The Golden Age of Professional Wrestling is often thought of as the era of Frank Gotch, however the golden age, in terms of "technical" wrestling, occurred thereafter.
During the early 20th Century, namely the period of the teens to the late 20's, many of the best professionals began to excel with the use of their legs on the mat. These shooters were able to use their legs like another set of arms and were experts at controlling the legs and arms of their opponents. These talented grapplers were commonly called "leg" wrestlers and leg wrestling became part of the trade of the old time catch-as-catch-can masters. Famous names among them included Joe Stecher, Earl Caddock, "Tigerman" John Pesek, George Tragos, Ad Santel, and Clarence Eklund.
These men coupled brutal submissions (double wristlocks, neck cranks, and toeholds) with an ability to twist their opponents into pretzels. Not surprisingly, it was during this era when the term "stretch him out" came into existence. The foundational ride employed by the old time leg wrestler was the crossbody ride (commonly called the "single leg grapevine"). It was from here that they maneuvered their opponents into all sorts of positions that the human body was not meant to go.
They used the guillotine (abdominal stretch), banana split, crossfaces and reverse crossfaces off the crossbody ride, inside toeholds, the top scissor with a crossface (commonly called the "back mount"). They were also adept at scissoring the arms with their legs and using various nelson holds and double arm stretches to bring their opponents to the point where they felt as though their muscles were actually ripping apart.
Arguably the greatest among the old time leg wrestlers, pound for pound, was Clarence Eklund. Known as wrestling's Octopus, Eklund emerged as one of the most technical grapplers at the end of wrestling's shooting days. Barnstorming all over the United States, Eklund developed his leg wrestling style onto a plane all it's own. Sports writer Bill Sopris had this to say about the Octopus, "(Ek had) a knack to use the grapevine and hinder progress of an opponent with his legs&his forte was his legs&with this uncanny power, he was able to break leverages and wear down a man, finally beating him with a half-body scissor and bar arm."
Eklund weighed in at 175 lbs. and claimed the world light-heavyweight title from 1916 on. He solidified his claim at the age of 42 by defeating the best light-heavyweight wrestlers in the world to claim the undisputed world title in an Australian tournament in 1928. Among those he defeated were Clete Kauffman, the infamous Ad Santel, and Ted Thye. The story of Eklund's dominance of Ad Santel in their tournament shoot match has become the stuff of legend and solidified Eklund's claim that no man in the world could match him at 175lbs.
I spoke with with Dick Cardinal, one of the last old time shooters and a master of hook wresting, about Eklund. Dick had known Ted Thye (one of Eklund's opponents in the 1928 tournament). Thye commented to Dick that Eklund's performance against Santel was pure wrestling mastery. Thye's words about the event, according to Dick, were awe inspiring in and of themselves& Eklund dominated his foe in every phase of the game.
Another story that has become legendary is Eklund's visit several years after retirement to a workout in Oklahoma with the NCAA national wrestling championship team (Oklahoma A & M) for that year. The coach had invited Eklund down to review the team's progress.
Eklund walked around nodding appropriately when he saw something he liked. After awhile the Coach asked him if he'd like to have a workout. "Sure" Eklund said, "Line them up". The coach was astonished at this for he had only been suggesting a workout for Eklund with one of his lighter wrestlers; after all Eklund was in mid-40's and had been retired for years. Nevertheless he did as Eklund asked.
In the space of 15 minutes, 45 year old Clarence Eklund pinned every member of the national championship team, from the lightest to the heaviest. The heavyweight last the longest taking Eklund around 2 minutes to pin. Now, imagine a wrestler walking in today and pinning every member of the Oklahoma State wrestling team, or Iowa, or Minnesota, and you'll begin to get an idea of the technical mastery of wrestling's Octopus. Eklund was the king of scientific wrestling.
I had long feared that the technical style of the old time leg wrestlers had been forgotten over the years, since professional shooting really died out in the pro ranks after the late 20's. Then I stumbled across something that almost made me weep with joy. I came across an instructional video tape set called "LEGAL PAIN" by one of the greatest wrestlers of all time - Wade Schalles.
The leg riding/pinning style of Wade Schalles is the closest thing I have ever seen to the style of the Old Time Leg Wrestlers. Wade is a 4 time NCAA champion, and has pinned more World and National champions than any man in history. I have seen very few current amateur wrestlers who have the technical efficiency of the old time shooters, but Schalles takes leg riding, cradling, and pinning to a new level.
It is in the Schalles style of wrestling where you can see a bridge between the Old and the New. When I watch Wade's material it is very easy for me to visualize what men like Eklund, John Pesek, and Earl Caddock must have looked like on the mat. Everything is there: leverage, fulcrum, speed, technique, and most of all AGGRESSION.
If you were to add toeholds, neck cranks, and double wristlocks to the material that Wade presents and master it thoroughly, you would be a very dangerous person in a very short time, & that is no joke. I give this material 5 stars, but I would like to give it 10 (it is that good). It is, quite simply, the best leg riding and pinning material I have every seen.
For more on Clarence Eklund, see Wyoming's Wrestling Rancher: Life and History Of Clarence Eklund Champion Wrestler