A Tale of Two Champions


John Pelan


Since you’re holding this book in your hands, this indicates a couple of things. First (unless you’re admiring someone else’s copy, not having purchased your own yet), you’ve shelled out a not inconsiderable amount of money in order to possess this particular tome, as this is a volume made available through what we call “modular printing,” “print-to-order,” or “print-on-demand” — which are lofty sounding terms that simply mean that the book can be produced on an as-needed basis, saving the publisher the tremendous costs of printing several hundreds or thousands of copies all at once and then having to warehouse said copies until they sell. The disadvantage of this approach is that you won’t see colorful displays of this book at your local bookstore; you’ll have to have heard about it from someone and then sought out a copy. Secondly, one can surmise that you have a pretty strong interest in professional wrestling of a by-gone era, and at the very least a nodding familiarity with Ed “Strangler” Lewis, the subject of this book; or possibly familiarity with Steve Yohe, the author of this tome; or, as may well be the case, you’re acquainted with both the subject and the author — in which case this foreword is going to be of very little use to you, as you already know the information I’m about to pass on.

Since its very inception, professional wrestling has been a hotbed of hyperbole and exaggeration — by its very definition it features larger-than-life morality plays enacted by larger-than-life individuals. This leads to adjectives like “extraordinary,” “super-human,” “iconic,” and “immortal” getting thrown around quite a bit. In some rare instances, they are actually merited. When we look at “Strangler” Lewis’ career and the popularity and notoriety that came along with it, the adjective of “extraordinary” is certainly called for. Anything less than that would be a denial of fact. “Extraordinary” is also a term that should be applied to the author of this book.

Why “extraordinary”? Simple — wrestling history is a strange chimera-like beast, quite unlike anything else. I myself am quite active as a researcher in a couple of other areas — major league baseball and genre fiction (specifically mystery, fantasy, horror, and science fiction) — and the differences are astonishing. In the two fields wherein I have somewhat of a bit of expertise, research is actually quite easy. Baseball is a game of statistics: since its earliest times there have been records kept, not always as detailed as one might wish, but records nonetheless. There’s an entire organization (The Society for American Baseball Research or S.A.B.R.) dedicated to compiling the most detailed data imaginable. Genre fiction is a bit more difficult, but publishers kept pretty detailed records of what they paid and to whom for which item. Professional wrestling is a horse of a different color indeed. To characterize wrestling promoters in general as “lying liars who lie,” while unkind, is woefully accurate. Attendance figures and box office receipts given to the newspapers and the I.R.S. can practically be guaranteed to bear little resemblance to each other. Worse than that, there’s a trickle-down effect to the performers where “protecting the business” leads to all manner of distortions, ranging from one’s age to ethnic heritage to earnings to marital status, and pretty much any fact that might be altered to suit the occasion.

The amount of truly great wrestling historians can be tallied on one’s fingers. It’s an incredibly difficult and for the most part thankless endeavor, and the amount of time that one has to spend sifting through various sources of information — many of which are questionable, at best — is daunting to most. What in any other sport is a simple matter of looking at the record book, in professional wrestling research often necessitates creating the record book out of whole cloth. Steve Yohe is one of the individuals that has done this and done it very well indeed.

This book is the result of a passion for the sport that takes place inside the squared circle. It takes a champion caliber researcher to put a book like this together. Steve Yohe merits that distinction: he has not only raised the bar for others that follow — he’s redefined what a historical book on our favorite sport should be. There are indeed two champions here: the subject of the book, and its author.