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Evan Lewis: The Strangler
by Stephen Yobe

Evan Lewis.jpg

Evan Lewis, the ‘Strangler’, was the most popular and feared wrestler of the period between 1883 and 1899. Lewis was the king of the catch-as-catch-can style, his finishing hold was the strangle, which was a rough version of today's sleeper. Drawings published of Lewis' strangle seems to be more like the guillotine choke used in MMA today, looking like a front face lock. He used this hold, a vicious nature, and great upper body strength to overcome his opponents. Evan wasn't known as a sophisticated wrestler, but dominated by using his strength, and finishing hold. He won a number of pro wrestling's early titles including the catch world (or American) title, and the world mixed title.

Evan Lewis was born on May 24 1860 in Ridgeway, Wisconsin, a small village in Iowa County, near Madison. In 1881, Lewis traveled to Montana, to work in the mines there. When not digging, he became involved in the sport of Cornish wrestling. His first known matches were in May 1882, when he lost a number of Cornish style matches. Lewis seemed to improve, as he won a tournament on July 5, 1882 at Butte, Montana. He then returned home, to win the Wisconsin State title on March 20, 1883 beating a Ben Knight in a match that lasted over three hours. The gate was $200, with the beat seats costing 75 cents.

On October 10, 1883, Lewis lost a Cornish Style match to Jack Carkeek, who was unbeatable in the style. After this match Lewis left the Cornish Style to concentrate on Catch wrestling. He found he was better suited to the cruelest style and it's many holds. On

May 30, 1885, at the Madison, Wisconsin Roller Rink, Evan Lewis defeated James Faulkner two falls to one. He met promoter Charles ‘Parson’ Davis from Chicago, around this time, and the story is that Davis gave Lewis the ‘Strangler’ name. Lewis' reputation was such that he developed ‘backers’, rich businessmen or maybe gamblers, who put up money which enabled Lewis to get bigger matches.

At Madison, WI on December 21, 1895, Lewis defeated Tom Cannon. After this match, Parson Davis decided to bring Lewis to Chicago. In Chicago on January 27, 1886 at the Central Music Hall, Lewis (185 pounds) defeated Matsuda Sorakichi three falls to one. The Japanese wrestler wanted a rematch, but with the strangle hold barred. Lewis agreed. In the rematch, Lewis defeated Sorakichi in 50 seconds. The Chicago Mayor banned pro boxing and wrestling for a time due to the match, and much of Lewis' image of being a brutal wrestler came from this night, but it also helped him become a major star nationwide. In 1886, Lewis defeated Edwin Bibby, Jack Carkeek, Jimmy Faukner and, in March, he defeated Martin “Farmer” Burns.

On May 27, 1886 at Minneapolis, MN, Lewis wrestled William Muldoon. In a handicap Greco-Roman match, Muldoon lost to Lewis. By 1887, the top Catch-style wrestler was Joe Acton, and he also was considered the world champion. On February. 7, 1987 at Battery D, in Chicago, Acton defeated Lewis. This was a 3/5 fall match, under new Police Gazette rules that stated two shoulders down would constitute a fall, not two shoulders and a hip as was the old rule. The new rule wasn't popular.

On February. 26, 1887, The Police Gazette announced that Joe Acton and Evan Lewis had signed a contract to meet again in Chicago on March 14, 1887. Part of the agreement was that neither wrestler could participate in another match before the date, or forfeit all money deposited. This agreement was broken by Lewis, when, out of ignorance or loyalty to a promoter, he defeated Jack Carkeek in a best of five fall match in Milwaukee on March 3. When the third fall started, Carkeek looked groggy and listless. Once Lewis took him down, the Carkeek's second threw in the towel. Time was two minutes. The next day it was revealed that Carkeek was injured internally and had some type of rupture.

By March 9, 1887, Joe Acton had backed out of the match with Lewis, and Carkeek was brought to Chicago as replacement. Acton demanded his forfeit ($100), got it, and left town. Lewis then defeated Carkeek on March 14. in a match everyone thought was worked. Parson Davis had re-signed Acton, and Lewis for April 11, 1887. On that day, at Battery D Ar