Acrylic and spray on 24″ x 24″ wood
Stanislaus Zbyszko left an indelible mark on professional wrestling, both in the ring and in the way business would be done for decades to come. Born Stanislaus Cyganiewicz in 1879 Poland, as a child his friends gave him the nickname of Zbyszko, after the fictional medieval Polish knight from Henryk Sienkiewicz’s “Krzyzacy” due to his many acts of bravery. An accomplished athlete and gymnast as a young man, he soon found himself drawn to professional wrestling after besting a grappler in a local circus, and soon began touring Europe in the vein of his idol Georg Hackenschmidt.
In 1906 London, he even started being managed by Hackenschmidt’s former manager CB Cochrane, who booked shows at the local music halls featuring Zbyszko facing Turkey’s Kara Suliman. This soon led to serious controversy when Suliman was revealed to actually be the Bulgarian Ivan Offtharoff, becoming what is believed to be the first public revelation that wrestling was not totally a shoot. He soon started working more and more in the United States, including a notable match in 1910 against Frank Gotch which saw Gotch win the first pin in just six seconds!
Even with the loss, Stanislaus became one of the world’s premier wrestlers and he began a long feud with Pakistan’s Great Gama. During this time, his brother Wladek Zbyszko also became a feared competitor within the squared circle. Stanislaus and Gama wrestled each other across Europe, drawing reportedly 60,000 fans at one show! Zbyszko returned to the US to work for the “Gold Dust Trio” promoters, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Billy Sandow and Toots Mondt in 1921. By this time, the business had largely shifted to the matches being worked, and Zbyszko was booked to win his first World Championship from Lewis, which he held for nearly a year before dropping it back to the Strangler. During this time, a disagreement between the Gold Dust Trio and Joe Stecher saw Stecher leave to form his own promotion. Zbyszko stayed with the Trio, where former football player Wayne Munn was the new World Champion. To keep Munn’s credibility, Stanislaus was to lose to him in a championship bout, but boy oh boy did hijinks ensue!
Zbyszko was secretly now working for Stecher, and ‘shot’ on Munn, legitimately beating him for the two out of three falls, and left the Trio’s promotion with the World Title for Stecher’s! This rocked the wrestling world behind the scenes, which led to bookers only making a ‘hooker’ a champion, a person who could legit defend themselves in case a competitor shot on him, such as Lou Thesz. This is possibly Stanislaus’ most lasting impact on the business.
Retiring in 1928 after facing the Great Gama one more time, with his brother Wladek he began scouting and training the next generation of wrestlers, including Antonio Rocca, Johnny Valentine, and Harley Race. He passed away in 1967 at the age of 88, leaving behind a game-changing legacy. The wrestler Larry Whistler, inspired by his accomplishments, took on the ring name Larry Zbyszko in honor of him.