Tom Law arrived in Wichita in September 1919 with his family from Macon, Georgia,
where he'd achieved popularity as both a barber and as a wrestling promoter. Over
the course of the previous 7-8 years, he'd engaged in the grappling profession, and
made contacts with many of the sport's leading wrestlers and managers. Among
them were Ed "Strangler" Lewis and Billy Sandow. It wouldn't be shocking to hear
that Sandow helped convince Law to uproot and settle in Wichita because of the
monetary possibilities in booking Lewis regularly there. Sandow talked Sam Avey
into becoming their Tulsa promotional associate, and was known for building a
syndicate of promoters and friendly cities around the "Strangler."
Law, in an article written by L.H. Gregory in the June 11, 1962 edition of the Portland
Oregonian, claimed that he promoted Lewis's first major wrestling show in Macon in
1914. This sort of coincides with a separate report that Lewis left Lexington,
Kentucky on October 22, 1913 for Macon, where he planned to take on all comers at
the Georgia State Fair. Law may have initially met Lewis at this point, as in the 1962
column, Law stated that it was before Lewis used the headlock, and it was when he
was still enrolled at the University of Kentucky.
Nevertheless, Law entered Wichita in the latter part of 1919 with lofty aspirations. He
was born on July 3, 1883 in Pennsylvania, and married Lawson Smith of Georgia.
His son, Thomas James Law Jr. (November 12, 1911 - November 28, 1995), was also
born during the family's stay in Georgia. In 1920, Law was 37 years old, and
immediately expressed to the local press that Joe Stecher, Ed Lewis, and many other
top names were on their way. In fact, he wanted Lewis to appear on January 19,
1920 and Stecher to wrestle Paul Martinson on January 31, 1920. The latter match
would be in conjunction with the Kansas National Livestock Exposition, and the
"largest crowd that has ever attended a match here" was predicted by the Wichita
The January 19th showing was said to be Lewis's first ever in the city of Wichita, and
publicity hyped him as "one of the leading grapplers in America." On January 15,
1920, Al Guntz, "Editor" of "Wrestling World," and printed in a column in the Wichita
Eagle, wrote a positive piece on Lewis, explaining that Lewis "first won fame as a
football player." Guntz explained that Lewis "embodies every requisite known to the
sport and has developed the application of these qualities to the highest point
known." It didn't stop there. Guntz wrote that Lewis was the "brainiest and cleverest
wrestler in the game at present," and so on.
Plans for a January 31, 1920 Stecher-Martinson bout were scrapped with Stecher
signed to wrestle Earl Caddock for the World Heavyweight Title at Madison Square
Garden on January 30. If Stecher was victorious, Law hoped that he'd venture to
Wichita first, giving local enthusiasts the opportunity to see the champion before
anyone else. Law believed that the same level of top matches could be staged
regularly in Wichita as in Omaha and Des Moines, and by bringing Lewis and Stecher
to town was demonstrating that.
Stecher did capture the World Title from Caddock in New York, and made Wichita his
first stop in February 4, 1920. An estimated 4,000 fans packed the Forum to see the
new titleholder beat Paul Martinson in two-straight falls. The Wichita Eagle boasted
about Stecher as it had Lewis previously, stating that he was a worthy successor of
Frank Gotch. Before leaving town, Tony Stecher, Joe's brother and manager, told
the press that "Wichita is a great town," and that they wanted to come back for
another appearance. The Stechers were said to be going to Detroit next.
John Olin's manager, Lundin, wired Law and inquired about a future match in Wichita
against Stecher. Olin was coming to the city to battle Ed Lewis, and it was felt that if
he could beat the "Strangler," Stecher would be next. Among the local wrestlers in
the area, Ted Beard of Augusta was goin gto face Wichita's own Charles Whitten in a
Heavyweight boxer Bob Roper, on April 13, 1922, challenged Ed "Strangler" Lewis to
a mixed match. Roper had been in town to see Lewis' match against Earl Caddock,
which the former won in two-of-three-falls. Roper said: "I am willing and very anxious
to meet Lewis in such a bout. Before taking on Dempsey, Lewis can try out his stuff
on some one not so good. I am willing to meet Lewis in a mixed bout and will post a
side bet of $10,000 that I can beat him. If he wants to make his Dempsey offer good,
he should meet me first."
Perennial Kansas favorite Alan Eustace rose up to the top of the Wichita ranks in
1922, taking a fall from Stanislaus Zbyszko in a handicap match in late May, and then
capturing the first fall from Ed "Strangler" Lewis on July 4, 1922. The latter, the
world's heavyweight champion at the time, came back to win the second and third
falls to retain his title, but Eustace had proven to be the best heavyweight in the
In January 1932, Norris B. Stauffer, a local matchmaker for the Wichita Athletic Club,
wanted to book John Pesek and Joe Stecher into a bout, and there was some
communication with the grapplers. Pesek was recently named World Champion
backed by the "Western Wrestling Association." The Wichita Eagle stated that
Stecher had wrestled in Wichita 21 times and Pesek 11 times, and neither had been
defeated on a local mat. To secure the bout, the WAC offered a purse of $7,600,
and Stauffer wanted the WWA championship belt to go to the winner. A $10,000
gate was expected, if the parties signed to meet.
