On Friday, WWE will present its annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Kurt Angle will headline this year’s class, and he will be joined by fellow honorees Diamond Dallas Page, Rick Rude, Teddy Long, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, and Beth Phoenix, as well as Warrior Award recipient Eric LeGrand. But a new wrinkle to the Hall of Fame, which was established last year, is the Legacy wing.
The Legacy wing of the WWE Hall of Fame serves to honor the pre-television history of professional wrestling (or at least, the pre-modern era of professional wrestling), as a means both to pay tribute to the fact that the art form has been around and been extremely popular for well over 100 years, and to further legitimize the modern inductees that contemporary fans are familiar with.
Last year’s inductees were Mildred Burke, Frank Gotch, Georg Hackenschmidt, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Pat O’Connor, Lou Thesz, and “Sailor” Art Thomas. You may not be familiar with the batch of names that will be added to the Legacy wing in 2017, so we’re here to help you out.
Farmer Burns, along with previous Legacy inductees Frank Gotch, Georg Hackenschmidt, and Ed “Strangler” Lewis, is often viewed as one of the pillars of professional wrestling as we know it. He had his first professional bout in 1880 at the age of 19, after spending years in amateur wrestling, and inventing, innovating, or perfecting the art of catch wrestling. His style allowed the pinfall to come from pretty much anywhere, which is a tactic that Daniel Bryan employed as his key to victory for a time during his Ring of Honor days.
Burns was undefeated from 1890 until 1893, and in 1895 he captured the unified American Heavyweight Championship by defeating Evan “Strangler” Lewis (not to be confused with Ed “Strangler” Lewis; this was a different Strangler altogether). He was the fourth champion in this title lineage, and held the title for two years.
After Burns’ retirement in the late 1890s, Burns opened a school in Illinois and taught his particular style of catch wrestling to a score of pro wrestlers who would be massive stars in the early 20th century, including none other than Frank Gotch.
His feats of strength and his massive neck are the stuff of legend. He would perform a stunt at carnivals and fairs wherein he would be outfitted with a noose and dropped from a height of six feet, while managing not to be killed. He did this all the time, and please take a minute to think about how completely insane that is.
The “Farmer Burns workout” that he developed is still practiced by some amateur wrestlers, strongmen and assorted Crossfit types. His renown as a trainer even got him a gig as a conditioning coach for Jim Jeffries before the boxer’s 1910 championship fight against Jack Johnson.