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Gotch, Frank Alvin (27 April 1878–16 December 1917), professional wrestler, was born south of Humboldt, Iowa, the son of Frederick Gotch and Amelia (maiden name unknown), farmers. Gotch’s parents immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1863. Gotch, a fine all-around athlete, soon settled on wrestling as his primary sport. As a teenager, he excelled in informal matches around Iowa. In 1899 Martin “Farmer” Burns, one of the professional game’s most scientific practitioners, discovered him. With Burns’s help, young Gotch improved rapidly and made his pro debut at a local ballpark in Humboldt against highly regarded Dan McLeod. Gotch finally lost the long, exhausting match, fought on a bed of cinders from the nearby railroad roundhouse, but it was obvious that the youngster was going to be something special....

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Lewis, Strangler (30 June 1891–07 August 1966), professional wrestler, was born Robert H. Friedricks in Nekoosa, Wisconsin, the son of Jacob Friedricks, a lumberman and farmer. His mother’s name is unknown. In his childhood the family moved to Lexington, Kentucky. By the age of fourteen he weighed 200 pounds and was a skilled all-around sportsman, especially at wrestling. That year he won his first professional match in Madison, Wisconsin. Because his parents disapproved of wrestling as a profession, he changed his name to Ed Lewis in order to hide his occupation from them. Later he added “Strangler” to his professional name in honor of a famous old-time matman, Evan “Strangler” Lewis. After graduating from Lexington High School, he moved back to Wisconsin, where he soon made a name for himself in matches throughout the West and Midwest. His powerful headlock soon gave fans a real reason to call him “Strangler” Lewis....

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Lipscomb, Big Daddy (09 November 1931–10 May 1963), professional football player and wrestler, was born Eugene Alan Lipscomb in Detroit, Michigan. He never knew his father, who reportedly died in a Civilian Conservation Corps camp when Gene was very young; his mother was stabbed to death by a male acquaintance while she waited for a bus in Detroit in 1942. Gene was raised by his maternal grandfather, who, according to Lipscomb, “did the best he knew how. But for some reason it was always hard for us to talk together. Instead of telling me what I was doing wrong and how to correct it, my grandfather would holler and whip me.” As a youth, Lipscomb held a variety of odd jobs to support himself, including a midnight-to-eight shift at a steel mill in Detroit, which he worked before attending classes at Miller High School. He quit school at age sixteen and joined the U.S. Marine Corps....

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Muldoon, William (25 May 1852–03 June 1933), wrestler, physical culturist, and New York State athletic commissioner, was born in Caneadea, New York, the son of Patrick Muldoon, a farmer, and Maria Donohue. Muldoon’s parents met and married in Dublin, Ireland, where Patrick had traveled from his native Portumna, near Galway, with the intention of studying for the priesthood. Patrick took employment with a surveying company and set sail for Canada. Eventually, the Muldoons settled in Caneadea, a tiny farming community in Allegany County, New York. William was the seventh of ten children. As a youth Muldoon exhibited unusual levels of physical strength and a rather quick temper....

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George Wagner, before 1943. Courtesy of the Professional Wrestling Online Museum.

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Wagner, Gorgeous George (24 March 1915–26 December 1963), professional wrestler, was born George Raymond Wagner in Butte, Nebraska, the son of Howard James Wagner and Bessie May Francis. His family moved to Waterloo and Sioux City, Iowa, before settling in Houston, Texas, when Wagner was seven years old. In 1929 he dropped out of school, did odd jobs to help support his family, and began wrestling at the Houston YMCA. In 1932 Wagner received thirty-five cents for winning a seven-minute bout at a local carnival. His YMCA wrestling coach, however, disapproved of Wagner's participation in the match, reminding him afterward that he was no longer an amateur but a professional. The coach's sentiment reflected the disdain many in the amateur wrestling community held toward professional wrestling, which by then was more popular entertainment than skilled and competitive sport....