By Tim Hornbaker

Sonnenberg revolutionized the sport along with several others during a time of change by
introducing football-like tactics.  He introduced one particular move that only he could be
thanked for.  It changed the sport forever.  The Flying Tackle was introduced in 1928 has
been used in various ways even by stars of today.  Goldberg of WCW fame used a tackle
known as “the spear,” a descendant of Sonnenberg’s flying tackle.  In Gus’ day, the move
was dangerously practiced.  A wrestler could miss his opponent and fly through the
ropes.  It could cause more damage to himself rather then even hitting the other.  Gus
Sonnenberg perfected the move and it led him to the Championship of the World and
universal fame.  He was a member of Detroit University’s football team before graduating
to the professional ranks.  Sonnenberg played for the Providence Steam Rollers before
crossing sports and donning the wrestling boots.

On January 4, 1929 in Boston, he beat the
Ed "Strangler" Lewis to capture the World
Heavyweight Title.  Sonnenberg gained worldwide recognition as the champion of
wrestling.  The referee disqualified Lewis to end the second fall, giving the challenger the
bout and the belt.  Upon victory, he began to tour the United States, wrestling in major
cities from coast to coast.  He beat Howard Cantonwine in Providence on January 22nd,
Harry Hanson in Kansas City on January 28th, John Smith in Philadelphia in early
February, and Charlie Hanson in Rochester on March 1st.

Gus traveled to Portland, Maine on March 5th and beat Ned McGuire in two straight falls.  
Sonnenberg defeated Joe Malcewicz handily in Boston on March 15th in what his
observers billed as his toughed test to date.  He wrestled in nearly every state and
defeated whoever was placed in front of him.  But the lack of big name challengers
stepping into the ring across from the champion put a damper on his win streak.  He
faced a tough contender in Stan Stasiak on April 3rd in Los Angeles, Sonnenberg’s local
debut there, and won two falls without a loss.  He won from Pat McGill in Providence on
April 16th.  Sonnenberg took out Malcewicz again, this time in Chicago on April 29, 1929.

In one of the boldest and most controversial moves in wrestling history, the Pennsylvania
State Athletic Commission suspended their World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, Gus
Sonnenberg, indefinitely for not wrestling worthy opponents.  Thus, splitting recognition
between Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and sending the World Title into confusion
for the first time.  Sonnenberg was still defending his title across the U.S, but Boston
became a haven for his major appearances.

Another breaking story came across the wire on June 28, 1929 in Chicago, Illinois.  It was
not helping Gus’ story either.  Dan Koloff was suspended by the Illinois State Athletic
Commission for one year because he had wrestled Sonnenberg six-times since March
19th, under assumed names, across the country.  It was alleged that Koloff appeared
under the names Dan Kolman, Dave Petroff, and Fred Gotch.  With the likes of
Londos, Ed Lewis, Richard Shikat, Joe Stecher, Rudy Dusek, Jim McMillen, and a young
Everette Marshall around the circuit, Sonnenberg wrestled Dan Koloff a half dozen times
and other prelim foes.  He beat Stanley Stasiak on September 10th 1929 in Kansas City.

By this time, a second recognized World Champion was floating around the country-side.  
It was Richard Shikat of Germany, who was backed by New York and Pennsylvania.  On
September 15th, Sonnenberg announced that he would retire from the sport permanently
as soon as he was beaten.  The news was coming from Los Angeles, the site of a match
between Joe Stecher and the World Champion only several days later.  On the 18th,
Sonnenberg tossed Stecher to retain his title with two-of-three-falls.  He appeared in
Kansas City and in the Pacific Northwest, in addition to Los Angeles.

