Wladek Cyganiewicz was born in Krakow, Galicia, Austria-Hungary. The date of his birth has been commonly stated to be November 20, 1891. He attended the University of Krakow and earned a Doctor of Law degree from the University of Vienna.
Wladek followed his older brother Stanislaus into professional wrestling. Cyganiewicz was a hard name to both spell and pronounce. Early in his career, Stan changed his ring name to Zbyszko and when Wladek turned to the mat sport he also used that last name.
His first match in America was at Chicago's Empire Theater on January 17, 1913 and Wladek defeated Alexander Angeloff in the time of two minutes and twenty seconds. He soon began moving up the ranks. The Manhattan Opera House held a major wrestling tournament in 1915. In a brutal match against Alexander Aberg, the pair wrestled three hours and forty minutes to a draw.
By 1917, Wladek claimed the world's mat championship based on a victory over Ed "Strangler" Lewis in San Francisco's Civic Auditorium on June 5. Lewis' claim was based on a win over John Olin, who had won a questionable decision over titleholder Joe Stecher in 1916.
Later in the fall another tournament was held at the Manhattan Opera House. In the final tournament contest, held on December 22, Zbyszko defeated Ed "Strangler" Lewis in one hour and forty seven minutes and was awarded the world's championship.
Wladek lost his claim to the world's title on February 8, 1918 in Des Moines by losing to Earl Caddock. After each wrestler had won a fall, referee and noted Chicago newspaper writer Ed Smith awarded the decision to Caddock, a native son of Iowa, when the time limit expired.
In 1919, rumors circulated that champion Caddock, who was fighting in France during the war, was retiring. This news resulted in Joe Stecher, "Strangler" Lewis and Wladek all fighting over the championship. Wladek again claimed the title during this muddled period. Finally Stecher defeated Caddock in 1920 to clear up the claims to the championship.
Wladek, along with his brother Stan, traveled the world. Besides touring Europe, the brothers were well-known in Brazil and Argentina throughout their active years. They even brought their own troop of wrestlers to South America. Over many years, they trained wrestlers including Johnny Valentine and Harley Race.
In a famous 1934 Rio de Janiero contest against the noted Helio Gracie, the pair wrestled to a draw in jiu-jitsu style.proving that Wladek was a very good wrestler. Surprisingly, Wladek wrestled in Chicago as late as 1950. He was an eminent pianist and a real ladies man, who made headlines for the latter.
The February 11, 1964 issue of the Kansas City Star ran a long story on Wladek. He was trying to get a patent for his Zbyszko exerciser which he said had more than six-hundred exercises from which to choose. In the article, Wladek rated the Great Gama and Ivan Podubny as the best wresters he ever saw. He said that Hans Steinke was the strongest. Zbyszko also praised Ed "Strangler" Lewis, Joe Stecher and John Pesek as being great wrestlers.
Wladek Zbyszko passed away on June 10, 1968, at his farm in Savannah, Missouri.
- Don Luce