Stanislaus Cyganiewicz was born on April 1, 1879 near Cracow in Judlowa, Galicia
(Poland). He focused on his physical development as a youth, in addition to expanding his
mind. Well read, Stanislaus spoke 11 different languages, and studied philosophy and law
while in college at the University of Vienna. Reportedly, in 1897, he began wrestling as an
amateur and took to the professional sport three years later in Charlottenburg, Germany.
He became a world class Greco-Roman wrestler and the New York Times reported that
promoters Rudolph Aronson and William Caspar were preparing thirty wrestlers for their
journey to the United States on March 5, 1905. Among the wrestlers named was Zfyszko
Cryganievtet of Poland, better known as Stanislaus Zbyszko.
In 1906, Stanislaus won an important tournament in Paris. He also had engaged in
tournaments in Germany before his arrival in America, and had wins over Ivan Podubny,
Alex Aberg, Nouroulah, and George Lurich. On September 21, 1909, he arrived in the
United States aboard the Caronia. Under the guidance of Jack Herman, made his debut on
October 7 in Buffalo, defeating Charles “Yankee” Rogers, Pete Wiscamp, and Walter Smith
all in four minutes. Zbyszko quickly acclimated himself to the North American wrestling
scene, specifically the catch-as-catch-can style, and an endless stream of challenges were
directed at Gotch.
Zbyszko was an outsider, an unwilling participant in the well-crafted, Gotch-led syndicate
that controlled wrestling in the U.S. Even Mahmout had conformed to the rules. Zbyszko
considered himself a peer of Gotch, not a soldier prepared to go along with the standard
set of guidelines. He wanted to be the leader of the wrestling world, and demanded
respect. Gotch wasn’t going to run from the newcomer, and wanted to test the man’s skills
on the mat. By November 1909, the champion was in shape, and preparing for his
toughest match since Hackenschmidt more than a year before. First was the test, a
handicap match held in Buffalo on November 25. Gotch had to win two falls within 60
minutes, but was unable to beat Stanislaus even once. Zbyszko had a decided weight
advantage, and his showing gave him great confidence, enough to believe that he could
beat the champion in a finish match. Herman took it a step further, announcing that he was
putting up $2,500 as a forfeit for a match with a $10,000 side bet.
Stan gained a big win over World Heavyweight Champion, Gotch in a special handicap
match in Buffalo on November 25, 1909. Although he had gained a victory, the win wasn’t
a win at all and certainly didn’t give the Polish Superstar the World Championship. Zbyszko
had done something others had failed to do, held Gotch to an hour draw without a fall for
A finish bout was scheduled by promoters in Chicago and a large audience was expected.
The much talked about match was held on June 1, 1910. Zbyszko lost the first fall in 6 ¼
seconds. An amazing feat for Gotch and not so for Zbyszko, but the match continued.
After an additional 27:36, Gotch won the second fall with a bar arm and wrist lock. Many
commended Zbyszko’s ability to stay with Gotch after an embarrassing 6-second loss in the
An E.T. Kapp of Denver wrote an article to Otto Floto, columnist for the Denver Post, which
was printed in the October 26, 1925 newspaper. He described being at the Gotch-Zbyszko
match in Chicago, explaining how Gotch dominated the affair. Gotch "broke all holds with
ease," he wrote, "and tossed the Pole around like a child." Kapp also witnessed Gotch's
match with Hackenschmidt, saying that the latter was "handled like a kid in the Chicago ball
Kapp finished by saying that the "Gotch-Zbyszko match was so one-sided there never was
a clamor for a return match by the public or sport writers. Zbyszko, of course, made a
return challenge - and so did Firpo - but the result would always have been the same. I
want to say this much for old Zbyszko - he is one of the best that ever came across the big
pond and in his prime, when he met the great Gotch, he certainly would have made short
work of the present day crop of wrestlers."
Floto, however, disagreed. He wrote "Had the men ever wrestled again we feel certain the
big Pole would have reversed the verdict." Floto indicated that there was more to the
Chicago match between Gotch and Zbyszko than most people knew, but wrote, "the less
said of it the better. It's gone and forgotten and Gotch has passed on."
On January 10, 1911, Zbyszko was under the care of doctors in Newark, New Jersey
because of blood poisoning in one of his fingers on his right hand. He was unable to
wrestle a show there the night before, and a reported 1,500 fans were so upset about it,
that officers were called in to quash a potential riot.
Gotch was considering returning to the wrestling mat in 1912 and many editors felt Zbyszko
and Racevitch were the two principle threats to his championship. Gotch said that he'd
wrestle Zbyszko if the latter could beat Mahmout first. Zbyszko, however, would only agree
to wrestle Mahmout if Gotch put up a cash guarantee saying that he'd wrestle him next.
In January 1913, some sports writers were calling Zbyszko a "claimant of the world's
heavyweight wrestling championship." One such instance was in the January 14, 1913
edition of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune.
The Minneapolis Morning Tribune on February 27, 1913 stated that Constant LeMarin had
gotten a fall on Zbyszko in Chicago, and it was the first time a wrestler had gotten a fall on
him since Gotch. Frank B. Force wrote that LeMarin was strong and a "fair" wrestler, but
not in the league of Zbyszko.
The Minneapolis Morning Tribune reported on March 18, 1913 that Zbyszko often wrestled
barefoot. Henry Ordemann insisted for their upcoming match that Zbyszko wear shoes.
Zbyszko suffered a huge career setback on May 24, 1913 in Montreal when he was injured
in a match with LeMarin. His opponent’s distasteful tactics led to Zbyszko’s fractured skull
and for some time it seemed as if he could have died from his injures. Zbyszko recovered
enough to return to the ring.