Gus gave Ed Lewis a World Title shot in California on October 23rd and won the third fall
to seal the victory.  Controversy in that final fall brought upon a rematch in Los Angeles
on November 13th.  Sonnenberg won that match as well.  At Boston Arena in front of an
estimated 9,000 on January 30, 1930, Sonnenberg beat Joe Stecher in two-of-three-
falls.  The first was won by Sonnenberg in 27:42.  Stecher used his body scissors to
capture the second in 21:45.  A flying tackle won the battle in 12:50.  On January 31st,
Sonnenberg beat Jack Ganson in New London, Connecticut in two-straight falls.  He beat
John Freberg in Minneapolis in two-straight falls on February 6th.

On February 10th, Dr. John A. Bolster, a Providence, Rhode Island Physician announced
that Sonnenberg would be unable to wrestle from anywhere up to four months.  At Hope
Hospital in Providence, Sonnenberg underwent an operation for an abscess in the groin
the Saturday before.  Dr. Bolster believed that he would be confined to the hospital for 10
to 12 days longer then originally expected and might be able to participate in light
workouts within four weeks.  Also, it would be dangerous for him to compete in a wrestling
match for three to four months.

A matter of days later, Sonnenberg was in Miami ready to defend his championship again
versus former champ, Joe Stecher.  The two-of-three-falls bout was held on February 19,
1930 in front of 10,000 in a region just learned about the sport.  Sonnenberg won.  A day
earlier, in a more northeastern arena, Richard Shikat defeated Rudy Dusek also in
Miami, successfully defending his claim to the World Championship.  Two separate
promoters bringing both champions into the area for defenses in the span of two days.  It
brought talk of a possible unification match in the area.  The bout never did happen.  The
match in Miami did not begin a long vacation in the southeastern spot, but continued his
tour.  On February 21st, Sonnenberg beat Stanley Stasiak in Jacksonville with two-
straight falls.  The first in 36-minutes and the second in 4-minutes.

An on-going tournament held in Kansas City by promoter Gabe Kaufman brought a new
surprise on March 15th when the promoter announced that Sonnenberg agreed to meet
one of the finalists of the American Legion sponsored event on March 31st.  It had
originally been set that Sonnenberg would meet the eventual winner of the tournament,
but instead joined the third round, which began on the 31st.  Other finalists included
Henri DeGlane, Dan Koloff…a familiar name, Ed Lewis and Marin Plestina.  Sonnenberg
gave DeGlane a title shot in Boston on March 20, 1930.  He won the match with a series
of flying tackles that severely punished his opponent, giving him the second and third
falls after losing the initial.  DeGlane suffered a concussion and fractured ribs.

Several days prior to Sonnenberg’s appearance in Kansas City, it was announced that
the only reason why he had agreed to meet the “best” wrestler in the tournament was
because the Missouri State Athletic Commission had threatened to vacate his title.  He
was matched up against a familiar name and face, Dan Koloff, the man that was
suspended for wrestling Sonnenberg throughout the country under assumed names
nearly one year before.  On March 31st at the Convention Hall, Sonnenberg beat Koloff
in two-of-three-falls to retain his championship.

After Everette Marshall defeated Nick Lutze for the second time in a month in Los
Angeles on April 2nd, promoter Lou Daro wired a $50,000 offer to Sonnenberg to meet
him at the Olympic Auditorium for the title.  Daro also threatened to go to Boston to get
him if he didn’t come to LA.  On April 4th, Sonnenberg responded to the offer, and it was
turned down.  He stated that Marshall had to go through either Ed Lewis or Joe Stecher
first.  Daro quickly signed the match.  The “Strangler” was returning to the “City of
Angeles” to face Marshall, with the stipulation that if the latter won, he would meet
Sonnenberg.  April 16th was the date.  Gus did not just sit and wait for the winner.  He
appeared in Seattle on the 15th and defeated Dr. Karl Sarpolis.  The win came in the
eighth round, under Australian Rules.  The only fall was captured by the champion in the
fifth round.

