The most famous Iowan you’ve probably never heard of.

It’s likely that you’ve never heard the name Frank Gotch. That’s ok, you’re not the only one. But it’s time to get acquainted because every Iowan knows that wrestling is big deal in Iowa. And we have Frank Gotch to thank for putting wrestling into the spotlight for Iowa.

The Frank Gotch Statue

It’s located in Bicknell Park along the riverfront in Humboldt, Iowa. The location is significant because Frank used this location to set up a training camp while he was preparing to defend his world title as heavyweight freestyle wrestler. Thousands of people showed up at this location to watch him train. There are even rumors that he would take turns wrestling guys who were larger than him, followed by smaller/quicker men, then end with wrestling men his size.

Location: Bicknell Park in Humboldt, Iowa

Why would Frank Gotch be considered one of the most famous Iowans?

Frank DOMINATED the world of wrestling. Not just in Iowa, not just in the United States. He was internationally recognized. In fact, he was so well known that he was one of the first professional athletes to make money through commercial endorsements. When he earned the world title by beating the Russian Lion, George Hackenschmidt, his popularity skyrocketed. And the sport of wrestling did as well.

Around the same timeframe, many schools started their wrestling programs (especially the well-known schools like Iowa, Penn State, and Oklahoma). The state of Iowa was also one of the first to start a high school tournament, most likely heavily influenced by the popularity that was driven by Frank Gotch.

His record was 154 wins, 6 losses. He did not have any losses during the final seven years of competition.

How did Frank Gotch get started in wrestling?

Frank never wrestled in high school or college (it wasn’t really an option at that time). Instead, there seems to be two significant events that both happened in 1899.

The traveling salesman

Gotch offered to wrestle a traveling salesman in a match at a local high school. However, the salesman was a cover – the wrestler was really Dan McLeod, a professional wrestler.

The county fair

During the local county fair, a man named Martin “Farmer” Burns would pay anyone $25 if they would last 10 minutes with him. Although Frank did not make it the full 10 minutes, Burns congratulated Gotch and claimed he was one of the best to take him on. He then invited Gotch to train with him and Burns made a promise that he would make Gotch a heavyweight champion – and he did.

Frank Gotch Timeline:

1899: After running out of local competition, Gotch travels to the Yukon in 1899 during the gold rush. He won a large number of matches in the gold mining camps and came home with what would certainly now be millions of dollars. He used the money to pay off his family’s farm and then invest in other farm land.

1904: Frank Gotch beat Tom Jenkins to claim the US heavyweight champ title.

1908: In Chicago, Frank took on the world heavyweight champion, George Hackenschmidt. They wrestled for two hours before Frank finally took him down and claimed the world heavyweight title.

1911: In the famous rematch with Hackenschmidt, held at the new Comiskey Park in Chicago, Frank Gotch took down Hackenschmidt  again to remain the world heavyweight champion

1913: Frank Gotch retires

1917: At the age of 37, Frank Gotch dies in his home in Humboldt, Iowa.

“It is gratifying to me, of course, to hold the undisputed world’s title.  I am glad it is held in America, glad that I brought it here.  But I mean my life to be more than a mere wrestling exhibition.  I expect to be an Iowa farmer all my life, and make my life worth something.  I hope that every year may find me a little better man in some way than I was the year before.

Frank Gotch

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