New DVD Review: WWE History Of The World Heavyweight Title

Matt Boone

WWE History of the World heavyweight title DVD review.
By: Karl Stern

I just picked up the new WWE History of the World Heavyweight title DVD. From all appearances they are going to try to link the present day World heavyweight title to Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt so this should be good. In fact, there is a picture of "the big gold" world title belt on the cover that has the dates 1905-2009 on the name plate. George Hackenschmidt (born July 20, 1878) is the first internationally recognized pro wrestling "World" heavyweight champion due to his winning numerous tournaments in Europe and then defeating the American heavyweight champion Tom Jenkins on May 4, 1905, so for them, this is the starting point. It’s a legitimate starting point for the legitimate original linear World heavyweight title, what will be interesting is how they try to tie it to the modern WWE (Smackdown) World heavyweight title belt since that linear World title actually split into a million factions in the years after Frank Gotch (post 1917) but let’s give it a chance.

PLAY- Disk 1: A montage of various world champions over the years opens the disk. Mike Chapman is the first person interviewed. Chapman is an author, museum curator, and accomplished wrestler himself. He is also an expert on the National Wrestling Alliance, Frank Gotch, and the Gotch era champions. He’s also something of a Frank Gotch apologist (ie: he tends to push that Gotch never worked matches which I don’t believe to be the case.) so anything he says about Gotch has to be taken with a little ballyhoo attached to it but we’ll see. He starts off talking about George Hackenschmidt calling him "a genetic freak" which is true. In fact, what sounds like a bunch of embellishment about Hackenschmidt, is actually probably pretty close to true. He was not only a pioneer of pro wrestling but is also considered something of a pioneer in bodybuilding and strongman competition as well. Chapman says Hackenschmidt spoke "seven languages" and challenged Albert Einstein to a debate about the theory of relativity. I don’t know if that’s true but by all accounts he was a very educated man. They quickly gloss over Hackenschmidt’s 1905 win over Tom Jenkins which is too bad because Tom Jenkins has quite a great back story too. Blinded in one eye as a child in a cannon explosion, Jenkins went to work in the steel mills. During one summer, the steel mill was hosting a wrestling contest and one of the participants was injured and Tom Jenkins replaced him and won. Jenkins soon became one of the most feared wrestlers in America, freaky strong, and rough. After retiring from wrestling, Jenkins went on to be the physical combat instructor at West Point Military Academy for about forty years. I had the honor of corresponding frequently with his grandson several years ago who provided me with tons of stuff on Jenkins. No doubt, he was the real deal and quite a role model as a human being too.

We progress then to Hackenschmidt’s two meetings with Frank A. Gotch. Gotch, of course, won both matches. The second one somewhat controversially, with never proven allegations that Gotch paid a hit on Hackenschmidt’s knee by one of his sparing partners (often cited as Ad Santel but highly unlikely). The DVD even shows some of the early Thomas Edison film footage of youngsters wrestling around this time period. The Gotch vs. Hackenschmidt tape doubtfully exists any longer as it has never surfaced and the material it was filmed on had a notorious short life span. There are a lot of great photos on the DVD of the match (photographed by the Chicago newspapers) but no mention is made of the controversy. The DVD says that Gotch retired as champion in 1913 and died two years later of kidney failure. He actually wrestled on and off during that time. He retired after breaking his leg in 1917 but actually came back for one or two matches before dying in December 1917 of uremic poisoning (rumored to be syphilis actually). In either case, his death was said to be really bad with him shriveling away to around 100 pounds and losing most cognizance.

They quickly gloss over all the post Gotch world champions, showing photos of only Earl Caddock and Joe Stecher. Truthfully, there was no real consensus "world champion" during most of those years for a few reasons. One, as they say on the DVD, no one truly became a national celebrity like Gotch and two, World War I put many of the fragmented world champions inactive (such as Earl Caddock, Joe Stecher, and Steve Casey) because they were away fighting the war for long stretches. The most widely recognized linear world champions between Frank Gotch and Ed Lewis were: Charlie Cutler, Earl Caddock, Joe Stecher, John Olin, and Wladek Zbyszko.

The next champion they give any time to is Ed "Strangler" Lewis. For this portion we get "Cowboy" Bill Watts and Bob Giegle (where did they find him?) as commentators. Neither men were contemporaries of Lewis. Honestly, the only person who could really have done Lewis justice was the late Lou Thesz. This segment is the first really odd segment. They bring Chapman back and he calls Lewis "really boring" and "a defensive wrestler". He brings up the Stecher vs. Lewis five hour match then spills some ballyhoo about referees passing out and such and essentially they say that was the end of "shoot" wrestling and wrestling had to move toward more "entertainment". Hog wash.

Continued on page two …

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