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Name: Evan Lewis
Year Inducted: 2009
Induction Category: Pioneer Era

"The Strangler" Evan Lewis

"Evan Lewis' trademark hold was a form of the headlock that was literally a strangle-hold; he'd slip his wrist down below his opponent's ear over the carotid artery and squeeze, shutting off the blood supply to the brain and putting his opponent to sleep. Today, that hold is called a sleeper. It was a legitimate hold in Evan Lewis' day, but it was illegal by the time Ed (Lewis) came along; all the hookers knew the hold, however, and Ed learned it in Chicago and adopted it as a performing hold, something to excite the crowds. That's how the headlock came to be such a standard hold in the wrestling ring as a cover-up for the strangle-hold or sleeper."
(Reprinted from "HOOKER: An Authentic Wrestler's Adventures Inside the Bizarre World of Pro Wrestling" by Lou Thesz with Kit Bauman, Copyright 1995)

Pro wrestling annals call him "the original" Strangler, to differentiate him from another Wisconsinite, Robert Friedrich, who gained enduring fame with the ring name of Ed (Strangler) Lewis,chosen as homage to his predecessor.

In a 1991 magazine article "The Toughest Madisonian Who Ever Lived", Pete Ehrmann set about introducing Evan Lewis to an audience far more attuned to Hulkamania:" A century ago, professional wrestling was as truly violent a spectacle as its burlesque modern incarnation intends to be. Now either forgotten or confused with a later popular Wisconsin-born wrestler who borrowed his name, Evan Lewis, a native of tiny Ridgeway in Iowa County who moved to Madison in 1885 to pursue his wrestling career, was one of the most feared and famous figures in 19th Century sports."

"A cruel and really dangerous athlete," wrote ring historian Nat Fleischer of the 5-9, 180-lb. Lewis in his book "FROM MILO TO LONDOS". "Lewis for many years held his own when pitted against the best men ... and the country grew fairly wild over (him) and his wrestling ability."

Martin "Farmer" Burns, whose legend has long eclipsed that of Evan Lewis, owed his origins in the mat game,and the rudiments of his art,to thelatter. Burns wonwhat would forever after bebilled as the"world" championship from Lewis in 1895. By then,"catch", as opposed to the previously popular disciplines of collar-and-elbow and Graeco-Roman, had ascended to primacy in the minds of American pro wrestling enthusiasts.

This happened, largely, in the wake of two Chicago confrontations between Lewis and a popular Japanese invader, Matsada Sorakichi. They had two much-ballyhooed, largely attended Chicago bouts in 1886; in the first, Lewis roughly strangled Sorakichi into submission. Sorakichi implored Lewis to wrestle again, but this time with the strangle barred. Lewis agreed. Sorakichi emphasized how serious he was about the stipulation.

"You choke me," he told Lewis, "I shoot you."

"I will not choke you this time," Lewis averred. "But I will screw your leg off." And he darn near did. Sorakichi was never again the same, describing to people from his hospital bed how Lewis had tried "to breakee the leg like a stick."

Next was a showdown between Lewis and an Englishman, Joe Acton. In April 1887, at Chicago, Lewis consolidated his claim to catch-as-catch-can supremacy by taking three falls from Acton inside a mere 26 minutes. And thus beganhis eight-year rule over American pro wrestling until he finally surrendered the laurels to Farmer Burns in 1895.

It is, for all of the above, and much more, that the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame now inducts "the Strangler," Evan Lewis.

- J Michael Kenyon



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