In December 1877, sportsmen in Detroit were trying to organize a match between
James Owens of Vermont and Col. James H. McLaughlin. Owens had recently
challenged McLaughlin to a bout with a $2,500 side, plus the championship.
According to news reports, McLaughlin wanted to engage in a match, but had an
important gig with the Lansing Railroad. He'd need as much as five weeks to train for
Owens, and didn't know if he could get the time off. A recent request for 60 days
vacation was denied. In January, however, he was going to put in a leave of absence
and then wanted to wrestle Owens and then McMahon, or vise versa. The McMahon
bout would be for a $2,500 to $5,000 side bet.
According to the Boston Globe (12/2/1877), McLaughlin said: "I have held the
championship since 1868, been to the Pacific (unreadable word), and defeated all
comers. Owens defeated me in Boston last December because I had a sprained
foot, and he is the first man that ever put me on my back. If he does so again, I will
retire from the arena."
McLaughlin had heavy Detroit financial backers behind him willing to put money up
that he could beat Owens, as much as $10-20,000. Owens, at this point, claimed the
championship based on his Boston victory.
In Detroit on August 27, 1879, Col. McLaughlin beat Andre Christol with the first and
third falls at Whitney's Opera House. Christol won the second fall under
Greco-Roman rules. McLaughlin's first fall win was catch-as-catch-can and third was
Wrestler Jack Carkeek married Gusie Stratman and planned to live in Republic,
Michigan in October 1886.
In 1891, J.C. Comstock was a well known wrestler known as the "Michigan Giant." He
stood 6' and weighed around 187 pounds. He was about 24 years of age. He held
the Michigan state championship.
Evan Lewis beat Comstock in Grand Rapids on November 26, 1894, winning the first,
second, and fourth falls. Comstock took the third with a stranglehold. 2,000 fans
saw the match.
At Grand Rapids on January 16, 1908, Charles Hackenschmidt beat Ali Manogoff in
two-straight falls before a large crowd. Manogoff was also known as the "Terrible
In January 1913, Stanislaus Zbyszko beat "Yankee" Rogers in Battle Creek, winning
two-straight falls. That May, Zbyszko defeated Demetral in two-straight falls at Detroit.
On February 20, 1925, Floyd Fitzsimmons of the Blue Sky Arena in Michigan City, MI
offered $50,000 to secure a Wayne Munn-Ed "Strangler" Lewis match. Both Munn
and Lewis claimed the World Heavyweight Title and Fitzsimmons wanted to end the
controversy. The arena had a capacity of between 18-20,000 and the promoter
wanted to stage the show on Memorial Day.
Matty Matsuda died in a Battle Creek sanitarium on August 15, 1929 after a
week-long illness. He had been injured during a Cincinnati match against Basanta
Singh, which was believed to have contributed to his death. Matuda was a Japanese
grappler who held both the lightweight and welterweight championships of the world.
Adam Weissmuller was a former wrestler turned promoter in Detroit in the 1930s, and
cousin of the famous swimming champion and "Tarzan," Johnny Weissmuller. Born
on May 18, 1899 in Austria-Hungary, he came to America in 1902 and wed Marie
Kindlinger on May 27, 1922 in Chicago. Having lived in the "Windy City" for a time
and working for a truck company, he wrestled as a welterweight, and may have also
boxed. He earned a pair of cauliflower ears the hard way, and had the mind to jump
to the business side of the business and promote lighter-weight grapplers in the
Detroit area. He worked as part of a "trust" with Al Haft of Columbus, and featured
many wrestlers who were overlooked by the major promoters because they were
The lighter wrestlers were extremely fast and their performances were often
electrifying. Weissmuller built a stable operation that grew in stature as years
passed. His Arena Garden Club was very successful by the mid-1930s.
On March 8, 1937, at the age of 37, Adam Weissmuller passed away of carcinoma of
the stomach at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
The YMCA Council awarded the national wrestling championship tournament to
Detroit in 1940, sponsored by the Western Branch. Louis Klein of Western Branch,
was the national YMCA 175-pound champion. Klein had only been wrestling for two
years, and won the championship last April in Akron, Ohio. Klein was also holder of
the city, state, and inter-state Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and YMCA wrestling light
heavyweight titles for 1939.
Don L. "Farmer" Marlin owned a bar-restaurant and motel in Niles, Michigan in 1961.
He lived in Howard township in Cass County.
In January 1963, Leo Donaghue promoted wrestling in Flint, Michigan. Donaghue
was a former wrestler, having held the Michigan Welterweight championship 1933.
He may have also attended Michigan State University.
Frank Scoma was a longtime referee in Michigan and lived in Benton Heights. He
was born on March 17, 1917 and passed away on April 6, 1981. Scoma worked the
Lou Thesz-Killer Kowalski match in Detroit for the Barnett-Doyle group. He also
promoted in Benton Harbor, Grand Rapids, and other cities. He reportedly gained
his license in 1956.
The January 13, 1985 edition of the Detroit Free Press (page 4D) included a sort of
where are they now for a number of wrestlers. George "Crybaby" Cannon was living
in Windsor and promoted wrestling for CBET-TV (channel 9) and at the Joe Louis
Arena. The Sheik "was having trouble walking and was scheduled to have an
artificial hip joint inserted." Haystacks Calhoun was living in New Mexico, Pampero
Firpo was in San Jose, and Wilbur Snyder was living in Indianapolis. Al Costelo was
said to be a "security director at the Book Building in downtown Detroit." Larry Chene,
Antonino Rocca, and Lord Athol Layton were all said to have passed away.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Michigan Wrestling Territory