Retro Review: Yukon Eric vs. Hans Schmidt
It's been a while since I've looked back at a match from the 1950s and there's a wonderful resource on YouTube via the Chicago Film Archives account.
Yukon Eric in kayfabe came from the great white north of Alaska, but in reality he was a native of Washington State and shared the hometown of Bryan Danielson (Aberdeen). Eric had some notoriety in that while wrestling Killer Kowalski, he lost part of his ear to a knee drop delivered by Kowalski.
Hans Schmidt was born in Canada. While not a German national, his look fit that role and less than a decade removed from WWII Germans were still easy to vilify. Pro-wrestling may never escape nationalism and it was in full effect in 1953. Schmidt developed a reputation for working stiff, particularly with his kicks which earned him the nickname "Footsie" from his fellow workers.
Today's featured match was the main event from the Chicago International Amphitheatre. The footage was filmed in color, but wasn't broadcast on television that way (the first color broadcast wouldn't be until a few month later). The Chicago Film Archives has done a wonderful job of restoring the footage and their presentation is wonderful. The match is best two of three falls with a 60 minute time limit.
One of the first things that the commentator brings up is Yukon Eric's propensity to wrestle in bare feet. Eric is the crowd favorite here and he plays the baby face well. Early in his career he carried the nickname of "The Chest" and one glance at his physique will tell you why. He uses this to his advantage as he escapes a bear hug via flexing his massive frame to break Schmidt's hold. Several minutes in and Eric locks in a very long leg scissors submission. Schmidt tries to reverse this by flipping his legs up and over Eric, but Eric reverses this into a series of mini-piledrivers (it's a neat spot that someone should bring back). In these old matches I like hearing familiar moves being called by different names. Here a snap mare take down is referred to as a "flying mare". Yukon Eric wins the round with a bear hug. That may not sound like a move that should be a finisher but Schmidt sells it like it's the most painful thing he's ever experienced. This carries over into the next round as Schmidt continues to sell his back.
Official round time: 15:25
Schmidt is selling his back big time and he resorts to a good bit of psychology as he open palm slaps Yukon Eric across his face. This angers the big man who misses some grapples in the corner. Schmidt continues with strikes until he transitions into his finisher, a back-breaker. The commentator makes note that usually a single back-breaker from Schmidt can end a match. In this case it takes four in order to keep Yukon Eric down for the three count.
Official round time: 7:18
This round is very underwhelming. I don't know if something changed, they ran out of time, or if there was an injury. Yukon Eric gets no offense in while Schmidt lands several dropkicks and gets the win. It was confusing to me and the live crowd is pretty pissed to see the "evil" German get the victory.
Official round time: 2:13
Strikes = 1 point, Strikedowns = 3 points, Grapples = 4 points, Submission = 1pt/5sec, Finisher = 10 points
A couple of interesting things of note during this match. I don't think either man played to the crowd. The only taunt I recorded was a finger wag from Schmidt towards Eric. The other element that was conspicuous in its absence were irish whips. They are so standard today that when they aren't present the entire cadence of the match is noticeably different.
Pro-wrestling is sadly full of tragedy and "personal demons" and today's focus is no exception. Yukon Eric continued to wrestle up to 1965. He had been dealing with financial problems and a recent divorce. In January of that year he was found outside the church in which he had been married. He was dead, cause of death was a self inflicted gunshot wound. I'm thankful that mental health is more openly talked about in modern times, and we have a better understanding of what brain trauma can result from a performance such as pro-wrestling. It's impossible to know what Yukon Eric was going through in the days leading up to his suicide, but it's not hard to imagine what contributed to his tragic end.
Hans Schmidt wrestled well into the 1970's. Still using the gimmick of evil-German, he may have gone too far when he donned a SS helmet for in-ring introductions. There's also a picture of him giving what looks to be a Nazi salute which is even more cringe. Even today heels have to walk the fine line of drawing heat while not going too far and alienating the audience. Schmidt retired comfortably and lived out his days in the mountains outside of hometown in Quebec. He died in 2012, aged 87 years old.