Leather & Gold
By Comissioner Mike (CM) Shannon
Whenever I think of championship titles in professional wrestling, I instantly think of the second wrestler to be recognized as the World Heavyweight Champion of wrestling: Frank Gotch, and his victory over an injured George Hackenschmidt in 1908, roughly a hundred and ten years ago this April.
Up until that time, pro wrestling was recognized as a legitimate sport that garnered more mainstream attention and respect than boxing, baseball, or football. It was a contest of physical strength that lasted for hours upon hours.
I think back to this event as the one defining moment that would forever shape the history of professional wrestling and begin its transition from an actual sport into what we lovingly know today as ‘Sports-Entertainment’.
On April 2rd, 1908, Frank Gotch had cleanly defeated Hackenschmidt after two hours of intense, physical action. Three and a half years later, the two men would square off for a rematch that would see Gotch besting an injured Hackenschmidt in under twenty minutes- a relatively short wrestling match for its day.
Now, this is where the story began to take on a life of its own: Shortly after Hackenschmidt’s second defeat, word had spread that Gotch’s camp had paid off Hackenschmidt’s trainers to injure him during training. Both Hackenschmidt and his team would later deny these allegations, but the damage was already done. Public opinion on the sport began to wane and promoters across the country began to understand the need of “protecting” their champion at any and all costs.
This transition in the sport of professional wrestling began to really develop in the 1920’s due to the work by the Gold Dust Trio of Ed “Strangler” Lewis, (Capitol Wrestling/WWWF co-founder) Toots Mondt, and Lewis’ manager, Billy Sandow. Together, these three would begin to incorporate the sport’s carnival roots with the creation of “Slam Bang Western-Style Wrestling”- an action/entertainment derivative of catch-as-catch-can wrestling that incorporated a new and completely game-changing addition to the rules of professional wrestling: the Time Limit.
With the sudden popularity of this new style of wrestling, combined with Lewis’ legitimate background as a wrestler and his status as a protected World Heavyweight Champion, and Sandow and Mondt’s inclination towards business, the Gold Dust Trio set a template that would be repeated and refined in the decades to come.
I share this story whenever someone asks for my opinions on the wrestling business, specifically championship belts, because it reveals so much of why certain things are the way they are. In the eyes of promoters, regardless of their sport, so much time and money is spent on putting over their top, most reliable worker as the champion. And that person has to be protected at all costs.
And this is where it becomes very problematic for fans of professional wrestling: In most cases, the fan favorite is not the champion chosen to lead the promotion. Granted, there are exceptions to the rule. But generally, it takes a lot of trust and professionalism in order to give someone the run with the belt. That is why in many promotions, past or present, promoters have always been careful who they gave the honor to- the entire weight of a single company can rest on one person’s shoulders and that is a very heavy burden to give someone who is not ready for it.
But at the same time, I look at the colorful band of misfits the Manila Wrestling Federation lovingly calls its roster and I can’t help but see so much potential. Whether it’s one of the younger guys with dreams of a legacy begging to be written or one of the older, locker room leaders who put themselves through a lot inside and outside of the ring to make our shows happen.
I look at our roster and feel blessed to be surrounded by a bunch of hard workers who are eager to learn and carry the responsibility for themselves and the promotion. While I will forever hold myself true to the traditions bestowed to us from our forefathers in this industry, the excited fan in me can’t help but see the possibility and the potential of championship material boiling in our locker room. We, too, can make history!
One day, it’ll happen. Perhaps a lot sooner than later… In an environment where fighting spirit and imagination knows no limits, we too, will crown a champion- a great champion- who will cement their legacy and carry the Manila Wrestling Federation in the years and decades to come.