Fightland: First Man Standing


… “The Strangler” had beaten everyone—Joe Acton, William Muldoon, Tom Canon, everyone—and not only did he beat his contemporaries, he frightened them, using a full inventory of styles: London Prize (bareknuckle fighting), Catch-as-Catch-Can, Greco-Roman, “mixed” (meaning to say the rules were negotiated) and “go as you please” (meaning to say the rules were unwritten). Lewis’ game would be familiar to today’s mixed martial arts fans; though he specialized in the ground attack, he didn’t mind exchanging blows. In an era when matches were not stopped short of injury, Lewis would commonly emerge victorious via broken bone, torn joint, or crushed windpipe.

Lewis’ signature technique, and namesake: the strangle. In 1886, he strangled Matsada Sorakichi until the famed rib breaker’s eyes rolled into his head and he was regurgitating blood. In the rematch, with the chokehold banned, Lewis had promised, “I will not choke you this time, but I will screw your leg off.” Under a minute, and he did just that. The bout made the front page of The New York Times. The injury, the Times reported, reached from ankle to knee and was far worse than a break—joints, ligaments, and muscles were shredded. In 1887, Lewis had destroyed “Stompin’ Tom” Connors, a master of the Lancashire style (a precursor to Catch-as-Catch-Can) who was direct from the source, England. Lewis, perhaps not seeing straight wrestling as his best strategy, had punched, head-butted, kicked, and choked Connors into a limp-limbed doll. It didn’t seem to bother Lewis that the match ended in his disqualification. For a hobby, and sort-of half-time act, Lewis juggled 250-pound Indian clubs.

Read part 1, part 2 & part 3