We’re on our third piece and into 1880-1889. For me this is the decade that really cemented professional wrestling almost all over the world. So much happened. So many names were around. So many new ideas came into focus. Collar & Elbow would be practically dead by the end of the decade with no major title. Greco-Roman would have peaked in the mainstream and started it’s decline and Catch-as-Catch-Can would take it’s place as the way forward.

    There’s only five slots for me to fill, but, I just got to mention some of the names that were so close to appearing on this list yet just missed out, just in case any of you would like to look them up… The Honourable Mentions from 1880-1889!

    First of all we have Clarence Whistler, the second widely recognized Australian Heavyweight Champion. Due to his sad ending he just didn’t have enough longevity to be included. Second is Joe Acton, I’d love to include Joe not nearly enough is ever said about him, however, there’s a reason for that. With that said he was the second widely recognized American Heavyweight Champion (For Catch). Sorakichi Matsuda is up next, the first known successful Japanese born star in America. A very highly respected man that brought a degree of legitimacy to his contests.

    My last honorable mention goes to Henry Moses Dufur. Of all those that were close to going on, Dufur was the closet. A multiple time American Collar & Elbow Champion, he really helped to keep the struggling form of wrestling alive through-out the 1980’s. With James Hiram McLaughlin, Dufur drew sizable crowds even against the popularity of Greco-Roman with William Muldoon at the helm that flourished in the early ’80’s and the Catch-as-Catch-Can boom of the late ’80’s with a man we’ll talk about later. Lets dive into some of these 1880-1889 Wrestlers…

    1880-1889 Wrestlers | 5 – Edwin Bibby

    It’s said that Edwin Bibby was born on November 15, 1848. Lancashire, the famous wrestling county of England, would be his birth place. He’d get his start at grappling while still in his native country. As any good Catch wrestler can, Bibby was able to adapt against any variant wrestling style and in England especially there were an abundance of styles. Through-out the ’70’s he made a big name for himself all across Great Britain before moving to America in 1879 where better money could be made.

    Bibby quickly made a name for himself in America. I don’t believe that he was the first one to appear in America with this new style, however, there’s no doubt he was the first one to really make a name for himself. One of his chief opponents was Duncan C. Ross who is another honorable mention for the 1880’s and worth looking up, together they popped Catch-as-Catch-Can wrestling in America. So popular was the style that on January 19, 1881 Bibby had defeated Ross to become the American Heavyweight Champion (Originally it was classed as solely Catch Style).

    For the next year and a half Bibby would defend the title successfully holding onto it until the man we mentioned earlier, Joe Acton, defeated him for it. As was often back at this time Bibby would still claim to be the champion in areas where he could get away with it. With enough money secured by 1887 Bibby would retire from in-ring competition and focus on training his sons, also refereeing on occasion.

    Over the course of his career he wrestled in front of Queen Victoria at Prince Albert’s Court. Was presented with a personalized trophy in the shape of the Statue of Liberty for becoming the American Heavyweight Championship (It was often billed in papers as the world version) and also he was awarded with a silver championship for it. Edwin Bibby wrestled every big name there was no matter what style of wrestling was being used and helped solidify Catch-as-Catch-Can as a wrestling style in America. He passed away in 1905.

    1880-1889 Wrestlers | 4 – Shokichi Hamada

    I honestly hate it when I have to say I don’t know a lot about someone, unfortunately that is the case with Shokichi Hamada. He came over to America at the same time as Sorakichi Matsuda in 1883. For the best part of the next four years Hamada stayed there and transformed into a professional wrestler. Previously he had been a Sumo Wrestler and had been known as Sangokuyama while in Japan.

    In 1887 Hamada traveled back to Japan and arranged to set up the first ever professional wrestling shows in the Land of the Rising Sun. It is for this reason that he is included on the list. Not much is known about his career or the man himself as a I said, what is known though is that he brought twenty American wrestlers to Japan on June 1, 1887 and had a sell out crowd. The rest of the tour was not a success though.

    Overall his attempt to start wrestling as a major sport in Japan had failed. Shokichi Hamada laid the foundations for what would later become a very mainstream form of entertainment in Japan. Others would try for years after him and couldn’t even get one sell out as he had until Rikidozan came along in the 1950’s. Forever Shokichi should be remembered as the pioneering force in helping to popularize Japanese stars in going to America and wrestling itself in Japan.

    1880-1889 Wrestlers | 3 – Professor William Miller

    Really the Professor could have joined Thiebaud Bauer in the previous decade, he was a huge name through-out the latter half of the 1870’s. He’s the second Englishman on the list this week born on December 19, 1846 in Cheshire. As a youngster his family moved to Australia when he was a child and it would be there he started his dominance over not just the wrestling world, but all sports. Miller excelled in fencing, marathon walking, broadsword competitions and weightlifting among others.

