Not very long ago there was considerable talk about which man would survive in a mixed bout between a wrestler and a boxer. It was mooted that Jack Dempsey, tne heavyweignt champion, and Ed "Strangler" Lewis, heavyweight wrestling champion at that time, should meet in the ring. This caused a great deal of discussion. There are many who believed that Dempsey would knock out Lewis before the wrestling champion could lay hands on Jack and hurl him to the mat. And there were almost as many who were inclined the other way, believing that Lewis would be the victor. It was never my lot to appear in a bout of this nature, but, I believe, I figured in the nearest approach to it in history. My opponent was the late Frank Gotch, who later won tbe heavyweight championship of the wrestling world, and retired undefeated. I have sometimes heard this bout referred to as one of combined wrestling and boxing, but when we signed articles it was for a straight Marquis of Queensbery fight. The way it ended caused a report to go abroad that we had agreed to let anything go once we were in the ring. In the year 1899 two Canadian wrestlers, Olson and Swanson, had the field in the Yukon pretty much to themselves. They disposed of all other mat-artists in that country, and put on some good matches themselves. Dick Butler and his brother, two very enterprising young men with a great sporting strain in their blood, visited the outside that year, and one of their objects was to bring back a wrestler who would be able to toss both Olson and Swanson. In the fall of the year the Butlers returned with a fine, powerful-looking boy, who was introduced to Dawson as Frank Kennedy. A match was arranged betweea Kennedy and Olson. The Canadian was the favourite, as the Dawson fans wanted to be shown that Kennedy was the required class. The bout had not been in progress long before I realized that Kennedy was far superior to Olson. He handled himself like a champion, and won the best two out of three falls.
I met Kennedy after the bout and congratulated him on his performance. When he learned my name was Slavin he confided in me.
"My real name's not Kennedy," he said. "It's Frank Gotch. Any time I wrestle get on me, as I can throw any of these fellows when I like."
I took Gotch's tip and backed him in all his bouts in the Yukon. It proved quite profitable. Gotch and I became quite friendly, and after one of my bouts there he came to me and remarked —
"Say, you boxers get bigger gates than we do. Wrestling doesn't seem to draw as good aa fighting. I can fignt just about as good as I can wrestle. What do you say to a bout?"
"I'm ready for anything," I replied. "But to give the thing the proper flavour, put a challenge in the paper and I'll consider it."
The challenge was published, and I accepted it. We met in the spring of 1900 in the theatre in Dawson. It proved a particularly fine drawing card, and the seats went to 5 and 10 dollars each. Gotch, who was known to the public as Kennedy, was the best man in the wrestling game, and I ranked as the best boxer. When Gotch announced that he could box as well as he could wrestle, the public got worked up for a titanic struggle. The gathering in the theatre was picturesque in the extreme. Miners were there in their gumboots and furs, while some of the town folks put on their dress suits for old-time's sake. The patrons of the dance halls were there in their giddy attire. Outside the theatre dozens of dog teams were parked. Prior to the fight I had a talk with Gotch. He continued to assure me that he could fight, but I took the precaution to advise him to take things easy and not force the going too much. I had a hunch that once he heard the gong he would run wild, especially if I managed to hit him one or two stinging blows. I was nearly 40 years of age, old enough to be Gotch's father, and, while I was hard and rugged from my work in the hills, I nevertheless was not as nimble or as fast as I was in my younger days.
Gotch agreed to be cautious and not to burn himself up in the first few rounds. He also said he would keep going as long aa he could, provided he was unable to knock me out.
"There's nothing to worry about," I assured him. "We've got 8-oz. gloves on, and you can't hurt anything with them."
When I look back at that fight now I have to laugh. It was the funniest thing of my career, although I must admit that it was a very serious situation for me while it lasted.
The moment the gong sounded for the start of the fight Gotch came thundering at me like a bull at a gate. He swung his arms wildly and gave no thought of his defence. There was nothing for me to do but hit him. He kept on the aggressive, and I cracked him with blow after blow as fast as I could get my gloves back. I shot more gloves at Gotch in the first round than I did at any other man in a dozen rounds.
"Slow up," I warned him as he kept boring in. "You'll never keep this up long." He ignored my warning, and continued to tear in. I had to keep hitting him in order to protect myself. I knew that if one of his vicious swings ever touched my chin I would be singing with the dickie birds. I heard the bell at the end of the first round with a sigh of relief. As I sat in my comer I wondered how long this young dynamo would keep going. The theatre was buzzing with excitement. It was the most hectic round the fans had ever seen, and they, quite naturally, hoped for many more. Personally I was not anxious for a great deal more, but I did not see how I could stop Gotch. I had hit him with all my strength, but the 8-oz. gloves prevented me from knocking him out. There was no question of his ability to take punishment. Gotch resumed his aggressive tactics in the second round. He charged me and slashed the air in an effort to cut me down. In self-defence I continued to pelt away at his exposed head and body, but I began to weary of hitting him. Finally Gotch lost complete control of himself. He broke clean through my guard, seized me by the waist, and picked me off the floor as easily as if I had been a child. Over his head I went and crashed through the ropes to the floor. I was bewildered. I scrambled to my feet and back into the ring. Gotch was standing there as confused as I. My seconds were shouting "Foul." The fans were up on their feet, laughing and chaffing. It was a new situation in boxing, but it was humorous as well as unique.
"Do you want to claim a foul?" asked Louis Tozer, who was the referee.
"Guess I'd better, or he'll throw me out into the audience next time," I replied at once.
I think I showed excellent judgment.
Gotch and I had a great laugh over the incident afterwards. He simply could not keep his head clear under the different conditions, and when he was practically blinded by my gloves, he resorted to his own game.
"You nearly knocked my block off," laughed Gotch.
"Well. I couldn't help it,' I retorted. "You kept rushing me. But I couldn't hurt you with these pillows."
"You hit me some awful wallops anyway. I couldn't tell where all the gloves were coming from. I always got along pretty well when in the ring with other boxers."
"Anyone who fights like you is pie for a man who knows the game."
"I guess I can't fight then. I've had enough, and I'll stick to wrestling."
Gotch stuck to wrestling, and, as the world knows, made a great success of it. He was a fine, careful, good-living boy when I knew him, and was the fastest man I ever saw in a ring. After spending a year in the Yukon Gotch returned to the United States and later won the world's heavyweight championship. In referring to his fight with me in later years Gotch often said:
"It was my first boxing lesson, but I got it from a good man."
Someday they may put the heavyweight boxing and heavyweight wrestling champions in the same ring, but it will no doubt prove just as big a joke as the meeting between Gotch and myself. Both sports must stay in their respective class.
The Register (Adelaide, South Australia), March 29, 1926.