One of the great early legends of the sport of Professional Wrestling, he is known far and wide for his continued dominance over the sport.
Real Name: Stanislaus Cyganiewicz
By Steve Slagle
Throughout its long history, professional wrestling has always featured powerlifters, bodybuilders and strongmen of all sorts. And, while possessing a Herculean physique is surely beneficial to a pro wrestler’s career, if takes more than strength to excel in the ring. Certainly, this was the case during the early days of pro wrestling, before the era of the worked match fully took hold. At the turn of the previous century, when legitimate contests were still quite prevalent, sheer strength was, for the most part, not enough to get by on. Indeed, the wrestlers of that era, even the most physically powerful, needed at least some rudimentary grappling skills simply to stay competitive. Of course, if a strongman happened to have some technical wrestling knowledge, particularly in the art of shooting, his opponent could quickly find himself in a very precarious position. This was definitely the case of the Polish juggernaut, Stanislaus Zbyzsco, who combined power and ability with impressive results. During his prime in the early nineteen hundreds, Zbyzsco was unquestionably one of the sport’s top competitors; a legitimately dangerous man who would go on to become a legendary World champion…
He was born Stanislaus Cyganiewicz in 1878, in a small village in Poland. Originally, he excelled at the traditional Greco-Roman wrestling. However, with the decline of that particular wrestling genre, he quickly adapted to the newer ‘freestyle’, which was much more reminiscent of modern pro wrestling than the slow moving, heavily regulated Greco-Roman style. In terms of professional wrestling, Zbyzsco first came into prominence when, after building a solid string of victories throughout Europe, he traveled to Great Britain, a country in which pro wrestling was experiencing a huge boom in popularity. In 1907, the brawny Pole came to an arrangement with C.B. Cochran, the controversial former manager of Britain’s #1 box-office draw, “The Russian Lion” George Hackenschmidt. Cochran, a true impresario if ever one existed, quickly took steps to ensure that Zbyzsco filled the void left by the departed Hackenschmidt (who, by then, had traveled overseas to compete in the U.S.). However, unlike the handsome & popular “Russian Lion,” Zbyzsco was not loved nor cheered on by the large crowds who turned out for his matches. In fact, the rugged and intimidating Zbyzsco was often the recipient of the fans’ jeers. Still, despite the fact that he was not particularly well-liked by the public, Cochran’s newest charge nevertheless went on to establish himself as Britain’s top post-Hackenschmidt attraction.
Playing on Stanislaus’s expanded vocabulary and studious disposition, Cochran concocted a public persona for Zbyzsco that presented the Polish strongman as an intellectual elitist, a master chess player, and someone who was fluent in no less than twenty languages. The Englishman devised elaborate publicity stunts for his wrestler, and always made sure there was a reason for Zbyzsco’s name to be in the newspapers. Meanwhile, Zbyzsco held up his end of the arrangement by defeating (in many cases, legitimately) all comers, and his highly publicized bouts with Kara Suliman and Ivan Padoubney drew overflow crowds which turned away thousands.
By the time he was in his mid-twenties, the hulking yet highly intellectual Zbyszco (under the tutelage of C.B. Cochran, the European impresario who first brought George Hackenschmidt to prominence) had become one of Europe’s biggest attractions. He arrived in Great Britain in 1907, instantly becoming one of the biggest draws of the day and engaging in noteworthy bouts against top European stars such as Ivan Padoubney and Kara Suliman among others. Known far and wide for his immense strength, as well as for possessing a surprising amount of technical wrestling knowledge & ability for a man of his size, Zbyszco gained a well deserved reputation as a truly dangerous and formidable shooter.
However, perhaps more importantly, when it came to drawing crowds, the mighty Zbyszco was even more impressive, and it was not an uncommon occurrence for hundreds (and in many cases, thousands) of spectators to be turned away from his sold-out matches throughout Great Britain, particularly in London. However, his drawing power (which stemmed not from popularity, but rather, people turing out with the hope of seeing the Polish strongman being defeated) was not limited to Europe, and when he traveled to India in the years immediately following the first World War, Zbyszco helped (along with his legendary foe, The Great Gama) draw what was the largest audience ever for a wrestling event in that nation’s history.
Yet, Stanislaus Zbyszco’s greatest success awaited him in the United States, and it was in 1909 that the rugged European made his American debut with one consuming goal…become the World Champion. Far from the most beloved of competitors, he was nevertheless as successful in the States as he had been in London, and Zbyszco — who was nevertheless highly popular with the many Polish immigrants living in the U.S. — quickly found himself matched against the popular World Heavyweight champion, Frank Gotch.
Knowing the strength and skill of his latest challenger, Gotch (pictured, right) was understandably hesitant to defend his World title against Zbyszco. But, his personal pride as a champion, as well the demand for a Gotch-Zbyszco match by the wrestling public, forced the cunning Gotch into facing the Polish juggernaut. As the champion, Gotch was well aware of his clout, and demanded that their first encounter be a non-title bout. Buffalo, N.Y. was the site of the first Gotch vs. Zbyszco showdown, and the legendary hour-long draw from 1909 went down as a true classic in the annals of professional freestyle wrestling.
The following year, a rematch was held in Chicago, which was, at that time and for many years afterward, the undisputed center of the professional wrestling universe. Accounts of the re-match describe a wild affair, highly by great controversy. Allegedly, just prior to the start of the first fall, Zbyszco extended his hand to Gotch, which was a common display of sportsmanship during the era. However, instead of shaking his challenger’s hand, it is said that Gotch took the unprepared Zbyszco down with a leg dive, and after taking his larger opponent down to the mat, Gotch applied a half-nelson for a startlingly quick first fall victory. Although it was said to have been a pro-Gotch crowd, Zbyszco also had his share of fans, who were incenced by Gotch’s alleged tactics. In fact, several irate spectators reportedly stormed the ring and broke one of the ring posts before being escorted out of the arena by security. After order had been restored and the situation was back under control, the second fall began. Following close to thirty minutes of solid wrestling, during which Zbyszco controlled much of the match, Gotch’s superior technique and ability won out, and Zbyszco was defeated without incident. Given the fact that the second fall had been so decisive, despite the controversy of the first fall, Gotch’s victory stood and he remained the World Champion.
The outbreak of World War I temporarily put many wrestler’s careers on hold, and Zbyszco was no exception. However, following the war, the aging but still capable Zbyszco returned from Britain and reclaimed his spot at the top of the pro wrestling world. By this time, however, any trace of legitimate contests were all but gone, and the outcomes of nearly all wrestling matches were predetermined. The versatile Zbyszco once again adapted to the ever-changing sport, and made the east coast (particularly the northeastern portion of the country) his primary base of operations following the war.
On May 6, 1921, Zbyszco made history when he met and defeated the legendary Ed “Strangler” Lewis for New York’s version of the World championship at Madison Square Garden. Although he was generally considered to be past his prime by the time he won the title, Zbyszco was nevertheless a fighting champion, and he held the belt for nearly a full year before being defeated by Lewis in a rematch held in Wichita, KS. Then, some three years later, Zbyszco again won the east coast version of the World title when he defeated Wayne Munn in Philadelphia on April 15, 1925. However, he dropped the title a short time later to Joe Stetcher in St. Louis, thus ending his run with the World championship. Not long after his final title loss, the veteran retired from the sport, following a stellar career.
Stanislaus Zbyszco was undoubtedly one of the most important figures during the early years of professional wrestling, and we’re proud to induct the legendary two-time World Champion into the T.R.C. Online Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame……