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Gus Sonnenburg (1898-1944)

Real NameGustave Adolph Sonnenberg
Lifespan3/6/1898 - 9/9/1944
5'6" 196 lbs. - Ewen, MI

Athletic BackgroundFootball [Dartmouth]

Teacher(s) - n/a

Professional Background - n/a

Aliases - none

Peak Years1929-1931

Place in HistoryWhen pro-wrestling began shifting from a legit sport to entertainment, it became imperative that promoters find good drawing cards above the best wrestlers. Although football was still in its formative stages, it created popular athletes and some transitioned to pro-wrestling successfully. Gus Sonnenberg is one of several, following Wayne Munn and predating Bronko Nagurski, who was made to be a top star and champion in professional wrestling. Although he had played professional ball, Sonnenburg’s legacy was built as an All-American at Dartmouth College. He played guard, halfback and tackle and became a national known athlete. Boston promoter Paul Bowser brought the “Iron Duke” in and he quickly became a huge attraction in the Northeast. While he was not a true grappler, Sonnenburg’s signature “Flying Tackle” was unlike any move being used in the long ground battles fans were used to seeing and it earned him the nickname “Dynamite Gus.” Bowser aligned himself with Ed “Stangler” Lewis, who held a version of the World Championship, and his manager Billy Sandow. Lewis, who had put over Munn, put over Sonnenburg as well. The two toured the country as rivals, while legit wrestlers like Jim Londos and Dick Shikat (working for promoter Toots Mondt) made public challenges to Sonnenburg. Since Lewis was Sonnenburg’s policeman and neither man could go through him, they had to take more drastic. A legit wrestler attacked Sonnenburg in a public place in downtown Los Angeles. Although it was a dirty and vicious ambush, a man (later billed falsely as a welterweight) had handled the fact that the World Heavyweight Champion on the street was all that the public heard. Sonnenburg’s stock sank and Bowser, desperate to salvage his worth, quickly switched the title to Olympian Ed Don George. That switch created a rift between Bowser and Ed Lewis that led to double-crosses that dramatically changed the course of pro-wrestling in the United States. After that debacle, Sonnenburg continued to wrestle and was still a good draw. Although his career accomplishments could be dismissed to him simply being in the right place at the right time, the fact remains that Gus Sonnenburg was able to hold up his end as an attraction and his style helped transform how people thought pro-wrestling should look.