The June 17, 1911 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Mark Lamb
was the "father" of wrestling in Cleveland. Reportedly, Lamb and his son Art, were
retiring from the wrestling business. Art was going to remain in Cleveland to handle
the family business ventures, while Mark was settling down to his farm in Berea.
Among the wrestlers Lamb trained were Tom Jenkins, Henry Gehring, Clarence
Bouldin, Al Woods, John Yeager, Otto Parsons, Frank Chemyl, Scotty Campbell,
Lester Schulte, and others.
As early as 1898, Mark Lamb had a gymnasium in Cleveland at 199 Ontario Street.
On July 4, 1901 in Cleveland, Tom Jenkins wrestled Gus Johnson before an
estimated 5,000 fans at Forest City Park. According to one source, it was Johnson
who beat the legendary Jenkins - in two-straight falls.
In Cleveland on June 13, 1905, Clarence Bouldin beat James Parr at Grays' Armory
before 1,000 spectators. According to one source, Bouldin of Cuba won the World
Light Heavyweight championship.
Fred Beell won two-straight falls from Yankee Rogers in Cleveland on October 11,
1905. Beell won the $500 purse.
All cities in Ohio had their own Athletic Commissions and collected their own fees.
In early May 1951, the Associated Press reported that Jack Ganson was leaving
Cleveland after a nine year stint to open a wrestling promotion in Seattle. He was
going to run programs in Washington and Western Canada.
Ganson was the wrestling promoter and manager of the Cloverleaf Drive-In Theatre
and Sports Arena. At some point, he formed an association with Al Haft of
Columbus, and got all talent from him.
Wrestling lost one of its biggest names on February 24, 1957 when longtime wrestler
and promoter Jack Ganson passed away at the Cleveland Clinic. Ganson was 58.
He'd promoted wrestling in Cleveland for years, and before that staged shows in San
Francisco, Helena, and Montreal. He was survived by his wife Betty and daughter
Beth. Ganson's real name was John Karabinas and he was originally from Sidlauas,
The loss of Ganson destroyed professional wrestling in Cleveland. Canton promoter
Vince Risko put together a benefit for Ganson's surviving family members, which was
held at the Arena on March 21, 1957 and headlined by Verne Gagne and Hans
After a lengthy layoff, wrestling in Cleveland was revived by Pedro Martinez, a
promoter from Buffalo. Martinez, on Saturday, September 6, 1958 launched a TV
studio wrestling program on WJW (channel 8 - CBS affiliate) from the WJW-TV
Studios. He used this to build excitement in the grappling business again, and
worked up toward his first Arena show in October. The Saturday offering would be
featured at 12:30 in the afternoon, and after a few weeks, it shifted to noon.
The new studio show combined with excellent publicity in local newspapers quickly
made Martinez a success. Fans in Cleveland came out in droves to see the live
presentations at the Arena featuring tag teams like the Gallagher Brothers, the
Brunettis, and the Lisowskis, and the likes of Fritz Von Erich, Ilio DiPaolo, Lord Athol
Layton, Hans Schmidt, Dick the Bruiser, Edouard Carpentier, Bill Miller, and NWA
World Champion Pat O'Connor. There was a steady amount of superstar heel talent
for the popular heroes to combat every week. Few cities had ever seen the kind of
amazing turnaround that Cleveland underwent - especially going from having no
wrestling after Ganson's passing to being one of the best towns in the United States.
It certainly made Martinez look like a genius.
KYW-TV (channel 3), the NBC affiliate in Cleveland, debut a wrestling show on
March 1, 1959 featuring footage nearly a decade old. For instance, their March 15
broadcast on Sundays at noon featured a tag team match filmed at the International
Amphitheater in Chicago on March 31, 1950 between Great Balbo and Billy Goelz
against Benito Gardini and Gypsy Joe. The show was sponsored by the Aluminum
Siding Corporation of Cleveland at 8923 Carnegie Avenue. The show remained on
the air through mid-May, but was off the schedule by May 24, 1959.