Zbyszko returned to Europe.
In October 1914, Zbyszko was a guest of Czar Nicholas at Petrograd. He wrote a letter to
his American manager, Herman, explaining that he'd rather be in the U.S. He felt wrestling
in Europe was dead and was going to be dead for many years to come.
A large article appeared in the January 25, 1920 edition of the Wichita Eagle stating that
Stanislaus Zbyszko was returning to America and planned to clean up the heavyweight
division. There were reportedly a number of wrestlers claiming to be the rightful champion,
although Earl Caddock had the strongest claim. Frank Gotch, during Zbyszko's last tour,
was the only man to beat him, the article claimed.
The February 5, 1920 edition of the Wichita Eagle stated that Zbyszko was going to arrive
in the United States later in the month. His real name was "Stanislaw Zbyszko Cyganiewicz."
Zbyszko arrived on the Danish steamer, Oscar 11, on February 16, 1920.
Before 10,000 fans at the 22nd Regiment Armory on May 6, 1921, Zbyszko beat Ed Lewis
for the World Heavyweight Title. The bout lasted only 23:17. He lost his claim back to the
“Strangler” on Friday, March 3, 1922 in Wichita, Kansas. Zbyszko took the first fall, but lost
the second and then the third. Lewis used his headlock to capture the final. The Wichita
Beacon stated that Zbyszko predicted the greatness of Lewis thirteen years earlier. He
actually wrestled the young man and beat him during his first tour of the United States.
Robert Edgren wrote a big article on Zbyszko, which was printed in the January 1, 1922
Oklahoman newspaper, among others. He wrote that famous ring announcer Joe
Humphreys always announced Zbyszko as "The Mighty Son of Poland," and that his age
was said to be anywhere from 41 to 46 - but he was probably 48. He wrestled throughout
Europe, but only became famous after George Hackenschmidt refused to wrestle him.
Edgren pointed out that Hackenschmidt had just taken up the catch-as-catch-can style and
announced that he was done with the Graeco-Roman grappling, which Zbyszko excelled at.
The two finally matched up in New York, and Hackenschmidt had to beat Zbyszko twice in
two hours, but failed to gain a fall. Edgren wrote "this was one of the very few on the level
wrestling matches seen in New York in many years." Zbyszko was reportedly still fresh while
Hackenschmidt was very tired. Zbyszko's only loss came against Gotch after he first came
to the United States and knew very little about catch wrestling. Gotch beat him using a
tricky maneuver. Zbyszko came out to shake hands and turned to go to his corner when
Gotch pounced on him.
Stan challenged the “Strangler” for a rematch on May 24, 1922 from Richmond, Missouri
with the stipulation that the champion would either get $20,000 or the entire gate receipts
for a match that went to a finish. Less than a week later in Wichita, Zbyszko lost a handicap
match to Allen Eustace on May 29th. On June 2, 1922, in a battle between two former
World Champions, Zbyszko and Earl Caddock wrestled to a two-hour draw in Columbus,
Ohio. Both wrestlers had scored a fall with Caddock winning the initial in 94-minutes.
Zbyszko evened it after 17-minutes. Caddock ended up getting the first World Title shot in
Boston five days later against Lewis.
Zbyszko regained the World Title on April 15, 1925 in Philadelphia. He took a win from an
ill Wayne Munn with two-straight falls in 13-minutes. The match was a “shoot,” meaning
that the contest was decided on skill and not by a promoter. Joe Stecher beat Zbyszko for
the belt on May 30th in St. Louis.
The Illinois State Athletic Commission, on March 31, 1927, refused to issue a license to
Zbyszko because he was over the 45-year-old age limit. Zbyszko had been booked to
wrestle Charles Cutler. According to the Associated Press, Zbyszko was claiming to be 48
years old, while the commission believed he was more like 55.
There were rumblings in December 1933 that Zbyszko was "conducting a platform
campaign" for Tammany Hall in the Slavic parts of New York City. He was popular among
Russians, Germans, and Polish citizens and told them to vote for Democrats, saying:
"They keep us out of war."
In 1935, the Zbyszko Brothers were promoting "Luna Park" in Buenos Aires and also often
wrestling. Reportedly, the "Terrible Iguazu" was a top grappler for them, and weighed
upwards of 300 pounds.
In the 1940s, Zbyszko and his brother trained future superstar, Johnny Valentine in
Stanislaus Zbyszko was a former two-time World’s Heavyweight Champion. One of the
smartest people in the businses, and also one of the strongest men of his era. He spoke
11 different languages and was both a musician and a poet.
Zbyszko began wrestling at the age of 15 in Poland and became a very wealthy man prior
to World War I. After the war, he had nothing. Zbyszko took to wrestling and rebuilt his
gold mine. Brother Wladek was also a very successful wrestling superstar, both in Europe
and in North America. Stanislaus later appeared in a movie about his life.
In response to the charges Zbyszko made about the him and the National Wrestling
Alliance in a recent magazine article, Ed "Strangler" Lewis called him a "disgruntled old
man," according to the El Paso Herald Post (8/25/53). Zbyszko made the claim that Lewis
sold his heavyweight championship in 1929 to Gus Sonnenberg for a gate of $83,000, plus
an additional $17,000 for a total of $100,000. Lewis told Bob Ingram for the latter's column,
"As I Was Saying," that "One of the curses of my life has been boils. I had a siege of them
when I wrestled Sonnenberg. I could have called off the match but you just don't do that in
wrestling. It was a big show and had to go on. Sonnenberg beat me fair and square."
Stanislaus died on September 23, 1967 at the age of 88 in St. Joseph.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Stanislaus Zbyszko Wrestling History
Legends of Pro Wrestling