Abraham Lincoln Invented the Chokeslam


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The “chokeslam” is the move that wrestlers do where they slam their opponent to the ground after lifting them up by the neck. The rumor is that it was invented by our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. Could this possibly be true? In this episode, we investigate the origin of the move, it’s modern versions and find out the truth. Then we chat with Spoken-Word Artist, (NavThePoet) Nav Singh!

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The choke slam is a move in professional wrestling where one person grabs the throat of another person, lifts them into the air, and then slams them to the ground. 

In professional wrestling, this is accomplished by grabbing the defender at the top of the chest, just under the jaw. The defender grabs the attacker’s arm and then the attacker will put the defender’s right arm over his shoulder. Then he’ll usually grab the waist or back to help support the weight as he lifts the defender into the air. The defender then falls and straightens out at the last minute to help spread out the impact of the fall. Now that’s a very simplified and summarized version of the move, and you definitely shouldn’t try it unless you’ve had a professional teach you the proper way to do it. If you don’t know the ins and outs of these wrestling moves you could get seriously hurt. 

So in case I have to say it, a choke slam doesn’t involve actual real-life choking. But it’s a popular finishing move for wrestlers like The Undertaker, Kane, The Big Show and more. They’ll sometimes make it even more exciting by slamming their opponent out of the ring and through tables or from inside the ring to outside on the floor. Now there are like 10 variations on the move, each with their own specific name based on the positions and what not, but we don’t need to get into that. What’s important is that its a move so popular, even non-wrestling fans know what it is. If I say chokeslam, you have a basic idea of what I’m talking about.

You’ll only see it in professional wrestling, or backyard brawls. It’s not technically legal in UFC or MMA fighting because you can’t grasp the throat. You could maybe do a version of it if you could execute a legal hold around someone’s neck first, but it’s not a really useful move in those sports anyway. It’s mostly just for show.

So let’s talk about where it came from. In professional wrestling, there’s a claim that it was first performed by the wrestler 911 in the mid 1990s and was invented by his promoter/manager Paul Heyman. And we know that 911 frequently used it as a finishing move – even choke slamming a referee in one match.

But I did some searching and it seems it’s pretty clear that neither Paul Heyman, nor 911 brought the chokeslam to professional wrestling. The earliest I can find is from a Japanese Wrestler, Akira Taue, who wrestled starting in the late 80s. His popular finishing move was the chokeslam.

But the move itself has an origin much older than the 1980s. I’m sure there were hundreds of street fights where people used the move, but for the purpose of this story – we’re looking for the first time it was actually described in writing – the first time we can prove someone chokeslammed someone else. And it goes all the way back to the summer of 1831 and a lanky 6 foot 4 general store employee in Illinois.

If you visit the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Stillwater, Oklahoma, you’ll find that Abraham Lincoln is immortalized there, honored with their “Outstanding American” award. There is a display about Lincoln and other Presidents who enjoyed wrestling and a large mural of Lincoln wrestling with a man named Armstrong. It’s the very match that we’re interested in.

There are so many legends and tall-tales about Lincoln’s wresting career. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction. We know that he enjoyed the sport and was known for his wrestling ability as a young man. One of the legends is that he wrestled 300 men and was only beaten once. Of course in the rough and tumble prairie of Lincoln’s youth, wrestling wasn’t so much an organized sport as it was just fighting. 

There are a few of Lincoln’s bouts that are well-documented. In the recollected works of Abraham Lincoln by Don and Virginia Fehrenbacher, Lincoln tells a story on the campaign trail about his wrestling days. In 1860, he told a college professor named Risdon Moore that he was undefeated until he was thrown twice by a man named Lorenzo Dow Thompson, a man who, according to Lincoln “could throw a grizzly bear,”

Another one of the well-documented matches is the one with a man named Jack Armstrong. Armstrong was the young leader of a group of tough guys. I don’t know if you’d call them a gang, but they were a group of ruffians that lived in the next settlement over from where a 22-year old Abe Lincoln worked in a general store. Lincoln was in New Salem ,Illinois and these guys were from Clary’s Grove.  The Clary’s Grove Boys would come into New Salem to drink, gossip, trade and play. 

The store owner where Lincoln worked, Denton Offutt, used to brag on how tough Abraham was. He would claim that the 6 foot 4 Lincoln was faster and tougher than anyone around. Well Bill Clary – whose family founded Clary’s grove, didn’t believe him. He bet Denton Offutt 10 dollars that Lincoln couldn’t beat Jack Armstrong in a wrestling match. When Lincoln reluctantly agreed, a whole crowd of people gathered in front of the general store in New Salem.

Now there are differing accounts here on what happened. Some say Armstrong won. Others say Lincoln won. But what we know for sure is that someone cheated and the match got ugly. It’s thought that maybe Armstrong attempted to foul Lincoln with some sort of dirty move and Lincoln got mad. Abe grabbed Armstrong by the throat, lifted him off the ground with his enormous height, and shook him out like a wet rag before dropping him to the ground.

From there, it sounds like the rest of the Clary’s Grove Boys jumped on Lincoln, beating and kicking him as he laughed. I have to say, picturing this now, it kinda makes Lincoln sound like a psychopath. In any case, what we know is that Lincoln and Armstrong ended the match by shaking hands and being friendly. And believe it or not, this match gained Lincoln entry with the group of boys and made him welcome anywhere in town. Later, Armstrong called Lincoln “the best fellow who ever broke into camp.”

Lincoln later became great friends with Armstrong and his wife. After the passing of Jack Armstrong, their son Duff was arrested for murder, Lincoln represented him. He taught Duff how to read while in prison, and Duff Armstrong’s defense became Lincoln’s most well-known court case. The eyewitness described seeing Armstrong murder a man named James Metzker one night by the light of the full moon. When it was Lincoln’s turn to cross-examine the witness, he proved with an almanac that there was no full moon that night. Duff Armstrong was found not guilty.

But despite his client being found not guilty, do you know who is guilty? Abraham Lincoln of officially being the first recording account of chokeslamming a dude during a wrestling match. So yes – the Internet Says it’s True. And while he never jumped off a turnbuckle or donned a championship belt, Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator and 16th President of these United States, officially invented the chokeslam. 

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Forgotten history, bizarre tales & facts that seem too strange to be true! Host Michael Kent asks listeners to tell him something strange, bizarre or surprising that they've recently learned and he gets to the bottom of it! Every episode ends by playing a gameshow-style quiz game with a celebrity guest. Part of the WCBE Podcast Experience.

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