Name: George Hackenschmidt
Year Inducted: 2002
Induction Category: Pioneer Era
With a chiseled, muscular physique, "The Russian Lion" George Hackenschmidt propelled himself sufficiently on the mat to become one of the top athletes in professional wrestling history. Hackenschmidt was born in Dorpat, Estonia on July 20, 1878. For much of his early life, he lived in Russia and became an award-winning weightlifter during his early twentys.
Hackenschmidt's shear strength and incredible athletic ability made an easy transition into professional wrestling for him. Trained by famed wrestler George Lurich, Hackenschmidt turned professional in September 1896 at age twenty. Utilizing a classical Greco-Roman style of wrestling in the ring, Hackenschmidt was immediately a very tough competitor. He became the European Heavyweight Champion with a victory over Tom Cannon in September 1902 in Liverpool, England. With the title win, Hackenschmidt was given claim to being the World Heavyweight Champion. In May 1905, Hackenschmidt solidified this assertion by defeating American Heavyweight Champion Tom Jenkins in New York City to become the first undisputed World Heavyweight Champion.
Waiting to challenge Hackenschmidt for the World Heavyweight Championship was a young Iowa upstart named Frank Gotch. After years of anticipation, Hackenschmidt faced Gotch in April 1908 at Chicago's Dexter Park Pavilion. Both competitors battled one another for nearly two hours but after an evenly matched contest, Gotch prevailed and became champion. Three years later, Hackenschmidt would make a second effort to become champion and avenge his loss to Gotch. However, in front of 30,000 fans at Chicago's Comiskey Park on Septermber 4, 1911, Hackenschmidt lost to Gotch for the second straight time.
The Hackenshmidt-Gotch matches were the pinnacle of professional wrestling during the time period and received much attention from media, fans, and celebrities. They were even described in the 1937 book "Fall Guys-The Barnums of Bounce" by famed writer Marcus Griffen. To this day, the Chicago Public Library receives requests to view the newspaper accounts and files on the bouts.
Not long after the second defeat by Gotch, Hackenschmidt officially retired from professional wrestling in 1911 and pursued his very own interest in writing books. Hackenschmidt wrote the book "The Way To Live", which was published from 1908 to 1940 in twenty-one editions! Later on in his life, Hackenschmidt became a philosopher and wrote five books on intellectual topics.
George Hackenschmidt passed away on February 19, 1968 at the age of 89.
Hackenschmidt was considered the best Greco-Roman wrestler of his century after winning over 3,000 bouts between 1889 and 1908. His combination of brute strength, wrestling ability, and great intellect will likely never be duplicated.