The next night, Marshall defeated Lewis in front of 10,000 amassing a gate of $29,000.  
Sonnenberg had the option of running the other way, but he didn’t.  Again, Lou Daro was
the winner.  That same night, Sonnenberg was in Portland to defeat Charles Hansen.  It
was announced on April 19th that Sonnenberg would be in Los Angeles and give
Marshall a shot on May 5th.  The match was made clearly known that it would be for the
$10,000 World Title Belt.  Gus defeated George Kotsonaros in Providence on April 22nd,
with one fall.  Kotsonaros was injured while falling out of the ring.  He was unable to
return and Sonnenberg was awarded the match.  After several attempts on and around
May 1st to travel from Boston to Los Angeles by plane, Sonnenberg found himself
grounded at Kingman, Arizona.  Daro wired him and told him to finish his trip via train,
and the titleholder did.

On May 3rd, Sonnenberg and Marshall were both preparing for their contest in Los
Angeles.  Two days later, 20,000 fans packed Wrigley Field to see Sonnenberg retain his
World Title, capturing two falls after Everette had won the first.  It was Marshall’s first loss
and possibly Gus’ biggest defense.  He remained the champ until December 10, 1930
when he lost the title in Boston to Ed Don George.  George, in-turn, lost it to Henri
DeGlane.  Sonnenberg received a shot at DeGlane’s World Title on July 30, 1931 in
Boston at Braves Field.  He lost two-of-the-three falls.  Gus was defeated by George in
Milwaukee on December 7, 1932 in a two-of-three-falls match when he was unable to
continue after the first because of an injury.  Sonnenberg was assisted to a nearby
hospital and said to have a dislocated shoulder.  During this time, he was managed by
Walter Miller.  

Sonnenberg faced Ted Thye, the Pacific Coast Champion, on June 1, 1933, in Colorado
Springs at the city auditorium, and won two straight falls.  Promoter Abe Marylander had
worked with Miller to bring Sonnenberg into the city, and had captured a credible
opponent.  But spite the intangibles, a poor crowd attended the event.  Sonnenberg
threw Bob Kruse in San Francisco on June 27th, winning two-of-three-falls.  He took two
straight falls in under a half hour in Colorado Springs against Tony Marconi on August
17th.  He returned and tossed George Koverley in two of three falls on October 5th.  The
win was said to have been Sonnenberg’s 1,000th match as a pro wrestler.

On January 10, 1934 in St. Louis, Missouri, he tackled Ray Steele and defeated him.  In
an article printing the results of a Des Moines, Iowa match on January 17, 1934,
Sonnenberg was billed as a claimant to the World Heavyweight Title.  He beat Ralph
Mondt there.  He beat George Zaharias of Colorado in St. Louis on January 19th.  There
was no mention of him being a regarded titleholder.  Sonnenberg won the match by
countout in 38:39.  He lost to Jim Londos in St. Louis on February 2, 1934 in a World
Title Match at 38:10.  He met Joe Dusek in Albany, New York on April 9, 1935 and won by
default in the third of three falls.  Sonnenberg remained active through the beginning of
World War II.  He served in the war as a Navy Chief Specialist around the Illinois and
Maryland regions.

Gus Sonnenberg died of Leukemia on September 12, 1944 at the Bethesda Naval

Other Historical Notes:

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."

According to the Associated Press, on March 10, 1930, Gus Sonnenberg was willing to
forfeit his $2,500 that he placed in forfeit with officials in Kansas City, Missouri to meet
the winner of a local tournament - for the privilege to wrestle in Australia.  He arrived in
Kansas City "yesterday" from Amarillo and wanted the officials to wait until he returned
from his trip to make the match.

On July 20, 1932, Sonnenberg was in a car accident driving from Haverhill, where he
wrestled, to his home in Belmont.  He was taken to a hospital in Lawrence,
Massachusetts, and had cuts to his right leg, lip, left hand, and was being checked for a
possible broken rib.

Research by Tim Hornbaker
Gus Sonnenberg Wrestling History
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