STECHER, JOE (1893-1974)
Long before Hulk Hogan, "The Rock," or "Stone Cold" Steve Austin wrestled before national television audiences, Joe "The Scissors King" Stecher grappled for world titles with wrestling stalwarts such as Ed "Strangler" Lewis, "Masked Marvel" Mort Henderson, and "Tiger Man" John Pesak. Born to Bohemian immigrants near Dodge, Nebraska, on April 4, 1893, Stecher was a three-time world champion and, at the age of twenty-two, was the youngest man to ever hold the title.
Stecher was a superb athlete. In high school he played nearly every sport, excelling at baseball, swimming, and wrestling. Stecher developed a powerful physique while working on the family's 400-acre farm (at the peak of his career he stood over six feet and weighed 220 pounds). He reportedly perfected his signature move, the scissor hold, by wrapping his powerful legs around 100-pound sacks of grain and squeezing until they burst open.
By his senior year in high school Stecher was focusing solely on wrestling. In 1912, at the age of nineteen, Stecher turned professional and quickly became a sensation after a string of victories against some of the best wrestlers in the nation. By 1915 promoters recognized Stecher's potential to become the next great champion and organized a championship bout in Omaha, Nebraska. On July 5, 1915, before a crowd of 15,000 spectators, he defeated Charlie Cutler for the world championship. Over the next few years Stecher traveled the nation in defense of his title, using his feared scissors hold on one opponent after another. In January 1916, for example, he defeated the "Masked Marvel" Mort Henderson in New York City. Stecher's first defeat (and the loss of his title) came on April 4, 1917, at Omaha to Earl Caddock. Stecher regained his title from Caddock in 1920 at Madison Square Garden in what many experts have called one of the greatest matches ever. His second title run was short-lived, however, as Ed "Strangler" Lewis defeated him ten months later. Stecher continued to battle opponents during the next five years, and on May 5, 1925, he defeated Stanislaus Zbyszko to become the first three-time world champion. "The Scissors King" defended his final title for another three years before losing it on February 20, 1928, to "Strangler." Although Stecher continued to grapple for titles for another six years, shoulder injuries and age caught up with him, and he never regained his championship form.
Stecher retired from wrestling in 1934 at the age of forty-one. Shortly thereafter, Stecher's wife left with their children, and the exchampion suffered a mental breakdown. Mental problems plagued Stecher for the remainder of his life; his last thirty years were spent in an institution in St. Paul, Minnesota. He died there on March 29, 1974. In 2000 Joe Stecher was inducted into the International Wrestling Institute and Museum's Hall of Fame.
Mark R. Ellis University of Nebraska at Kearney