    As a wrestler Miller would make a name for himself in Sydney and Melbourne based gyms until 1874 when he traveled to America and instantly became a hit success there going against Bauer. Just like he had in Australia Miller opened a gym up in his new home of San Francisco. There he continued training wrestling and also boxing which he had been practicing longer than any other sport. Miller would always be a claimant to being the World Champion which was a title dished around often to promote fights, yet he never actually made it into any widely recognized lineage in America.

    What he did accomplish in America though, is he would hold victories over reigning regionally recognized world champions in both boxing and wrestling and is often quoted as being the last man in history to ever be a claimant of both the boxing and wrestling world championships at the same time. After cementing his name on American soil in the 1870’s, Miller moved back to Australia on a fairly permanent basis. It appears that upon returning to Australia in around 1880 he was instantly seen as the Australian Heavyweight Champion.

    Over the next five years as well as continuing pursuits in other sports he continued to defend his championship. It wasn’t until he met Clarence Whistler in 1885 that he lost the title. A few years later he retired from all competitive sports apart from wrestling which finally retired from in 1903. He was the only man in Australian history to hold the championship in each of the following, fencing, boxing, wrestling, and weightlifting. He is often credited with having the first wrestling matches there, that is inaccurate, the fact that he popularized the sport there and became their adopted son even though when he passed away in 1939 he had moved to America that memory of him lived on.

    1880-1889 Wrestlers | 2 – Evan Lewis

    Lewis arrived in this world on May 24, 1860 in Wisconsin. Raised a farm boy with part of his heritage going back to England, wrestling was in him from the start. He’d compete in matches growing up and then as an adult when not working in the mines. A natural he beat most who were put in front him, drawing at worst, very rarely if ever losing. It wouldn’t take him long to find himself against major opponents working his way up to wrestling for the American Heavyweight Catch Championship. On April 11, 1887 he defeated Joe Acton won that title.

    Just two months later he lost it to Tom Cannon in a match that was filled with controversy and many felt Lewis didn’t lose. The following year Jack
    Wannop was being billed as the World Catch Champion in America, although I have no record of him beating Tom Cannon. Either way in America Evan Lewis was now billed as the World Catch-as-Catch-Can Champion and ruled. He defeated Ern(e)st Roeber in 1893 to unify the Catch and Greco-Roman Championships. Two years later he lost the title to Martin ‘Farmer’ Burns.

    Evan Lewis retired in 1899 and passed away in 1919 after suffering through illnesses and injuries since 1888. Believe it or not, none of that is why he is on this list, well, it is in part. Primarily though it’s for his nickname, ‘The Strangler.’ He was famous for using a choke-hold, similar to a rear naked choke, and the move was filled with controversy and even banned as inhumane in certain places. Because of this there was extra attention to his matches, fans liked the drama of it, and wrestling received a minor boom off the back of William Muldoon’s wave of popularity but with the faster paced, more exciting Catch-as-Catch-Can Style.

    Whether being ‘The Strangler’ was legitimate and all his matches were shoots and he’d just come to utilize this highly controversial move by chance with no thought of the attention it would garner, or whether there was some forethought there to a very early gimmick, not unlike what you can still see in this wrestling to this day, just think how big of a deal is it when someone uses a piledriver or when the Undertaker’s Hell’s Gate was banned a couple years back, planned or not, it has been imitated for over one-hundred-and-ten years. That is a legacy.

    1880-1889 Wrestlers | 1 – Tom Cannon

    Born April 19, 1852 Tom Cannon is a third Englishman. This time Cannon actually made quite a ripple in Britain rather than swanning off to another country, although he did that too. Like most the others we have already discussed he would make a name for himself in Britain traveling around picking up different styles, Greco-Roman was his main style, and still the most popular in Europe in general at this point.

    His first recorded match in America is in the mid-1880’s. At the end of 1886 he won defeated Tom McIerney and then Professor William Miller in December of that year to be called the first World Greco-Roman Champion, really it only represented Britain though. Cannon would fight top European competitors and ultimately stake his claim across all of Europe and is now remembered as the first ever World Greco-Roman Championship (European Version).

    In America Tom was billed normally as the British Champion and would face off against all the top stars of the time. On June 13, 1888 he defeated Ed Lewis to become the unified World Catch-as-Catch-Can Champion, although it was surrounded in much controversy. A claim he could hold until June 21, 1891 when he lost to Carl Abs, who could arguably be said to be the most important of Europe’s mainland during the 1880’s, in Hamburg, Germany. By 1901 Cannon won the title back when he defeated Antonio Pierre on May 5 in London, England for the vacant title.

    Cannon would hold the title for two years before losing it to Georges Hackenschmidt in 1902, which Hackenschmidt then went on to unify and become the first worldly accepted World Heavyweight Champion. After this not too much is known about Tom Cannon, but what we do know is enough to cement his legacy in the history of professional wrestling. Two time World Heavyweight Champion (European Version) in Greco-Roman wrestling, he had longevity, popularity in most of the world, and was a true pioneer in uniting all major wrestling platforms; Australasia, mainland Europe, North America, and Britain.

    – By Jimmy Wheeler