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Scientific Wrestling – A New Dawn For an Old Style
The golden age of professional wrestling is often thought of as the era of Frank Gotch, but the golden age, in terms of “technical” wrestling, happened later.
During the early 20th century, i.e. the teenage period in the late 20s, many of the best professionals began to excel by using their legs on the mat. These shooters were able to use their legs as another set of weapons and were experts at controlling the legs and arms of their opponents. These talented grapplers were commonly called “leg” wrestlers and leg wrestling became part of the trade of the catch-as-catch-can masters of old. Famous names among them include Joe Stecher, Earl Caddock, “Tigerman” John Pesek, George Tragos, Ad Santel and Clarence Eklund.
These men have paired brutal submissions (double wristlocks, crank cranks, and toeholds) with the ability to twist their opponents into pretzels. Not surprisingly, it was in this era when the term “stretch it out” came into existence. The fundamental pass used by the old-time wrestler was the crossbody pass (commonly called the “single-leg grape”). It is from there that they maneuvered their opponents into all kinds of positions that the human body was not meant to go to.
They used the guillotine (abdominal stretching), banana split, crossfaces and reverse crossfaces off the crossbody ride, inside toeholds, the top scissor with a crossface (commonly called “back mount”). They were also adept at scissoring the arms with their legs and using various Nelson holds and double arm stretches to bring their opponents to the point where it felt like their muscles were actually coming apart.
Probably the greatest of the old leg wrestlers, pound for pound, was Clarence Eklund. Known as the Octopus of wrestling, Eklund emerged as one of the most technical grapplers in the late days of wrestling. Barnstorming all over the United States, Eklund developed his style of leg wrestling on a platform of his own. Sports writer Bill Sopris said this about the Octopus: “(Ek had) a talent for using the vine and hindering the progress of an opponent with his legs and his forte was his legs and with this strange power, he managed to break the leverages and use a man, finally fighting with a half-body scissors and a bar arm”.
Eklund weighed 175 lbs. and claimed the world lightweight title from 1916. He solidified his claim at the age of 42 by defeating the best lightweight wrestlers in the world to claim the undisputed world title at an Australian tournament in 1928. Among those he defeated were Clete Kauffman, the infamous Ad Santel and Ted Thye. The story of Eklund’s dominance of Ad Santel in their tournament shooting match became the stuff of legend and solidified Eklund’s claim that no one in the world could match him at 175 lbs.
I spoke with Dick Cardinal, one of the last shooters of the old time and a master of the hooks, of Eklund. Dick had known Ted Thye (one of Eklund’s opponents in the 1928 tournament). Thye told Dick that Eklund’s performance against Santel was pure wrestling mastery. Thye’s words about the event, according to Dick, were amazing in themselves and Eklund dominated his enemy in every phase of the game.
Another story that has become legendary is Eklund’s visit several years after retirement to a training camp in Oklahoma with the NCAA national championship wrestling team (Oklahoma A & M) for that year. The coach had invited Eklund to review the team’s progress.
Eklund walked around nodding appropriately when he saw something he liked. After a while, the coach asked him if he would like to do a workout. “Sure” Eklund said, “Line up.” The trainer was surprised by this because he had not only suggested a workout for Eklund with one of his lighter wrestlers; After all, Eklund was in her mid-40s and had been retired for years. However, he did as Eklund asked.
In the span of 15 minutes, 45-year-old Clarence Eklund pinned every member of the national championship team, from lightest to heaviest. The heavyweight lasts the longest taking Eklund about 2 minutes per pin. Now, imagine a wrestler walking in today and pinning every member of the Oklahoma State, or Iowa, or Minnesota wrestling team, and you’ll begin to get an idea of the Octopus’ technical mastery of wrestling. Eklund was the king of the scientific fight.
I had long feared that the technical style of the old leg wrestlers had been forgotten over the years, as professional shooting really died out in the pro ranks after the late 20’s. Then I stumbled upon something. that almost made me cry with joy. I came across a set of instructional video tapes called “LEGAL PAIN” by one of the greatest wrestlers of all time – Wade Schalles.
Wade Schalles’ riding/pinning style is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the style of the Old Time Leg Wrestlers. Wade is a 4-time NCAA champion, and has won more world and national championships than any man in history. I’ve seen very few amateur shooters today that have the technical efficiency of the shooters of old, but Schalles takes leg riding, cradling, and pinning to a new level.
It is in Schalles style of fighting where you can see a bridge between the Old and the New. When I look at Wade’s material, it’s very easy for me to visualize what men like Eklund, John Pesek and Earl Caddock must have seen on the mat. Everything is there: leverage, fulcrum, speed, technique, and above all AGGRESSION.
If you were to add toeholds, neck cranks, and double wristlocks to the material that Wade presents and master well, you would be a very dangerous person in a short time, and that is not a joke. I give this material 5 stars, but I want to give it 10 (it’s that good). It is, quite simply, the best riding and pinning material I have seen.
For more on Clarence Eklund, see Wyoming’s Wrestling Rancher: Life and History Of Clarence Eklund Champion Wrestler
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