Sunday, July 24, 2011

THE WAY TO LIVE - (Circa 1908) - THE STORY OF MY LIFE - Part 8 - By George Hackenschmidt

Back again in the British Isles with a long list of music-hall engagements before me and having anticipations of a prospective match with Alexander Mundro (the Scottish champion) and a possible return encounter with Madrali, it was quite clear that on these occasions my opponents would stipulate for "Catch-as-catch-can" conditions, and t hat it would be advisable for me to accustom myself thoroughly to that style of wrestling.

I therefore resolved that, at all events for the time being, I would only engage in contests or exhibitions under that code, more especially as there can be no doubt of its greater popularity among the British people.

Several months elapsed before the conditions could be arranged for my encounter with Munro, and meanwhile I had my music-hall engagements to fulfil, but finally, on October 28, 1905, I encountered the British champion before 16,000 spectators on the Glasgow Rangers' Football Ground, at Ibrox Park. The greatest interest was evinced in the encounter on account of my antagonist's magnificent physique and great reputation. My readers may, perhaps, be interested in comparing our respective weights and measurements on that occasion:-

Munro ....... Hackenschmidt

Height . . . . 6 ft 5ft. 9 1/2 in.
Weight . . . . 15 st. 5 lb. 14 st. 8 lb.
Neck . . . . . 18 1/2 in. 22 in.
Chest. . . . . 48 in. 52 in.
Waist. . . . . 36 in. 34 in.
Thigh. . . . . 27 in. 26 3/4 in.
Calf . . . . . 17 in. 18 in.
Forearm. . . . 14 1/2 in. 15 1/2 in.
Biceps . . . . 17 3/4 in. 19 in.

A drizzling rain which fell throughout the contest somewhat hampered my movements, and since I was the attacking party during most of the time the conditions naturally handicapped me more seriously that my adversary. Munro was the first to go the mat, and was soon compelled to "bridge" for safety. I turned him over with a leg hold, but he managed to slip clear, as he also did out of several "half-nelsons." Indeed, after about a quarter of an hour's struggle he managed so to extricate himself from my grasp as to be able to put in several aggressive movements. He was, and is undoubtedly, a very powerful man, and did not finally succumb (to a "half-nelson") until after a struggle lasting altogether 22 min. 40 sec.

After 10 minutes' interval we commenced the second bout, and again the Scotchman displayed fine defensive tactics, once or twice even assuming the offensive. Again, however, I got him with a "half-nelson" and rolled him over in 11 min. 11 sec.

That night, on appearing to fulfil my engagement at the Palace Theatre, just outside Glasgow, Scotland, the audience called for a speech, and after my saying a few words they stood up as one man and gave me one of biggest ovations I had ever experienced in Great Britain. The kindly enthusiasm with which they acclaimed me as "a jolly good fellow" was such as I shall never forget, for the rest of my life.

My music hall engagements, together with an occasional brief holiday, occupied me now for the next six months, when, in order to satisfy Madrali Pieri, the British public and myself that the result of our first encounter was not, as Pieri alleged, "a fluke," I consented to again meet the "Terrible Turk" under "Catch-as-catch-can" rules on this occasion. At this style of wrestling he was, according to his mentor and discoverer, "absolutely invincible," and on the strength of recent encounters with Tom Jenkins and Alex Munro, a not inconsiderable section of the public inclined to opinion that he would "make me travel." Even I myself had but little confidence in my chance, consequently I trained seriously for the occasion, putting in a fortnight's preparation at dear old Jack Grumley's house. "The Seven Stars," Shepherd's Bush. I had practice bouts regularly with one or another of the following very capable group of wrestlers: Jack Smith, "Gunner" Moir, poor Jack Grumley, John Strong, Gus Rennart, and Constables Barrett and Humphreys of the City Police, and to wind up, I took them all to Worthing and finished my training there.

One daily item of my training may deserve mention here, since in itself it was no small feet and graduated according to circumstances might be included with advantage in every wrestler's preparation. I used to kneel down while the others placed a sack of cement weighing six hundred weight on my back, and as soon as this was comfortably settled, poor Jack Grumley, who scaled another 232 lbs., seated himself thereon, say, well over 900 lbs. in all. No small weight-moving feat I can assure you.

Under these circumstances, therefore, it can be well understood that I was feeling particularly fit and well when for the second occasion I faced Madrali at Olympia.

As this contest was brought about after a tremendously wordy discussion in the Press and amidst the greatest possible excitement, it may, perhaps, interest my readers, if I quote the report which appeared in The Manchester Guardian, which runs as follows:-

"Hackenschmidt and Madrali, surrounded by their friends and seconds, were early in their dressing-rooms. Madrali was reported marvelously fit, but a whisper flew around, among the journalists, telling the alarming tale that Hackenschmidt was sick! His stomach was wrong! They were annointing him with alcohol! He was faint! He was trembling! Part of it was true. Sheer excitement had upset the Russian, and betting began to veer, and the odds weakened just as they do on the morning of a big race, when the favourite is reported to be coughing. Strung to a higher pitch of excitement by this 'stable intelligence,' the crowd watched and waited hungrily for the appearance of the two mighty men. It was nearly half-past nine before the band played with gusto. 'See the conquering hero comes!' There was a sudden eddy among the group of privileged persons at the side of the ring, the eddy broke and through it strode Madrali. Olympia howled as one man. The Turk stalked to the stage like a ghost in a dream. He looked immense-passionless and colourless; a black overcoat covered him from throat to ankles . . . He walked to his corner as an automaton walks and sat down stiffly on a kitchen chair. At the tail end of the cheers which greeted him came Hackenschmidt, in a brown dressing-gown, with tassels flapping dolorously. With his wonderful shoulders concealed by the wrappings of his gown, he appeared small and puny compared with the great mass of humanity opposite him. His face - trunk and boyish as a rule - was the very picture of misery. It was drab and drawn and withered. His lips were trembling and his eyes were flashing furtive glances across the great auditorium whilst the cheers hurtled among the rafters of the glass dome.

