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Aleksander Aberg: The Estonian Mat Marvel
by Steven Bell


Out of the smoldering ashes that was Europe immediately following the first World War, fiery new sparks were ignited. 

The Russian Revolution, borne largely out of political and social conflict over Russia’s war strategy and struggles, would go on to last longer and have comparable casualties to the global battle that preceded it, but is remembered as a mere footnote – yet its deadly affects are still being felt globally today. 

Men, women, the elderly, young; from the infirm to heavyweight champion wrestlers, were forced to flee further and further into the obscurity and the wilderness as their towns and cities crumbled around them. 

Two men that made up that final category of Russian civilian were Georg Lurich and Aleksander Aberg. 

Aberg, who stood six feet tall and weighed 235 pounds, had followed in the footsteps of the slightly older Lurich and their Estonian comrade Georg Hackenschmidt in conquering the Greco-Roman and freestyle heavyweight wrestling worlds before the Great War had started in 1914 (Estonia was then part of the Russian Empire).

Despite many of the sport’s main protagonists being of European descent, American promoters had led the way in forming the ‘prize-ring’, where wrestlers of differing regional disciplines could compete under mixed or free-style rules. The aim was to attract the world’s finest wrestlers and therefore boundless audiences, creating lucrative wealth and prizemoney for the promoters and athletes alike. 

Hackenschmidt’s long-awaited Chicago rematch with Frank Gotch in 1911 had proven the blueprint for this, attracting almost 30,000 spectators into the Chicago White Sox’s newly opened Comiskey Park and with it, a record-breaking gate. Following Gotch’s victory, both men would descend into semi-retirement, leaving the stage clear for the next generation of wrestlers to compete for stardom. 

Born in the small Estonian borough of Kolga on 11 August 1981, ‘Alex’ Aberg went on to tour and dominate in some of the harshest parts of Europe, before first appearing in the USA in 1913. He returned, alongside his friend Lurich, to New York two years later. He was recognised as the Greco-Roman World Heavyweight Champion, laying claim that this title was won way back in 1903 after winning a tournament in London. He was also multilingual, speaking German and English in addition to his native tongue. 

As Europe descended into war, its plethora of world-class grapplers made their way to the United States. They were lured to New York by the promise of the greatest wrestling tournament in history, as promoter Samuel Rachmann dreamt of a mainstream breakthrough for the sport in the Big Apple. 

To use modern wrestling parlance, entering the 50-man strong ‘International Tournament’, Aberg was simply the man. He was known for slowly punishing and breaking down his opponents, sometimes during hours-long, sweaty, hard to watch contests. The tournament was scheduled to last over 8 months, with the competitors all facing each other several times each in separate Greco-Roman and Catch-as-Catch-Can matches, which would predominantly take place at the Manhattan Opera House. A complicated system would see points would be given for victories and draws. 

Rachmann even feared Aberg’s dominance in t