His name is almost synonymous with the sport of Professional Wrestling. He is one of the early superstars who helped to build the sport and he began a legacy which is looked upon fondly today. Take a look at the career of the great Ed Lewis.
Ed “Strangler” Lewis
Real Name: Robert Friedrich
Stats: 5′ 10″ 265 lbs.
Born: June 30, 1891
By Steve Slagle
Ed Lewis was a true pioneer of the sport and one of its earliest and most dominant champions. He truly “paved the road” for pro wrestling to be recognized as a legitimate sport in the eyes of the public during the early 20th century, and he was also there to see the fallout of the “sport’s” dark “legitimacy” secret revealed to that trusting public. This multiple-time World Champion (and expert submission shoot fighter) helped establish pro wrestling at a time when it was somewhat unestablished, and for that, the sport will always owe him a debt of gratitude…
“The Strangler” was not born Ed Lewis, but rather, Robert Friedrich on June 30, 1891. Like many future Hall of Famers from this time period, he started wrestling at the age of 14 (by that time he already weighed nearly 200 pounds) at small carnivals and in farm towns throughout middle America.
The sport of wrestling was very different during those early formative years than it is now…in many different ways. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there were still many actual professional wrestling contests or “shoots” (although the concept of a “predetermined winner” was certainly not unheard of) and most matches were decided in 2 out of 3 fall contests. The emphasis of the wrestlers back then was not necessarily to draw and entertain tens of thousands of fans by incorporating wild gimmicks and costumes, but rather, simply to gain the advantage over, and then defeat, your opponent through leverage, fighting skills, and grappling — and still turn a profit. When Lewis first started in the sport, a “work” was considered by many top names of the era to be very much beneath their dignity, although the pre-determined match was beginning to be used by promoters more and more frequently. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, most (but far from all) pro wrestling matches were still, indeed, legitimate matches between 2 wrestlers. Lewis himself was involved in arguably the longest running wrestling match in history, when on July 4, 1916 Lewis wrestled former champion Joe Stecher to a 5 1/2 hour draw. Often referring disdainfully to wrestling that incorporated wild personalities and choreography as “slambang” wrestling, Lewis began his career just prior to the transition in the sport that forever led it down the road of “sports entertainment”…
Lewis got his “Strangler” nickname, according to legend, from a reporter who saw a similarity between a rookie Lewis and the former champion Evan “The Strangler” Lewis. Ed Lewis also used a variation of what is now known as The Sleeper hold, which appeared to the public at the time as though he was strangling his opponent.
Lewis, probably the most accomplished submission wrestler in the sport during the early 1900’s, was feared and respected both inside and outside of the ring for his extensive knowledge of amateur wrestling, and even more for his wide array of crippling wrestling holds known as “hooks”. All of the wrestlers knew that Ed Lewis easily could (and sometimes did) injure and legitimately cripple any wrestler that crossed him, anytime he felt like it.
Among the many championships he would win were no less than 5 Undisputed World Heavyweight Championships between 1920-1931, holding the title 5 out of the 11 years and making him the World Champion w/the most World title reigns for 30 years, until Lou Thesz broke his record.
He also won the A.W.A. (Boston) World Heavyweight title, and unified that with the Undisputed World championship. However, on April 14, 1931 he lost the AWA championship (the 1st step in what would eventually re-shatter the World Title once again into many factions) in a very controversial match by DQ to Henri Deglane. However, he was still recognized as World Champion in Chicago (then the center of the wrestling world) and in most other wrestling hotbeds across the country.
He won the New York State Athletic Commission (N.Y.S.A.C.) World Heavyweight title in 1932, and re-established himself to East Coast fans (and promoters) as the true World Champion. 10 years later (nearly 30 years after his wrestling career started) on November 26, 1942 he defeated Orville Brown for the Midwest Wrestling Association World Heavyweight title in Kansas City, KS. and again reaffirmed just exactly who was the #1 wrestler in the world.
Ed “Strangler” Lewis wrestled his last match in 1947, marking the end of a career that spanned 4 decades. By his own records, Lewis wrestled in over 6,200 matches and lost only 33. After his retirement from the ring, Lewis trained and occasionally managed protege and N.W.A. World Champion Lou Thesz (pictured).
During the height of his popularity, he was a sports celebrity ranking with the likes of baseball’s Babe Ruth and Boxing’s Jack Dempsey. In an era when the general public truly believed in wrestling’s legitimacy (from the mid-1800’s until 1921), Ed “Strangler” Lewis was among the sports/entertainment elite…enjoying unbridled fame, having close personal friendships with Ruth and other world-famous celebrities, and earning millions of dollars at a time of economic strife for the rest of the country. At one point, Ed “Strangler” Lewis was arguably the #1 sports celebrity in America…
In fact, Lewis and boxing champ Dempsey had a long-running “feud” throughout their simultaneous reigns…mainly coerced by the press, who were looking for a story, and fans who clamored for a matchup between the 2 popular World Champions. However, nothing ever came of the speculation and newspaper “war of the words” between the 2 champions, despite Lewis’ willingness. Dempsey later admitted that the match never happened because he knew that he didn’t stand a chance against the World Wrestling Champion. Not many did…
He faced and defeated the very best fighters of his era…Stanislaus Zbysko, Orville Brown, Joe Stecher, Jim Londos, Dick Shikat, Freddie Beel, Jack Leon and many, many other wrestling legends during his record-setting 5 World Championship reigns…
Robert “Ed ‘Strangler’ Lewis” Friedrich died on August 8, 1966 at the age of 76. He will forever go down as a Founding Father of pro wrestling and one of, if not the greatest champions ever. The Ring Chronicle is proud to induct Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Champion of Champions and the man that nobody could defeat unless he let them, into T.R.C.’s Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame……….