"At the call of 'time,' and a silence through which one little cough broke like a rifle shot, the Turk and the Russian leaped like cats to the mat. And at that moment life and confidence came back to Hackenschmidt, whose apparent collapse was nothing more than tremendous excitement worked up to a pitch almost heartbreaking. He knew that in the "Catch-as-catch can" style Madrali was cunning and relentless if he could only get time - time to wear his man down and to grind the spirit out of him. And Hackenschmidt's one idea was to limit the time to a mere handful of seconds, if only he could, and not save himself for an endurance test. After a few lightning flashes of preliminary sparring the Russian jumped in for a neck hold and got Madrali's head down. But Madrali weaved his arms around Hackenschmidt's waist and hugged and tugged until his opponent bent nearly double. Hackenschmidt made a wild grab at the Turk's neck and got a hold which was near enough to the "strangle grip" to cause Madrali to squirm away and protest, mumbling to the referee as he explained in pantomimic passes with his hands. In another moment the pair were at it again, crouching like tigers for a spring. And here Madrali made his first bad mistake. He tried his favourite dodge - a sudden spring to get a leg hold. But Hackenschmidt, sharp as a needle, was on the look-out for that. He hopped back an inch and no more, Madrali's hand smote the air and the impetus of his fruitless grab upset his balance. His right arm went up to steady himself, and like an arrow, the Russian leaped in, took his man under that right arm and swung him round. Down with a thud and grunt went the Turk.

Hackenschmidt was on him, and Madrial went over in a body-roll, which no power on earth could stop. There was one wild struggle, a helpless kick or two, and Madrali was pinned to the carpet in a fair and straight throw in 1 min. 34 sec. Madrali staggered up, shook himself, and stalked back to his corner, while in a storm of cheers Hackenschmidt, pale as death but smiling, slipped on his dressing-gown and departed to his dressing-room for the fifteen minutes' interval. Madrali stayed where he was, solacing himself with a rough towel.

"For the second bout the Russian was a raging favourite. And lo! In the second bout Madrali found his haven. Twice he dived for the leg hold. Twice he got it, being craftier this time, after his first stinging lesson in carelessness. Twice Hackenschmidt broke away. And then in a whirl of heaving flesh both men came to earth with a bump. Madrali was on top. He wriggled behind the Russian and wrapped his sinewy arms round his waist. Hackenschmidt crouched on all fours, while Madralit kneaded him remorselessly - a painful process which has churned many a great wrestler into sickness and partial unconsciousness. A minute or so of this set the Russian sweating. His white skin glistened in the blaze of the electric light. His face was twisted with pain. And still the inexorable Turk gruelled and gruelled the opponent.

Thinking, no doubt, he had weakened him sufficiently, he made a grab at his ankle. That did not come off, so Madrali ground his knees into the Russian's thigh. This was not strickly cricket, and Mr. Dunning promptly stopped it. Hackenschmidt just watched for his chance. It came with startling suddenness. Incautiously Madrali loosed his waist hold and tried a "half-nelson" on the Russian's right arm, but found it too strong even for his muscles, whereupon Hackenschmidt got a left wrist hold and leg-lock simultaneously, strained the mighty muscles of his shoulders almost to bursting-point and with a heave which showed incredible strength hurled his man clean over. The crowd went mad with excitement. 'He's got him! He's got him! they yelled. He had. Fiercely, furiously, panting and straining Hackenschmidt flung his whole weight upon the prostrate Turk. It was the biggest effort he had ever made. For a breathless moment Madrali struggled. Then he collapsed with a sob, and Mr. Dunning smote Hackenschmidt upon the shoulders with a sounding slap which signaled that the championship had been won and that the terrible Turk had been beaten. 'Time, four minutes, cried Mr. Mansell, the timekeeper, and like an avalanche, the crowd swarmed, roaring into the arena."

Since that date, it has become fashionable in certain quarters to call Madrali a much overrated man. There was never a worse, or indeed a more absurd, mistake. He was a most formidable opponent, one of the strongest, if not actually the strongest, man I have ever encountered. Somewhat careless, perhaps, as a wrestler, but once he had you in his clutches - well, he had me pretty tightly, I admit, and I was able to turn the tables, but I shall always count myself as singularly fortunate in having been able to do so. Tom Jenkins is a very powerful man and a most able wrestler, and yet Madrali positively crushed him. Munro is one of the strongest men in the world, and thoroughly experienced at "Catch-as-catch-can" and yet Madrali treated him as if he were a novice.

No, the opinions which were entertained of the "terrible Turk" prior to his defeat by me were much nearer the truth than those which obtained subsequently thereto, and every wrestler who ever felt Madrali's grip will, I am sure, fully endorse this opinion.

I was now booked up for a lengthy tour, during which I visited nearly every town in the United Kingdom, meeting all the wrestlers of repute in every locality, without coming across any serious or exciting encounter.

Iron Nation
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