Acrylic and spray on 30″ x 40″ canvas
“If I wasn’t President of the United States, I would like to be Georg Hackenschmidt,” Theodore Roosevelt said about the first ever World Champion of professional wrestling. Born in 1877 in Dorpat, Estonia, then a part of the Russian Empire, Hackenschmidt as a youth became widely known as one of the fittest men in the area, performing record-setting feats on a regular basis. He won his first match in April of 1898, but the next year served duty as a first life guard to the Czar. After completing his service, he proceeded to take on all comers around Europe, becoming a staple of the music hall circuit and sometimes defeating as many as five men in one night. On May 4, 1905 he defeated Tom Jenkins in New York to become the first recognized World Heavyweight Champion.
In 1908, ‘The Russian Lion’ agreed to face his greatest challenger, Frank Gotch. The match became one of those rivalries that outgrew the sport itself, comparable as historian Mike Chapman said of, “Sullivan-Corbett, Dempsey-Tunney, Louis-Conn and Ali-Frazier are a part of boxing folklore.” The match went for a bloody and brutal two hours with both men staying on their feet before Gotch scored a hold on Hackenschmidt and the champion forfeiting the fall. The rules called for best two-out-of-three, but Georg quit the match, awarding the title to Gotch. They matched up again on September 4, 1911, with Gotch quickly scoring two falls in under 20 minutes. Hackenschmidt soon retired after this as his body was no longer fit to compete.
His legacy is one of the greatest in the history of the sport. Not only was he the first ever World Champion in a time when the matches were largely shoot fights, but he had nearly 3000(!) matches and only ever lost two. His last two. He is widely believed to have created the bear hug maneuver, and is still seen as a model for peak human fitness. Born in Russia, he was a bodyguard for the Czar, became a naturalized French citizen and a British subject in his later life. He was personal friends with Harry Houdini and George Bernard Shaw, spoke seven languages, and wrote numerous books about subjects such as fitness and philosophy. He also created the weightlifting maneuver known as the hack squat, named after him. He lived to be 90 years old.
About the piece: I wanted this to be a mix of timelessness and the new in its appearance, to show that Hackenschmidt’s legacy is just as powerful today as it ever has been. I first painted the background black and used spray paint around the edges to give it a faded photograph look. I then painted the figure with a palette knife, to give it an energetic and random feel. Then along the right, I put in his signature and other elements that he would sign photographs with during his prime. Normally when I add text, I use modern fonts and graffiti, but I thought it’d be classy to do this one vintage.