Monday, October 1, 2018

Jack Johnson vs George Hackenschmidt, 1910: Gary Will's TWH

No, it never happened. But it was talked about, and if it was going to happen anywhere, it would have been in Toronto.

World heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson was managed by Toronto sports mogul Tom Flanagan, who also managed marathon runner Tom Longboat, one of Canada's greatest athletes.

In 1910, Flanagan decided to get into the pro wrestling business. He set his sights high and made a bid for the definitive dream bout of the time -- a rematch between Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt.

Flanagan's efforts to land Gotch-Hackenschmidt II will be covered in a separate piece. He was successful in getting both wrestlers to come to Toronto, but not to face each other. The rematch ended up being held in September 1911 in Chicago -- the city that hosted the original match.

But late in 1910, Gotch was talking about being retired and Hack had a standing offer to wrestle in handicap matches where he would have to defeat more than one opponent within a certain time period. Three opponents in an hour was the usual offer.

Flanagan made arrangements to bring Hackenschmidt's handicap challenge to Toronto just before the end of the year. The question then became, who would be the opponents? Yankee Rogers of Buffalo, who had often wrestled in Toronto, was a natural choice for one of the spots. Then the Star got wind that Johnson was coming to town to see Flanagan -- was it to make arrangements to take on Hackenschmidt? Flanagan wouldn't rule it out. "While I have not named Johnson as one of the three, it wouldn't be out of the way," he told the Star.

This would have been a straight wrestling match, and no one was under any illusions about who was going to come out on top. Flanagan was hopeful that Johnson could last 15 minutes with Hackenschmidt (not that it would likely have been an actual contest had it happened).

Just a few days earlier, the Globe had reported that Johnson and Hackenschmidt were going to go on a world tour together in 1911.

As it turned out, neither of the rumoured pairings of Johnson and Hackenschmidt actually happened. Hack wrestled his handicap match in Toronto on December 29 -- he had to defeat four men within 105 minutes, and did so handily. Only Rogers lasted more than 15 minutes. Johnson was not one of the opponents. And Hack didn't tour with Johnson, but instead got his rematch with Gotch.

Flanagan got out of the wrestling business after bringing Gotch to Toronto in March 1911. Johnson continued to be recognized as world heavyweight boxing champion until April 1915.

 -by Gary Will