April 3, 1908, Chicago, Illinois
After ruling the professional wrestling world for more than three years as the reigning World Heavyweight champion, George Hackenschmidt encountered his toughest challenge to date when he agreed to face the phenom from Humboldt, Iowa, Frank Gotch. Unquestionably the most popular and successful wrestler in the United States at the time, Gotch was the also the American Heavyweight champion when he met the heretofore unbeatable “Russian Lion” in Chicago, Illinois on April 3, 1908.
Their first encounter was held at the Dexter Park Pavilion on Chicago’s south side and was an epic struggle that lasted nearly three hours. The much-anticipated bout was not without controversy, as many observers remarked that Hackenschmidt, known worldwide for his flawless, massively-muscled physique, showed up for the match in poor physical condition, appearing soft and overweight. Additionally, there were reports of questionable tactics of Gotch’s behalf, including head-butting, thumbing and the possible use of body oil. After a grueling two-and-a-half-hour battle, Gotch captured the battered and bloody champion in a painful ankle lock and forced the submission.
Both combatants then retired to their respective dressing rooms for the customary ten-minute break between falls. However, once the rest period had expired, Hackenschmidt did not return to the ring. Instead, he sent word that he was forfeiting the match and, consequently, the championship. Gotch was declared the new World Heavyweight champion (only the second in professional wrestling history) and, in what would prove to be one of the most important matches ever, he left the Windy City with the World Heavyweight championship and the winner’s share of a very substantial purse.