David Ott of Cleveland was the President of the National Wrestling Association in
1959. He asked all members to send suspensions to his office at room 226, Public
Hall in Cleveland. Ott reported on November 10, 1959 that television shows on
Saturday and arena programs on Thursdays were drawing between 7,000 and
11,000 fans weekly. "Wrestling is booming in other cities. Also in Mansfield, Canton,
Akron, Youngstown, Toledo, Cincinnati, and Columbus, all the above cities in Ohio,"
During Ott's tenure as NWA President, he went to Mexico City to oversee the World
Light Heavyweight championship match there and presented the title belt to Dorrell
Dixon. Ott told his colleagues about his trip at the September 1959 NWA convention
Attendance in Cleveland for wrestling shows in 1959 was 237,413 ($341,640.37),
more than double of Missouri's attendance and nearly double than that of Michigan
Cleveland continued to prove to be one of the most successful wrestling cities in
America, with annual attendance more than many states. In 1960, for 45 wrestling
shows, Cleveland drew 240,667 fans ($368,414.80). There were also 47 live
television weekly shows at the studio.
With 43 arena shows and 18 television live studio programs in 1961, a total of
201,153 people were in attendance paying $258,033.74 after tax.
The National Wrestling Association put out a special bulletin on January 18, 1963,
notifying members that the Cleveland Boxing and Wrestling Commission had
suspended Antonino Rocca for missing a show in Cleveland on January 17, 1963.
The suspension was effective January 18, and effective throughout the NWA.
Longtime boxing promoter Larry Atkins crossed over to promote wrestling in
conjunction with a new "syndicate" he formed with Joe "Toots" Mondt of Pittsburgh
and Vincent McMahon of Washington, D.C. With offices at the Hotel Manger in
Cleveland, Atkins ran Buckeye Sports Enterprises and debut wrestling at the Arena
(managed by John Lemmo) in late January 1963. Because of the newspaper
blackout and bad weather, Atkins and the promotion lost money in four of the first
five programs. As a promotional name, the group used the "World Wide Wrestling
Association" (WWWA) designation, and claimed that Buddy Rogers was the WWWA
champion. Rogers was soon dethroned by Dory Dixon, and then suffered a serious
health problem that sidelined him.
Things were moving fast and furious for McMahon and his business partners.
Buddy's illness was going to expedite the push of superstar babyface Bruno
Sammartino, but they needed Rogers to appear in the ring to drop the strap to
Sammartino to complete the deal.
Back in Cleveland, the WWWA "project" was lifting off the ground. Looking back, it is
confusing that the WWWA was being formulated at the same time as the birth of the
WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) in eastern locales, and they were
running side-by-side by generally the same people, at the same time. The loss of
the title to Dixon in Cleveland by Rogers was most likely meant to be a very
temporary move, used to build up the city. Promoters had often changed titles
during the infancy of a promotional venture to drum up excitement, and this has all
the earmarks of such a situation. Had he been healthy, Rogers would've regained
the title at probably the earliest possible date.
Instead, Dixon was the champion in Cleveland until losing the championship to heel
Karl Von Hess on May 2, 1963. After that program at the Arena, Larry Atkins closed
up for the summer. Several weeks later, on May 17, at Madison Square Garden,
Sammartino won over Rogers and captured the WWWF World Heavyweight
Wrestling returned on November 1, 1963 and in publicity accounts in the Cleveland
Plain Dealer, Sammartino's championship was said to be the "World Wide Wrestling
Federation" and the "World Wide Wrestling Association," at times. Finally, they did
settle on the WWWF Title, but it took an effort to clear that problem up. Sammartino
came in as the titleholder, and all knowledge of Von Hess being a champion in
Cleveland rings was forgotten. The WWWA experiment was over.
The Sixth City Sports Club
Incorporated: January 18, 1946
Canceled because failed to file: April 30, 1963
Registered Agent: Larry Atkins
Address: 610 Superior Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio
Buckeye Wrestling, Inc.
Incorporated: June 5, 1962
Registered Agent: Paul Mancino
Address: 1010 Marshall Building, Cleveland, Ohio
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Cleveland Wrestling History