InYo: Journal of Alternative Perspectives Dec 2005

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Professional Wrestling: Karl Pojello

Copyright © EJMAS 2005. All rights reserved.

Editor’s note: Karl Pojello was a mid-20th century professional wrestler and wrestling promoter. He was born in Lithuania, and he came to the United States in 1923, where, on January 7, 1931, he wrote the following letter to E.J. Harrison. The letterhead read "Hotel Manger, Seventh Avenue, Fiftieth to Fifty-first Sts., New York," and the copy was provided to us by the late Richard Bowen.

Honorable Sir: --

Perhaps this letter may seem as a message from the dead, but being that you may have already noticed the name of the writer, I'm going on with my story.

One of the greatest surprises of my life occurred last week while looking over some books at the Newark, N. J. Library. I came across your wonderfully composed history of "Lithuania" and it goes without saying that it had a ringing appeal and stirred my blood more than once while digesting it. [EN1] Not a page was left unread. From cover to cover I scanned every paragraph, hungry for just that sort of food, like a hawk.

And when I turned to page 196 -- Oh Boy what a jolt. I had to reread that page several times to re-assure myself I was not in a trance.

Mr. Harrison, I wish to thank you most sincerely, and directly from the bottom of my heart for the wonderful manner in which you placed the name of Pozella before the eyes of the world. Just that one page alone (196) has proved a source of comfort and peace in these trying, depressing days. I shall never forget your great favor as long as I live. [EN2]

As I do not have your address, I am a bit wary about writing much for fear this letter may go astray. However I have hopes it will reach you safe and sound. And when it does, I certainly hope you will acknowledge it for I would be very pleased to communicate with you later.

Since the last time of our meeting in Petersburg, it has been my good fortune to travel through many lands. My living, travelling and other expenses were covered by purses which were won by wrestling. After leaving Petersburg I found myself in practically every larger city of Siberia, Manchuria, Indo-China. I was compelled to turn professional wrestler, to my regret, and even today I would be glad to wrestle in the amateur ranks, could I afford to.

I departed from the above mentioned countries in 1922. 1923 found me in Japan where I met and defeated all Jap grapplers having a desire to test my ability on the mat. Right here I would like to mention the little tip you refer to in the book saying I would become a "topnotcher" if I could learn the art of Judo. Well Sir, I did learn this great Japanese art from a Jap instructor in China, prior to my trip to Japan. Said instructor took a liking to me and during the 18 months of scholarship under his strict orders, I discovered that my ability in the Japanese art of wrestling placed me in such position that I never lost confidence when later facing the best Jap stars of my weight in that country. During 1923 I defeated the best 180 pounders of the land. (That was my weight then.) Here it was my good fortune to grapple the leading amateur 180 pounders assembled in a national tournament, representing all parts of the land. During the tourney, one day I pinned five men, another day four men, and third time I defeated seven men in a row, one after the other. The longest fall lasted five and half minutes. [EN3]

After leaving Japan the latter part of 1923 I sailed to America. I do not believe there is a single state of the entire 48 which I have not wrestled in. Besides having acted as athletic instructor in Chicago and several other cities, I was also athletic instructor of the 131 Infantry, U. S. Army for a year and a half.

At present I tip the beam at 190 pounds and leading critics of the wrestling game here place my name among the world's foremost mat men.

I surely would be glad to have the pleasure of displaying my mat ability in your presence and nothing would please me more than to show you what wonders the art of Judo has helped me to achieve. (Do you know it was during the period you were preparing the copy for your book that I was taking up the art of Judo?) A coincidence?

Again wishing to repeat my appreciation for your great favor, and hoping you are enjoying the best of health, happiness and success, I am [signed, Karl Pojello].

Editor’s note: In 1934, in a book called Wrestling, under the Auspices of W. (Billy) Wood, Harrison provided additional biographical details to this story: "As far back as 1912," said Harrison, "he [Pojello] won the championship of Russia in the Graeco-Roman style at the then St. Petersburg. In the following year he became first Russian Olympic [freestyle] champion at Kiev and International Tournament champion at Breslau; and in 1914 the second Russian Olympic [freestyle] champion. Then after the war he won several Far Eastern championships [probably at Shanghai], and studied the Japanese art of Ju-jitsu, later turning the knowledge thus gained to excellent account when he entered the All-in [professional] ranks. After his arrival in the United States in 1923 he beat Johnny Meyers for the World’s light heavyweight title, and since his entry into the heavyweight class he has won the European championship from Froehner twice running, and later scored an easy victory over [Atholl] Oakeley."

In February 1943, Pojello participated in a wrestling-versus- judo bout designed by the Chicago sportswriter Gene Kessler to determine which was better, wrestling or judo, during all-in fighting. In this match, Pojello’s opponent, a 145-pound Nisei named Masato Tamura, won the first fall by strangulation in about 1 minute, 20 seconds of wrestling. In the remaining 19 minutes of wrestling, there was no second submission, so in the end the match was termed a draw.

From 1939 until his death in 1954, Pojello also managed wrestlers, the most famous being the French Angel, Maurice Tillet.


EN1. E.J. Harrison, ed. Lithuania 1928 (London: Hazell, Watson & Viney, 1928).

EN2. The relevant paragraphs read:

Lithuanians are especially fond of boxing and wrestling and have achieved distinction in these sports. Their best known wrestler, Pozela, has recently been touring the United States, where he obtained many victories. Moreover early in 1928 Juozas Komaras won the wrestling championship of Boston. Dr. K. Sarpalus, in Chicago, is another promising wrestler of magnificent physique. In the early part of 1927 the Lithuanian middle-weight boxing champion, Juozas Vinca, knocked out the Latvian champion Svede and the Estonian champion Gern.

Also a Lithuanian-American boxer, Jack Sharkey (real name Juozas Zukauskas), has of late rapidly risen to fame in America.

EN3. It is doubtful that these were actually top-ranked men, as the year before the Kodokan had suspended several mid-level men who performed with the visiting California wrestler Ad Santel.

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