Within a short time, Stauffer got the deal done, and guaranteed a purse of $5,500,
and the winner was to receive 75 per cent. Stauffer told the press that the
Pesek-Stecher bout was the "best secured here in five years." There was
tremendous hype for this match, with the Wichita Eagle stating that this was Wichita's
"second greatest wrestling match" after Lewis-Zbyszko in 1921. The paper reported
that the Zbyszko-Lewis match grossed more cash receipts than was expected on this
occassion, but the Stecher-Pesek affair was going to draw a larger attendance.
Initial reports were that seating for up to 7,000 were being arranged. As the show
approached, only around 3,000 were expected. Fans from as far away as Casper,
Wyoming were said to be coming to town to see the bout. Contingents from
Nebraska, of course, were also heading to Wichita.
While Pesek was noted as not having lost a match in the last "five years," Stecher
was said to be the favorite. The highly anticipated bout occurred on February 1,
1932 at the Wichita Forum. In two-of-three-falls, Pesek beat Stecher to retain his
"WWA" World Heavyweight championship before an estimated 4,500 fans. Pesek
won the crowd over with his skills, and handed Stecher his first local loss.
Near Florence, Kansas on January 25, 1943, a pack of wrestlers en route to Wichita
for a show, were injured in a car accident. Wladek Zbyszko, John Suzek, John
Grandovich, Frank Nelson, and Ivan Risovich were taken to a Newton hospital.
Zbyszko was in serious condition with broken ribs and injured lungs. At the time of
the accident, Wladek weighed upwards of 260 pounds, and by September, he was
down to 225. He attributed the weight loss and the regaining of his strength by his
hard work on his Northwestern Missouri farm.
U.S. Army soldier Charley Lutkie surprisingly became the biggest sensation of the
winter season at the Wichita Forum in 1943-'44. A light heavyweight superstar with
quick moves and a good personality, Lutkie quickly began to overshadow his
heavyweight counterparts, including NWA World Champion Ede Virag. N.B. Stauffer,
matchmaker for the Wichita Athletic Club, smartly booked Lutkie into more and more
headline roles, including a win over Jack Toone for the Kansas Light Heavyweight
championship. By the end of November 1943, Lutkie was challenging Virag for the
NWA heavyweight crown, and holding his own. Although he never went over Virag,
Lutkie cemented his status as a hero of the territory, and when he wasn't grappling
under the lights of the Forum, he was training soldiers in hand-to-hand combat with
an emphasis in wrestling and judo at Fort Riley.
Another interesting point of the 1943 season was that Orville Brown's Kansas City
troupe had threatened to enter Wichita and run opposition, but failed to get it
together by the end of the year. That didn't mean Brown's intentions to enter the city
had completely disappeared because his syndicate was definitely on the horizon, and
the comparisons between rival champions, Virag and Brown, were plentiful.
In September 1943, it was announced that matchmaker J. Reynolds, a former
wrestler, was going to run shows on behalf of the Disabled Veterans of America, and
was going to show wrestlers not currently affiliated with the W.A.C. group - including
There was a note in the August 29, 1948 edition of the Wichita Eagle stating that the
Lincoln National Life Insurance company was looking for ex-Wichita wrestling referee
Paul Sickner. Sickner was reportedly the son of Professor Sickner, a well known
Wichita music teacher, and the insurance company "is anxious to locate either him or
his heirs." Sickner was an accomplished amateur wrestler and well versed in all
aspects of the wrestling business during the 1910s and '20s.
In May 1953, Valley Garden Arena managing director Phil Solomon sent a letter to
NWA President Sam Muchnick, and included an article about Sandow and Dunn.
Solomon explained that Tom Harmon, a local sportscaster, was a level man, and had
"been pretty good to all the wrestling game up until now." Reportedly, Harmon had
been fed some dicey information by Sandow which was doing some damage.
According to the letter, Doyle wanted Muchnick to "dig up some results and of the
defeats suffered by Roy Dunn" and mail them to him, so he could get with Harmon to
"thrash this out once and for all."
Muchnick responded in a letter, stating that Dunn had been defeated by Ed Virag in
St. Louis on December 5, 1945 in 33 minutes. He also said that Dunn had
challenged Lou Thesz and Ray Gunkel in the same night in Dallas, and that Gunkel
accepted the challenge publicly, "and was in the ring waiting for Dunn before the
television cameras and Dunn did not even show up."
Wichita Athletic Club
Incorporated: July 28, 1888
Expiration: July 28, 1909
Forfeiture: October 15, 1959
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Wichita Wrestling Territory