent top draw while selling out arenas around the country. After competing for several years without winning a championship, by the mid-twenties the resilient Stecher (who was still relatively young, despite his many years of experience) was once again in the hunt for the title.
On March 30, 1925, he defeated another legendary name from the past, the great Stanislaus Zbyzsco, for the World Heavyweight Wrestling championship in St. Louis, MO. Over the course of the following three years, the three-time World champion incorporated his skill and speed to maintain his firm hold on the World title. However, eventually, he again crossed paths with the nearly unbeatable Ed “Strangler” Lewis and, as had been the case several years earlier, Stecher lost his World title to Lewis on February 2, 1928.
As one of modern pro wrestling’s Founding Fathers, former World champion Joe Stecher’s impact on the business was indeed profound, and his legendary career truly helped serve as a bridge from what wrestling had been in the past to what it would eventually become in the future. With that in mind, HistoryofWrestling.com is proud to induct one of wrestling’s most important early champions, former multi-time (pre-N.W.A.) World Heavyweight Wrestling titleholder Joe Stecher, into the H.O.W. Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame……