By Tim Hornbaker
Sometimes while reading through wrestling history, a topic of interest sprouts up that is
filed away for future study. This occurred many times while dissecting Marcus Griffin’s
fundamental volume, the 1937 book, Fall Guys: The Barnums of Bounce. Griffin didn’t just
report the in-ring happenings of professional wrestling, but pried through a sturdy steel
barrier protecting the public from the inner world of scandalous wrestlers and promoters –
and revealed many insider secrets that were previously unknown. His pivotal work at that
specific time, with assistance from many influential legends, gives us a pretty sturdy
launching point for modern theories and research. Without it, there would be so much more
Unraveling the early part of the 20th Century is difficult, even with Fall Guys, but a lot of
hard-working historians have committed decades of their lives to figuring out what actually
was going on both under the lights and behind the curtain.
The substantial issues between World Heavyweight champion Jim Londos and the New
York City wrestling office was a highlight of the book, particularly when it came to the fact that
Londos walked out on his management in 1932 and formed his own syndicate. It was a keen
business move since guys like Jack Curley and Joe “Toots” Mondt were making a fortune off
his hard work and travels, and envisioned a different future for the title than Londos did.
Londos was probably the only man in wrestling who had the power to buck the dominant
New York powerbrokers and still thrive. He was extremely popular and drew overly
impressive numbers all over North America on a regular basis. Running out on Curley and
Mondt was immensely destructive to the latter’s operations, and they had no choice but to
push Ed “Strangler” Lewis to the heavyweight throne. But the damage was done, and it was
immensely personal. If there was a chance to gain a measure of revenge on Londos, Mondt
and Curley were going to utilize the option to strike back.
Two years before, in 1930, Joe Savoldi of Three Oaks, Michigan garnered national
mainstream attention for being kicked off the University of Notre Dame football squad, where
he was a superstar, because he’d gotten a divorce. He played briefly for the Chicago Bears
before becoming a professional wrestler, and it seemed many sports editors had a
fascination with Savoldi considering the top level press he received.
Credited as the originator of the flying dropkick, Savoldi used many of the same football-
like moves as Gus Sonnenberg and other ex-gridiron stars. He was quick and popular, and
owned a secure position in Londos’ syndicate in 1933. Since he was a draw, a Chicago
promoter booked him into a match against Londos on Friday, April 7, 1933 at the stadium,
and nearly 7,000 fans turned out to see the highly anticipated match.
What occurred in that match, simply, was that a tainted referee counted to three on
Londos in an arranged double-cross, and Savoldi was not only acknowledged as the winner,
but as the new World Heavyweight champion. It was akin to the “Montreal Screwjob” in 1997
in which a referee finalized a finish not approved by both wrestlers, and sponsored by a
The unbeatable Londos had been pinned, and the wrestling world was stunned.
“Toots” Mondt celebrated privately, finally achieving the retribution he’d sought for so
long. On the other side of the coin, Londos and his affiliates went into spin mode, claiming
that the title didn’t change hands because the Illinois Athletic Commission didn’t recognize
championships in the state. Regardless of what was said, the damage was done – but
Londos was such an established box office sensation, that he wasn’t severely hindered by
the double-cross. Savoldi was pushed somewhat as a championship claimant on the Mondt-
Curley circuit, but it didn’t really mean much. He ended up dropping a match to Ed Lewis in
New York, and losing the “title.”
That’s where Fall Guys comes in. In the chapter, “Police! Police! Police!,” Griffin
discussed these events, and talked about a ploy by Londos henchman Rudy Dusek to
double-cross Savoldi, in efforts to gain revenge for the Chicago bout. The book stated that
Dusek had gotten to Mondt wrestler Sol Slagel of Kansas and convinced him to do the deed
in Staten Island. Slagel reportedly had a grudge against the combine – and Savoldi –
already, and it didn’t take much to persuade him.
Around the same age as Savoldi, Slagel was much heavier (sometimes north of 240),
and was known as “Rubberman” for his contortionist act in the ring. In the book, it was said
that a victory for Slagel was going to hurt an upcoming Savoldi-Jim Browning title match, and
that during the bout, Slagel “threw Savoldi not once, but ten times.” Slagel was eventually
disqualified “on a supposed foul,” and Savoldi was given the victory by the referee, Barry
Peschmaylen, a “front man for Mondt.”
Griffin added: “The newspapers carried the stories of Savoldi’s ignominious rout and the
Browning-Savoldi gate receipts were definitely lessened,” which would have given the Londos-
Dusek group exactly what they wanted. An eye for an eye.
There was no date for the Staten Island match in the book, so since initially reading
about the Savoldi-Slagel match, I always wanted to know more details.
Finally, after some independent digging, a reference to the situation was found in the
New York Post on Wednesday, June 28, 1933. The paper reported that, “It seems there was
a misunderstanding Monday night in a Staten Island ring when Savoldi was disqualified for
running out on Slagel after 20 minutes of unfanciful ‘rasslin’. Spectators claimed Slagel
pinned Savoldi 3 times, but the referee would not recognize it. Eventually Savoldi left the ring
indignantly, refusing to return even though the promoter threatened to disqualify him. It was
reported that Joe returned to New York in his wrestling togs.” The paper also noted that
Slagel failed to appear for a show at the New York Coliseum on Tuesday night, presumably a
show booked by Mondt – and the troupe he just double-crossed.
The newspaper told the story a little different than Fall Guys, but the gist is the same.
Slagel jumped sides and pulled a double-cross on Savoldi, showing him to be less than
skilled when it came to genuine wrestling. The incident may have slightly interfered with sales
for Savoldi’s match with Browning, but it is likely that poor weather had more of an impact for
the outdoor show.
It is important to take an invaluable resource like Fall Guys and try to find secondary
sources like newspaper articles and letters to correspond to the data. There are usually
multiple descriptions of any tale, especially in pro wrestling, and in this instance, the New
York Post story helps fill in some much needed gaps. In one version, Slagel was disqualified,
and in the other, Savoldi was the man being tossed out.
The bottom line is that Dusek found a man who’d test Savoldi in the ring, initiating and
successfully pulling a vengeful double-cross. Although it wasn’t as weighty as the Londos
match, it still delivered the right message.
In comparison, Savoldi is a much more revered figure in wrestling history than Slagel,
and that’s not saying that Sol didn’t put on an entertaining show – because he did until his
death in a car accident in 1942. It’s just that this episode happened and was forgotten pretty
quickly. If it wasn’t for Fall Guys, it might have been completely eradicated from wrestling
history – and only now, in 2012, do I dare bring it back up.
For Savoldi, his career wasn’t hurt by Slagel’s actions in Staten Island, nor by the flat
show against Browning. He remained an exciting attraction throughout the 1930s and ’40s,
even winning the Montreal World Heavyweight crown in 1945.
Personalities have driven professional wrestling for decades, and many fragile egos
have found their way to positions of power – only to abuse their status time and time again.
When Jim Londos walked away from the men who counted on the fortune he was generating,
it started a war that was not going to be forgotten over time. Finally, his enemies launched
an attack in the “Windy City” that tainted his reputation. Only the superstardom of Londos
carried him through the shenanigans, and when the time was right, a supporter returned fire.
Only this time around, it was much less important. Savoldi, who was probably freaked out by
the unexpected antics of Slagel, was the real victim, despite the fact that he was a pawn in
the overall game.
But none of it mattered anyway, and the situation was forgotten over time. The truth was
– and still is in any good spy novel – that one good double cross deserves another.
|One Good Double Cross Deserves Another