WATERLOO, IOWA -- On April 3, 1908, an Iowa farmer by the name of Frank Gotch changed forever the world of wrestling. The native of Humboldt, already the American heavyweight champion, journeyed to Chicago and defeated the legendary Russian Lion, George Hackenschmidt, to win the world's championship. Gotch's victory set off a wild celebration among sports fans in Humboldt, across Iowa and around the nation.
In commemoration of his great victory, Frank Gotch Day will be celebrated on April 3, 2008, in Humboldt, Waterloo and at the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum here. The museum is planning several activities and has invited two legendary wrestling figures, Dan Severn and Dan Gable, to participate.
Waterloo Mayor Tim Hurley and Humboldt Mayor Walter Jensen have both declared April 3 as Frank Gotch Day in their respective cities.
"This is a very important date in the history of wrestling, and we didn't want it to pass unnoticed," said Mike Chapman, executive director of DGIWIM. "Gotch has had a tremendous impact on wrestling in the state of Iowa, and around the nation. Having these two Dans here is a very special occasion for all wrestling fans."
Dan Severn exploded onto the mixed martial arts scene in 1995 when he won the heavyweight world title in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). A former amateur wrestling star with a long list of records and titles, Severn was the first superstar of the mixed martial arts world and was given the nickname "The Beast" for his dramatic victories.
At the same time, he began wrestling as a professional and eventually won the NWA world heavyweight title – the same title that Frank Gotch won on April 3, 1908, in Chicago.
Severn is well known in sporting circles all around the world and has a record of 78-7 in mixed martial arts events. He is one of the top clinicians in the sport and is a member of numerous halls of fame, including the UFC's hall. In 2002, he was given the Frank Gotch Award by the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, which is located in the Gable museum. The Gotch award is given annually for contributions to professional wrestling.
Competing for over 30 professional wrestling organizations and12 fight promotions, Severn has held over 95 state, national, and international wrestling titles, and has competed in over 4,000 bouts.
He has been profiled in such publications as USA Today, People, Karate and Kung Fu Illustrated, Black Belt Magazine, MAD, Full Contact Fighter, and many of the pro wrestling publications. The Internet is full of the Beast's accomplishments, as well as his official web site. Severn also runs a wrestling product company and holds annual wrestling clinics for kids of all ages. He has appeared on "48 Hours," "20/20," "The Gordon Elliot Show," "Nash Bridges," and many commercials.
IN THE LATE 1960s, Dan Gable became an Iowa superstar in the same sport, and then won the World amateur championship in 1971 and the Olympics in 1972. At one point, he won 181 consecutive matches over seven years in high school and college. He went on to coach the University of Iowa to 15 NCAA team titles in his 21 year career, and to a record 21 straight Big Ten team titles. He is a member of over a dozen halls of fame, and is the only wrestler in the United States Olympic Hall of Fame.
"Dan Gable and Dan Severn have both followed in the footsteps of Frank Gotch and that is very exciting for us at the museum," said Chapman. "We are very honored to have them participate in the celebration."
Both Gable and Severn will be at a noon luncheon at the Five Sullivan Center, and then make an appearance at the museum at 2 p.m. There, an oil painting by noted sports artist Dayne Dudley of Tulsa, Oklahoma, will be unveiled, showing Gotch in the epic April 3, 1908, match with Hackenschmidt. A limited number of prints, signed by the artist, will be on sale, with Severn and Gable available to sign them, as well.
Also, a 12-mintue documentary on the life of Gotch will be shown, and a new book about Gotch's legacy will be available for the first time. The documentary is the work of Atlas Technologies of Ames, and Mike Chapman authored the book. Copies of the documentary and the book will be available for purchase.
At 6 p.m., Severn will hold a three-hour seminar in the Dan Gable Teaching Center in the museum, showing and discussing the techniques of catch wrestling (Gotch's preferred style of wrestling) and mixed martial arts.
Both the luncheon and the seminar are open to the public, but will be limited to 100 persons at the luncheon and 30 at the seminar. The cost for the luncheon is $15 and the cost of the Dan Severn seminar is $40. Anyone wishing to reserve spots at either can call the museum at 319-233-0745.
Gotch's victory on April 3, 1908, made him the most popular athlete American – the Muhammad Ali of his era. Despite his "killer instinct" in the ring, he was handsome, articulate and charming outside the ring. He starred in a play that went up and down the East Coast and traveled to Europe. President Teddy Roosevelt invited him to the White House. He was a very successful businessman, buying large portions of prime Iowa farmland.
On April 9, 1909, Gotch defended his world title in Waterloo, against Dan McLeod. Ironically, the match was held in the Syndicate Theatre, where the Five Sullivans Brothers Center now stands. It drew a sellout crowd of over 2,000 fans.
"It was Frank Gotch's popularity that helped start a movement to add wrestling in high schools and colleges, and it was the legacy of Frank Gotch that turned Iowa into a wrestling state," said Chapman. "Many of the "old timers" I interviewed in the 1980s – coaches like Paul Scott of Cornell, Dave McCuskey of Iowa and Dr. Harold Nichols of Iowa State – said Gotch was their hero when growing up."
In 1917, Frank was considering a run for governor of Iowa. Then, he was struck down by a kidney ailment. He died on December 16, 1917, in his Humboldt home. His death was front-page news all over the nation. The governor of Iowa, William Harding, attended the funeral.
Gotch has had a huge impact on the state of Iowa. Each year, a Frank Gotch kids tournament is held in his hometown. The Hall of Pride in Des Moines has a tribute to his impact on the sport in the state, and the Gable museum has a large section reserved to tell his story, with many items from his great career on display. His roll-top desk and his favorite lounge chair are on display in the library.
Frank Gotch Day Schedule (April 3):
12 Noon -- Frank Gotch Luncheon at Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center (Special Guests: Dan Severn, former NWA world champion and UFC legend, and Dan Gable, America's leading figure in amateur wrestling history)
2:00 p.m. -- Unveiling of new artwork at museum of Frank Gotch's historic match on April 3, 1908, when he won the world heavyweight title, and of new book by Mike Chapman on Gotch's legacy in the world of catch wrestling.
2:15 p.m. -- Debut at museum of the Frank Gotch documentary
6-9 p.m. -- Special clinic on catch wrestling and mixed martial arts by Dan Severn in Dan Gable Teaching Center