Frank Alvin Gotch was born in 1878 to a farmer in Iowa. When he was a teen-ager, Gotch took up the sport of wrestling and wrestled in a sport that was largely legitimate then. In his first professional match, he wrestled against a man named Dan McLeod in Lu Verne Iowa in 1899.McLeod was a former American Heavyweight Champion. He lost the match but it took him almost two hours to do so. In December of that year, Gotch took on another former American Heavyweight Champion in “Farmer” Martin Burns. However, this match was not a marathon match as Gotch lost in eleven minutes. Burns was very impressed with Gotch and took him under his wing to train him. While he was under the tutelage of Burns, Gotch began to win his matches in Iowa and then later, in Alaska. He wrestled in the mining camps of Alaska and wrestled under the name of Frank Kennedy. It was there he had won his first title; the title of “Champion of the Klondike”.
In 1904, Gotch defeated the American Heavyweight champion, Tom Jenkins to capture the title. This was a rematch as Gotch had lost in their first meeting. He traded the title with Jenkins and another wrestler named Frank Beel. Shortly after that, Gotch wanted the World Championship currently held by the undefeated George Hackenschmidt. Hackenschmidt was favored to win the match but after two hours, the champion submitted to Gotch with an ankle lock. However, this match was shrouded in controversy. It was said that Gotch had resorted to illegal tactics to win his match. It was said that he oiled up his body so Hackenschmidt could not apply his famed bear hug. It was also said that Gotch rubbed oil in the champ’s eyes and scratched and gouged them as well.
Gotch would spend the next three years establishing his dominance by wrestling and defeating the likes of Tom Jenkins, Benjamin Roller and Stanislaus Zbyszko (no relation to former wrestler Larry Zbyszko). Also before losing to Gotch, Zbyszko had the claim to fame of winning over nine hundred matches. Gotch was a national sensation. He was starring in plays and received an invitation to the White House to meet President Theodore Roosevelt.
Then on September 4, 1911, at the newly opened Comisky Park in Chicago, in front of a record crowd of over 30,000 people and record gate proceeds of over $87,000, Gotch once again met George Hackenschmidt and once again, Gotch won in a shroud of controversy. Hackenschmidt injured his knee a couple of weeks earlier while training with a man named Ad Santel. The knee injury was so severe that Hackenschmidt almost withdrew from the match and only decided to go through with it because Gotch said that he had a neck injury. He fabricated the injury so Hackenschmidt would go through with the match. It was also later revealed that Gotch had paid Santel to make sure that Hackenschmidt would not be a hundred percent going into the match. Hackenschmidt agreed to let Gotch win the match which was a two out three falls event, providing that Gotch let Hackenschmidt win the first fall. Gotch agreed but then double crossed Hackenschmidt and won the match in the first two falls.
Gotch would continue to be World Champion until 1913 when he lost to another Estonian named Georg Lurich. Frank Gotch is one of the longest reigning world champions in wrestling history, coming in second to only Bruno Sammartino. Sammartino was the WWWF World Champion for only five months longer than Gotch’s reign as World Champion. Gotch’s reign lasted for seven years and three months. During his retirement, Gotch joined the circus and challenged people to last for fifteen minutes in the ring with him without being pinned or conceding and that person would win $250.00. Gotch never had to pay up. In 1917, Gotch died of uremic poisoning at the age of 39. Three miles south of Humboldt, Iowa near his childhood farm home, is a park called the Frank A. Gotch County Park. Although he was a controversial wrestler, he was the Hulk Hogan of his time and was loved and respected by many people and actually brought professional into the mainstream back then. He was a true pioneer of the sport and a true wrestling hero.